American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

American Grace is the next pivotal work within the social scientific study of religion that LDS readers should find interesting on many levels, including the extensive attention it gives to Mormonism. In this work, Robert Putnam (author of the national bestseller Bowling Alone) teams up with David Campbell (editor of A Matter of Faith: Religion in the 2004 Presidential Election) and field researcher Shayln Romney Garrett to examine the many facets of contemporary American religious pluralism. The authors use data from the nationally representative 2006 and 2007 waves of the Faith Matters survey, in addition to other surveys, alongside several in-depth observations of specific congregations.

Throughout the work, the authors manage to blend reports of macro-level trends of religious behaviors and attitudes with examples from “congregational vignettes”—richly described and detailed cases of Catholic, Jewish, African-American, Protestant, and Mormon congregations that act as a backdrop to the authors’ analyses. These descriptions offer a face and sense of immediacy to the study of American religion, which has been at times lacking in other such scholarly undertakings. In a sense, American Grace is both a reflection and a scrutiny of the many undercurrents involved with religion in American life, and, although the book is somewhat daunting in scope, the authors offer a mostly satisfactory analysis of both within-religion issues (religious switching, intermarriage, religious innovation, gender roles) and issues of how religion as an institution intertwines with other areas of society such as politics and ethnicity. Thus, American Grace offers a current treatment of several issues directly relevant both to LDS readers and to a general audience.

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