William GalstonOctober 18, 2010 - 11:33am0 comments
How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell
Simon & Schuster, $30, 688 pp.
In American Grace, co-authors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell set out to resolve a puzzle: Why is it that America’s religious diversity hasn’t produced as much strife as one finds in other religiously diverse countries? The answer, they conclude, lies in our religious integration. Rather than retreating to separate religious bunkers, Americans have become more likely to work with, live alongside, and marry people of other religions—or, increasingly, people with no religion at all. In the process, they have found it easier to accept—and certainly more difficult to demonize—those with different religious beliefs. As Putnam and Campbell put it, “Interreligious relationships are so common today that most Americans probably pay them little mind, and consider them unremarkable. But their very commonness makes them remarkable indeed.”
Between the puzzle and the proposed answer lie more than five hundred pages packed with data and argument illuminating not only the main highways but also intriguing byways on the American religious map. Putnam and Campbell draw their findings from many sources, but principally from two original data sets, the “Faith Matters” surveys. (Full disclosure: I had a modest role early in the survey-design process.) The study was conducted in two rounds: nine months after they answered a first round of questions the respondents were contacted again for follow-up questions. This procedure enabled the authors to probe causal...