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After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s


Page viii: Spirituality consists of all the beliefs and ... People have been losing faith in a metaphysic that makes them ... they believe in astrology ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s

After Heaven Spirituality in America Since the
  • Robert Wuthnow,
  • Professor of Sociology
  • Princeton University

Definition of Spirituality
  • Page viii Spirituality consists of all the
    beliefs and activities by which individuals
    attempt to relate their lives to God or to a
    divine being or some other conception of a
    transcendent reality.

Thesis of book
  • Page 3 A traditional spirituality of inhabiting
    sacred places has given way to a new spirituality
    of seeking
  • People have been losing faith in a metaphysic
    that makes them feel at home in the universe
    (secure, certain, fixed)
  • Instead, they are seeking partial glimpses of the
    sacred, partial knowledge
  • They are constantly negotiating their reality,
    view of truth

Implication for traditional religion
  • The institution (or priestly class) is not the
    sole conservator of truth
  • Individuals are free to pick and choose elements
    from different religions (or none at all)
  • Hence, the location of authority has shifted
  • From the institution to the individual

Wuthnows three images
  • Habitation
  • Associated with the religion of the 1950s
  • Negotiation
  • Associated with religion in the new millenium
  • Spiritual practice
  • His solution to the dilemma of individual vs.
    corporate (group) religiosity

  • God occupies a definite place
  • One accesses God by entering a sacred place where
    he dwells
  • There is one truth (defined by the one God)
  • And, correspondingly, there is one true moral or
    spiritual community
  • There is a prescribed way to worship and a
    hierarchy of spiritual authority

  • There are sacred moments (but they are
    fleeting) and there is no hard divide between
    sacred and profane
  • Truth is a process (not a fixed set of beliefs)
  • We are constantly on a journey, a quest
  • Truth is measured by pragmatic criteria where a
    set of beliefs/practices work

Spiritual Practice
  • See chapter 7
  • Spirituality is a set of practices in which one
    intentionally engages in order to deepen ones
    relationship to the sacred
  • Hence, spiritual practice may be a disciplined
  • It may also draw on the history of exemplary
    figures/communities from ones tradition

Other Theories and Commentators
  • Wade Clark Roof
  • Philip Rieff
  • Robert Bellah

Wade Clark Roof, A Generation of Seekers
  • Baby boomers born 1946-1964, 76 million
  • Characteristics (based on survey of 2,620)
  • 60 percent had attended college
  • 38 percent had earned a college degree
  • 17 percent had postgraduate education
  • 18 percent current divorced
  • 13 percent married but previously divorced
  • Half had smoked marijuana

A Generation of Seekers
  • 60 percent of boomers interviewed had dropped out
    of religion for at least 2 years
  • Jews and members of mainline Protestantism were
    more likely to drop out
  • But, surprisingly, over half of Catholics and
    Conservative Protestants had also dropped out
  • People with postgrad degrees most likely to drop
    out as well as those who described their
    upbringing as permissive

Religious beliefs of seekers
  • 47 percent said that all religions are equal
  • 28 percent said they believe in reincarnation
  • 26 percent said they believe in astrology
  • 60 percent said it is better to explore many
  • Only 29 percent said that it is better to stick
    with one faith

Theological views of seekers
  • Sin was viewed as not living up to your own
  • Gods law was measured by ones own ethical
  • Salvation was equated with personal growth and

Change in view of God
  • Increasing numbers of people view God as the
    life force or cosmic energy
  • Emphasis on a subjective view of God
  • God is within rather than out there
  • Movement towards
  • Immanent vs.
  • Transcendent view of God
  • Dualism is out (self vs. God)
  • Rather, God is within/experienced subjectively

Religious path of seekers
  • Life is a journey, and religion is a journey of
    faith (not a set of beliefs to accept)
  • Religion is not something to be assumed
  • Authentic religion is wrestled with, examined,
  • Organized religion is a mere vessel of the holy

  • 88 percent say that one can be a good Catholic
    without contributing money to the church
  • 85 percent think one can be a good Catholic
    without going to church every Sunday
  • 81 percent say that one can be a good Catholic
    without obeying the Churchs teachings on divorce
    or remarriage
  • 68 percent say one can be a good Catholic without
    agreeing with the Churchs view on abortion

Returning to the fold
  • 33 percent never dropped out of organized
  • 25 percent returned to organized religion
  • 42 percent stayed dropped out
  • Period most likely to return
  • Late 20s when starting families

Why do people return to organized religion?
  • Birth of children (want to rear them in a safe
    environment give them values they didnt have)
  • Quest for meaning (personal emptiness, feeling of
    cosmic loneliness)
  • Desire for community (even though 9 out of 10
    said they can be spiritual without attending

Factors contributing to change
  • Media by age 16, average person has watched
    12,000-16,000 hours of television
  • Exposed to diversity of world views
  • The Pill gave women/couple freedom they never
    had before
  • Psychotherapy fostered ethic of
    self-realization, growth, self-actualization
  • Vietnam inspired protest/disregard of
    institutions (especially government)
  • Affluence diminished the sacrifice ethic