Saturday, December 04, 2010

No New Bumper Sticker Today - Too Much Snow

I will have a double post on the next dry day.

Friday, December 03, 2010

American Grace 6: Women's Equality Has Shaped All Religious Traditions

Putnam and Campbell note that the main religious families do differ significantly on women's roles, but only on a few points. About half of American denominations allow women clergy, for example, and half do not.

However, in their roles in the world, both very religious and very secular women have followed a similar path. In 1970, secular women were 10 to 15 percentage points more involved in the work force. There is a similar gap today. However, both groups have increased their participation in the work force at the same rate.

Likewise, today religious women have more traditional gender views than secular women do, but both groups have liberalized since 1970 to the same extent.

The most religious fifth of women today are more liberal on gender than the most secular women were in 1970.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

American Grace 5: People Reconcile Their Faith and Politics for Religious Reasons

Yesterday I reported Putnam and Campbell's finding that when people find their politics and religion out of alignment, they tend to change their religion. I don't want to leave that finding out there for a merely cynical interpretation. People choose their religions for religious reasons, and the more religious they are, the more true that is.

Putnam and Campbell found that at the macro level there is a clear correlation between political ideology and denominational choice. Yet they did not see the same thing on the micro level, at least not at first blush. When people explain why they chose their religious institution, they give religious reasons; the more religious they are, the more true this is.

Putnam and Campbell square this seeming contradiction this way. People with no religion leave formal religion because they don't like all the politics, so they do not show up in congregational studies. People who choose conservative faiths do so to fight moral decay, which they do directly through the theology of their faith, and only indirectly through politics.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

American Grace 4: Getting Your Religion and Ideology Coordinated

Putnam and Campbell are particularly concerned with the political effects of American religious divisions. They note that religion and political ideology have gotten more coordinated in the past generation. In particular, people who switched religions are more polarized than those who stayed put; that is, the switchers change toward the ideological pole they leaned toward, moving further away from the many switchers in the other direction. This increasing polarization is especially true of younger generations.

One surprising finding is especially interesting, if a bit ominous for religion:

“people whose religious and political affiliations are ‘inconsistent’ … are more likely to resolve the inconsistency by changing their religion than by changing their politics.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

American Grace 3: Who Are the No-Religions?

Putnam and Campbell, in American Grace, offer a pretty high number for Americans who say they have no religion: 17%.

As others have found before, Putnam and Campbell find that the Nones tend to be young, liberal, from unchurched, mainline Protestant, or Catholic homes. And they are very changeable - most come from a churched background, and many will end up churched later in life.

One interesting new finding is that many of them change their self-definition without changing their practice. Even in the year between the two iterations of their Faith Matters survey, 30% of the people in the category had changed. Many of them said "no religion" one time, and named the tradition they came from or were heading to the other time.

The authors conclude that many of the Nones are not anti-religious, and only a tiny fraction are atheists. Rather, Putnam and Campbell see that around each major religious family there is a "penumbra" of an additional 10% who sometimes see themselves in the fold, and sometimes see themselves outside of it. The people who say they have no religion are not, for the most part, anti-religious, but are disappointed with the religious institutions they know - and many would like to find a way to come back.

Monday, November 29, 2010

American Grace 2: Sexual Morality is the Dividing Issue

In American Grace, Putnam and Campbell argue that the triumph of liberal values in the 1960s produced a conservative reaction that came to fruition in the 1980s.

They empirically consider which values provoked the main reaction. They conclude that the religious right was not primarily produced in reaction to Great Society liberalism, nor the civil rights movement; not much by women’s equality; not much by the Supreme Court decisions. The biggest motive was moral decadence and sexual permissiveness. In the 1970s, the single most powerfully divisive issue was premarital sex.

“We argue that throughout these last five decades libertines and prudes have successively provoked one another: liberal sexual morality provoked some Americans to assert conservative religious beliefs and affiliations, and then conservative sexual morality provoked other Americans to assert secular beliefs and affiliations.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

American Grace 1: The Thesis

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.