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After the Baby Boomers

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion

Robert Wuthnow
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    After the Baby Boomers
    Book Description:

    Much has been written about the profound impact the post-World War II baby boomers had on American religion. But the lifestyles and beliefs of the generation that has followed--and the influence these younger Americans in their twenties and thirties are having on the face of religion--are not so well understood. It is this next wave of post-boomers that Robert Wuthnow examines in this illuminating book.

    What are their churchgoing habits and spiritual interests and needs? How does their faith affect their families, their communities, and their politics? Interpreting new evidence from scores of in-depth interviews and surveys, Wuthnow reveals a generation of younger adults who, unlike the baby boomers that preceded them, are taking their time establishing themselves in careers, getting married, starting families of their own, and settling down--resulting in an estimated six million fewer regular churchgoers. He shows how the recent growth in evangelicalism is tapering off, and traces how biblical literalism, while still popular, is becoming less dogmatic and more preoccupied with practical guidance. At the same time, Wuthnow explains how conflicts between religious liberals and conservatives continue--including among new immigrant groups such as Hispanics and Asians--and how in the absence of institutional support many post-boomers have taken a more individualistic, improvised approach to spirituality. Wuthnow's fascinating analysis also explores the impacts of the Internet and so-called virtual churches, and the appeal of megachurches.

    After the Baby Boomersoffers us a tantalizing look at the future of American religion for decades to come.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3122-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion, Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  2. 1 American Religion AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
    (pp. 1-19)

    Observers of American religion have been keenly interested in baby boomers for a long time. Baby boomers were the future of the church. When they were young, they were supposed to have radicalized it with new ideas about race, gender, and social justice. Soon, though, prognosticators started seeing baby boomers as a “drop out” generation. Their dropping out was leaving congregations with fewer members. Then observers decided that baby boomers were coming back—but on their own terms, less interested in helping and more intent on finding themselves.

    Many of these predictions were accurate, although some became more evident in...

  3. 2 The Changing Life Worlds of Young Adults SEVEN KEY TRENDS
    (pp. 20-50)

    When researchers study American religion, they often begin with polls about belief in God or attendance at religious services. They may then move to a consideration of which kind of congregations people attend and whether these congregations are growing or declining. Approaching religion this way is overly narrow. It reinforces the mistaken view that religion is self-contained—an autonomous religious market or religious economy in which religion is all that matters. I have never interviewed anybody for whom that was true. Their religious beliefs and practices are but one of the many activities and interests that make up their lives....

    (pp. 51-70)

    American religion has always been a participatory faith. It was not enough simply to believe. Or even to belong, at least if belonging meant nothing more than having one’s name on a membership roster. People of faith are expected to take part in their congregations. Taking part can mean a lot of things—serving on committees, helping at a soup kitchen, teaching Sunday school. At minimum, it means attending regularly scheduled worship services. And those who do attend regularly are dramatically more likely than those who attend less regularly to express interest and involvement in their faith by almost any...

  5. 4 The Major Faith Communities THINKING BEYOND WINNERS AND LOSERS
    (pp. 71-88)

    Over the years, writers have described American religion by distinguishing among several major faith communities or traditions. In the 1950s, Will Herberg argued that the nation’s cultural identity was composed of three major traditions: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. The argument was appealing. Although there were subdistinctions among different denominations and ethnic groups, each of the three was recognizable as a major tradition. Protestants and Catholics kept their distance from each other, right down to where they lived and who they allowed their children to date, and Christians and Jews parted company in similar ways.¹ A few years later than Herberg,...

  6. 5 The Bible Tells Me So (I think) RECENT TRENDS IN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
    (pp. 89-111)

    In 1967 the German magazineDer Spiegelcommissioned a national survey of religious beliefs in the Federal Republic of Germany. In that survey, 68 percent said they believed in God and 42 percent believed in Jesus as the Son of God. A generation later, in 1995,Der Spiegelconducted another study of the West German population. The percentage who believed in God had dropped to 56 percent, a decline of 12 points, and the proportion who believed in Jesus as the Son of God had dropped to 29 percent, a decline of 13 points. An even greater shift was evident...

  7. 6 Spirituality and Spiritual Practices THE ROLE OF FAITH IN PERSONAL LIFE
    (pp. 112-135)

    Spirituality is always about much more than going to church and agreeing or disagreeing with church doctrines. Spirituality is the shorthand term we use in our society to talk about a person’s relationship with God. That relationship is always complex. For many people, how they think about it is certainly guided by what they see and do in their congregations. At a deeper level, it involves a person’s self-identity—feeling loved by God, for example. These feelings wax and wane. Sometimes a person feels close to God, while at other times God seems distant, uncaring, or angry. Spirituality also manifests...

    (pp. 136-156)

    Not long ago, a faculty member in my department stopped me in the hallway and said, “I know you study religion, and I know lots of people are religious, but is there any evidence that religionmatters?” For young adults, that is a very good question. Does it matter if I go to church or adhere to one religious tradition instead of another? Will it influence how I think about life? Will it make me a better wife, husband, mother, or father? These are the questions religious leaders ask, too. They may believe that faith is intrinsically important. But they...

  9. 8 The Divided Generation RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE
    (pp. 157-182)

    Researchers who studied baby boomer religion in the 1970s discovered early on that their subject matter was not monolithic. Some baby boomers were attracted to yoga, Zen Buddhism, Hare Krishna, and other groups with roots in Asian religions. Others dropped out of the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish traditions in which they had been raised and turned toward political or academic pursuits. Still others got “saved from the sixties,” in Steven Tipton’s apt phrase, by embracing evangelical student ministries, joining communes, or adopting holistic health practices.¹ By the time researchers such as Wade Clark Roof and Dean Hoge studied them in...

    (pp. 183-200)

    Between 1965 and the end of the twentieth century approximately 22 million immigrants came to the United States. An additional 7 to 10 million came as undocumented immigrants. The immigrant population included more young adults than the native born population did. There were also more children. No consideration of the future of American religion is thus complete without focusing on these new immigrants. The largest groups were from Spanish speaking countries, especially Mexico, and from East Asia, especially China and Korea. Case studies conducted by ethnographers in immigrant churches show that immigrants, now as in the past, frequently turn to...

  11. 10 The Virtual Church RELIGIOUS USES OF THE INTERNET
    (pp. 201-213)

    In chapter 2 I reviewed some of the evidence on the growth of e-mail and Internet use. Among other things, we saw that younger adults are more likely than older adults to have computers or access to computers. In surveys conducted in 2000 and 2002 as part of the General Social Survey, for instance, 75 percent, 74 percent, and 73 percent, respectively of adults age 21 through 29, 30 through 39, and 40 through 45 said they personally “use a computer at home, at work, or at some other location,” compared with 65 percent among 46- through 64-year-olds, and only...

  12. 11 Vital Congregations YOUTHFUL AND DIVERSE
    (pp. 214-232)

    If i were a religious leader, I would be troubled by the facts and figures currently describing the lives of young Americans, their involvement in congregations, and their spiritual practices. The conclusions that emerge from these facts and figures may not be entirely worrisome for religious leaders, but most of them should be. Young adults are less likely to participate in religious services than they were a generation ago. Those who do populate the pews are an increasingly skewed cross-section of young adults. They are the married minority, whereas the unmarried majority scarcely frequent congregations at all. The proportion of...