The big book in the sociology of religion this year is Robert Putnam and David Campbell's American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, unites with a Notre Dame political scientist to parse the current state of American religion, and tell a story of how we got here.
Their thesis starts in a familiar place: the unusually high levels of churchedness of the 1950s were dealt a huge shock by the Sixties, which led to massive declines. This is a story we have been telling for forty years.
The culture shock then led to a conservative reaction and culture war. This is the story we have been examining for twenty years.
The new element in their tale is that the conservative resurgence ended in the late '90s. What followed was a broad disaffection with organized religion by the bystanders in the culture wars.
In coming posts I will work through their argument.