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How did this startling transformation take place? A great many factors contributed to this transformation, writes Amanda Porterfield in this engaging look at religion in contemporary America. Religious activism, disillusionment with American culture stemming from the Vietnam war, the influx of Buddhist ideas, a heightened consciousness of gender, and the vastly broadened awareness of non-Christian religions arising from the growth of religious studies programs--all have served to undermine Protestant hegemony in the United States.
But the single most important factor, says Porterfield, was the very success of Protestant ways of thinking: Distrust of religious institutions, for instance, helped fuel a religious counterculture--the tendency to define spiritual truth against the dangers or inadequacies of the surrounding culture--and Protestantism's pragmatic view of spirituality played into the tendency to see the main function of religion as therapeutic.
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For anyone interested in how and why the American religious landscape has been so dramatically altered in the last forty years, The Transformation of Religion in America offers a coherent and persuasive analysis. Read more Read less.
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The Transformation of American Religion: The Story of a Late-Twentieth-Century Awakening
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This book will inspire you to honor each rite of passage in a personal way. The Call for Revivalists. She points to the eighteenth-century Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards, who assigned religion to the realm of the affections, as planting seeds that flowered in the contemporary tendency to elevate spirituality over religion.
Book Review: The Transformation of American Religion
In Edwards's emphasis on how a divine and supernatural light stimulates an inner sensibility to the beauty of the divine, she sees the first tenuous links to the practice of meditation that combines Buddhist, New Age, and other features for twenty-first-century practitioners. Whether it be Protestant or Catholic personalist thought or theologians Paul Tillich and phenomenologists Mircea Eliade who sensitized generations of students to possibilities of truth in religious traditions other than their own, all that has rattled the religious status quo for the last half-century, in Porterfield's mind, stretches to Protestant emphasis on individual, personal religious experience.
Porterfield is at her best when she weaves diverse intellectual strands into an intricate, interconnected pattern. But how many ordinary women, for example, who practice some Zen meditation, say the Rosary, reach out to pre-Christian fertility religions to celebrate experiences unique to women, defy Church teaching on birth control, and refuse to see their Hindu neighbors as being without hope of salvation are conscious of all the connections Porterfield makes?
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Does it matter whether they know that Protestant--usually Puritan--notions made their own idiosyncratic spirituality viable? And what of the millions who would reject all that, those identified with the so-called fundamentalist resurgence in American Protestantism, for whom the world that Porterfield celebrates is an alien and evil place?
It may be too bold to label the shifts in American religious life as a great and general awakening, given the resistance of some to the trends she demarcates. Yet we are in debt to Porterfield for providing yet another map through the maze of American religious life; alternate routes do not minimize the importance [End Page ] of this one, but confirm the richness of American religious culture over the last half-century.