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What Americans Really Believe

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What Americans Really Believe
Author Rodney Stark,
Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008

What Americans Really Believe

Reviewer Roger Terry,

Forty years after Rodney Stark and Charles Y. Glock published the results of the first two major surveys of American religious beliefs and practices, Stark finally picked up where American Piety (Berkeley: University of California, 1968) left off. Now codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, Stark has published an analysis of data gathered in two Baylor Surveys of Religion—one in 2005, the other in 2007—as well as a 2006 survey focusing on economics and religion. The results are surprising in many regards. In fact, Stark delights in debunking popular misconceptions and myths about what Americans believe, hence the book's title. In the introduction, for instance, Stark highlights four areas where the "experts" are dead wrong: the end of denominationalism, declining attendance, losing our young people, and overall church membership. In short, denominationalism is alive and well, attendance at church is not declining, young people have always attended less frequently than their elders but increase their church-going when they marry and have children, and the percentage of Americans who belong to a local congregation has increased steadily since the colonies declared their independence—from 17 percent in 1776 to 34 percent in 1850 to 51 percent in 1906 to 59 percent in 1952 to 69 percent in 2005.

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