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The Transformation of American Religion

How We Actually Live Our Faith

American religion—like talk of God—is omnipresent. Popular culture is awash in religious messages, from the singing cucumbers and tomatoes of the animated VeggieTales series to the bestselling "Left Behind" books to the multiplex sensation The Passion of the Christ. In The Transformation of American Religion, sociologist Alan Wolfe argues that the popularity of these cartoons, books, and movies is proof that religion has become increasingly mainstream. In fact, Wolfe argues, American culture has come to dominate American religion to such a point that, as Wolfe writes, "We are all mainstream now."

The Transformation of American Religion represents the first systematic effort in more than fifty years to bring together a wide body of literature about worship, fellowship, doctrine, tradition, identity, and sin to examine how Americans actually live their faith. Emphasizing personal stories, Wolfe takes readers to religious services across the nation-an Episcopal congregation in Massachusetts, a Catholic Mass in a suburb of Detroit, an Orthodox Jewish temple in Boston-to show that the stereotype of religion as a fire-and-brimstone affair is obsolete. Gone is the language of sin and damnation, and forgotten are the clear delineations between denominations; they have been replaced with a friendly God and a trend towards sampling new creeds and doctrines. Overall, Wolfe reveals American religion as less radical, less contentious, and less dangerous than it is generally perceived to be.

320 pages | 6 x 9

Religion: American Religions, Religion and Society

Sociology: General Sociology


"While others look at American religion and see a two-party system pitting conservatives against liberals, Mr. Wolfe sees a wide swath of theological moderates. . . .The measured tone that Mr. Wolfe strikes in this important book will be welcomed by many readers. So should his call for full citizenship for religious Americans."

Stephen Prothero | Wall Street Journal

"Offering neither a cynical attack on religion nor a starry-eyed celebration of its triumphs, [Wolfe] presents a commendably balanced view, honoring the role religion has played in our nation’s past while helping us see more clearly the present state of religious affairs."

Bernadette Murphy | Los Angeles Times

"The decline of powerful local institutions like political parties . . . or churches animated by believers with strong convictions, [can become] cause for worry, not celebration. None of this denies the importance of "The Transformation of American Religion," surely one of the best studies of the subject."

John T. McGreevy | Chicago Tribune

"Wolfe documents how religion in the United States is becoming increasingly at home within today’s culture. Through interviews, observations, and survey analyses, he provides a rare and valuable look at different religious groups."

Library Journal

"Here is a wide-ranging description of religious practices and attitudes in America, full of stories, survey data and shrewd analysis."

Dwight A. Moody | Dallas Morning News

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Passing of the Old-Time Religion
1. Worship
2. Fellowship
3. Doctrine
4. Tradition
5. Morality
6. Sin
7. Witness
8. Identity
Conclusion: Is Democracy Safe from Religion?

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