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In the Course of a Lifetime

Tracing Religious Belief, Practice, and Change

Michele Dillon

Publication Year: 2007

In the Course of a Lifetime provides an unprecedented portrait of the dynamic role religion plays in the everyday experiences of Americans over the course of their lives. The book draws from a unique sixty-year-long study of close to two hundred mostly Protestant and Catholic men and women who were born in the 1920s and interviewed in adolescence, and again in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, and late 1990s. Woven throughout with rich, intimate life stories, the book presents and analyzes a wide range of data from this study on the participants' religious and spiritual journeys. A testament to the vibrancy of religion in the United States, In the Course of a Lifetime provides an illuminating and sometimes surprising perspective on how individual lives have intersected with cultural change throughout the decades of the twentieth century.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Many social scientists are indebted to people who are so generous of spirit that they willingly sit down and talk to interviewers, answering their intrusive and probing questions about all kinds of things going on in their lives. Our debt must be larger than most. ...

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1. The Vibrancy of American Religion

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pp. 1-21

If I had had the sense then that I have now, I’d refuse to live in Texas.” So declared Barbara Shaw when interviewed in 1958, at age thirty, five years after she had left Berkeley, California, with her young husband, an engineer who was returning to west Texas to work in his father’s prosperous ranching business.1 ...

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2. Meet the Parents: The Family Context Shaping Religious Socialization in the 1930s and 1940s

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pp. 22-39

The recency of California’s White settlement is such that “in 1850, the West ‘Coast’ was not along the shores of the Pacific . . . [but] was lapped by the waters of the Mississippi” (Finke and Stark 1992: 66). In their extensive historical mapping of religious adherents in America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark note that the “Far West,” including Mormon Utah, was essentially unsettled in 1850, ...

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3. Adolescent Religion in the 1930s and 1940s

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pp. 40-59

From this opening quote, we might well presume that Mrs. White was summarizing the social activities of a teenager in today’s era of the overscheduled child. But she was referring to the recreational activities of her fifteen-year-old daughter, Melissa, in Berkeley in the early 1940s. ...

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4. The Imprint of Individual Autonomy on Everyday Religion in the 1950s

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pp. 60-79

Religious freedom is a staple of American culture, most visibly evident in the many religious denominations present in America, the free expression clause of the Constitution, and the formal separation of church and state (cf. Ahlstrom 1972; Warner 1993). The freedom of individuals to define their religious identity and to exercise their own authority in regard to religion ...

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5. The Ebb and Flow of Religiousness across the Life Course

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pp. 80-99

Does religious involvement change over the life course? This is a simple question, but it eludes simple answers because it requires access to long-term longitudinal data spanning many decades of the life course. Longitudinal studies require researchers to have not only the foresight to predict at the inception of a study what questions will be relevant to future scientists ...

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6. Individual Transformation in Religious Commitment and Meaning

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pp. 100-118

We know from the findings presented in the previous chapter that the study participants as a group showed relatively little change in their level of religiousness across adulthood, despite the dip in their religiousness around midlife evident in the 1970 interviews. ...

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7. Spiritual Seeking

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pp. 119-136

Recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the proportion of Americans who are unchurched believers, who distance themselves from church and organized religion while still believing in God or a Higher Power (Hout and Fischer 2002; Roof 1999) and adhering to a personal religion that is uncoupled from conventional forms of religiousness (Smith 2002). ...

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8. The Activities, Personality, and Social Attitudes of Religious and Spiritual Individuals in Late Adulthood

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pp. 137-157

The aging of the populous baby boom generation has increased public interest in identifying the nature of positive functioning in older adulthood.1 According to a traditional assumption, late adulthood is a time in the life course when individuals experience a decline in personal meaning and purpose ...

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9. Spiritual Seeking, Therapeutic Culture, and Concern for Others

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pp. 158-179

Much has been written in recent years about the threat posed to the communal web of American society by the increasing displacement of church-based religion in favor of an individualized, personal religion. Most notably, “Sheilaism,” the personal religion embodied by Sheila Larson in the sociology best-seller Habits of the Heart, ...

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10. The Buffering Role of Religion in Late Adulthood

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pp. 180-204

When we interviewed David Allen at his sun-drenched home on the shore of Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1997, he was as articulate, insightful, optimistic, and energetic at age seventy-six as he had been during earlier interviews in his thirties, forties, and fifties. ...

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11. American Lived Religion

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pp. 205-218

In America, “the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom . . . are intimately united and . . . reign in common,” as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early nineteenth century (1835/1946: 308). We strongly concur with Tocqueville’s perceptive assessment of American religion, and we argue that it applies equally well now as in the mid-1800s. ...

Methodological Appendix: Measuring Religiousness and Spiritual Seeking in the IHD Longitudinal Study

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pp. 219-230


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pp. 231-258


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pp. 259-274


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pp. 275-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780520940031
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520249011

Page Count: 295
Publication Year: 2007