American Grace commentary on Immanent Frame

December 16, 2011
By tomsander

A series of commentaries on American Grace appear at the Immanent Frame blog (run by the Social Science Research Council).

Some are critical of American Grace, but the first post by Prof. of Sociology John Torpey at CUNY calls American Grace an outstanding example of public sociology:  sociological research that combines high-rigor with high-relevance

To see the whole series, visit here.

A response from Putnam and Campbell will be posted shortly.  Excerpt below:

“We have been struck by his [David Hollinger’s] comment that the form of religion we describe is ‘bland’ or, more pointedly, that blurred religious boundaries mean that Americans do not take their religion very seriously.  Other critics, too, have commented on the tolerant religiosity described in American Grace, but unlike Hollinger, argued that such a religion is hardly worthy of the name.  Wilfred McClay, writing in the Wall Street Journal, noted that ‘Surely there is something ironic about preferring a form of religion that asks us to admire and study the great prophets and preachers while warning us against imitating them and their true-believing faith.’  Like Hollinger, theologian Charles Mathewes accepts our empirical description of American religion, but unlike Hollinger, he rejects the idea that ‘bland is beautiful.’  In a panel discussion at the 2011 American Academy of Religion annual meeting Mathewes argued that ‘American Grace is very bad news for American religion and civic life, because churches seem unable to offer a thick counter-narrative to contemporary society.’

“If Americans do not take their religion all that seriously, or fail to insist on its superiority to other religions, does this mean that religion has lost its ability to inspire change—either for individuals or society as a whole? Of all the questions to arise in the commentary surrounding American Grace, this is perhaps the most interesting, important and, ultimately, impossible to answer. Have we reached the end of prophetic religion?  Is ecumenism ineluctably unable to stir souls?  Must a prophetic religion be intolerant of those who disagree?  Our own history suggests not.  The civil rights movement certainly involved a prophetic call for personal and social reform, yet united Americans of many different faiths.  America would be a meaner place without the recurrent challenge to accepted ways that religiously-rooted social movements have posed throughout our history, but we’re unconvinced that prophetic religion is intrinsically incompatible with religious pluralism.”


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