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What Americans Really Believe

Rodney Stark

Publication Year: 2008

A shocking snapshot of the most current impulses in American religion. Rodney Stark reports the surprising findings of the 2007 Baylor Surveys of Religion, a follow up to the 2005 survey revealing most Americans believe in God or a higher power. This new volume highlights even more hot-button issues of religious life in our country. A must-read for anyone interested in Americans' religious beliefs and practices.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Stark front

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Front matter

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pp. v-vii

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Introduction: The Stability and Diversity of American Faith

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pp. 1-14

Forty years ago, results from the first two major surveys ever done of American religious beliefs and practices were published in American Piety.* For the very first time it was possible to examine many aspects of our national religious life: Who prays, when, and why? Do many Americans expect the second coming of Jesus, and how soon? ...


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pp. 15

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1. Church-Going: Labels Matter

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pp. 17-20

In recent years there have been a number of attempts made to minimize the actual rate of church attendance in America, some of them remarkably impassioned (one of the more prominent proponents of this claim actually broke into sobs when his views were questioned at an academic meeting). No one disputes ...

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2. Church Growth: Competing for Members

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pp. 21-28

Early in 2008, when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that 44 percent of American adults have switched from one denomination to another, many observers seemed to think this observation was a bit scandalous. The editors of the Wall Street Journal opined: “There are reasons to find this statistic troubling. ...

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3. Strict Churches: The Reasons for Their Popularity

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pp. 29-36

For many observers of the American religious scene, especially Europeans, the real mystery is why the strict churches—those that demand much of their members—are the ones that are flourishing, while the more permissive and accommodating churches are falling by the wayside. The previous chapter explained one ...

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4. The "Scattered" Church: Traditional Congregations Are Not Going Away

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pp. 37-44

On the one hand are claims that the church is becoming too scattered: many nondenominational religious groups have arisen that maintain no connections with organized churches, such as groups meeting regularly to hold prayer breakfasts and independent Bible-study groups made up of people who otherwise ...

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5. Megachurches: Supersizing the Faith

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pp. 45-52

The rise of Protestant megachurches has caused a great deal of comment and criticism. Some media find them appalling examples of a religious “Disneyland” mentality wherein people flock to be part of an anonymous crowd of spectators rather than worshipers. It is widely believed that to be really close to God, ...

Part II Beliefs and Practices

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pp. 53

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6 Religious Experiences: God Told Me to Go to Church

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pp. 55-60

American Piety pioneered the surveying of religious and mystical experiences. Having defined religious experiences as involving some sense of contact with a supernatural being or consciousness, the researchers prepared a battery of items asking about events involving various kinds of visions, voices, ...

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7. Gender: Women: Believe More, Pray More

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pp. 61-68

Historians agree that women greatly outnumbered men among the converts to early Christianity.1 The great German scholar Adolf von Harnack wrote that the ancient sources “simply swarm with tales of how women of all ranks were converted in Rome and in the provinces.”2 This was not peculiar to the ...

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8 Heaven: We Are All Going

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pp. 69-74

Although the Gallup poll found in 1957 that 74 percent of Americans said they believed in life after death (and another 13 percent said they were undecided),1 by the time of the survey conducted for American Piety in 1964, it was widely believed that most Americans didn’t really mean it. Not only were many ...

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9 God: Love, Anger, and Commitment

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pp. 75-78

In 1944 the Gallup poll asked a national sample of Americans, “Do you, personally, believe in God?” and 96 percent said “yes.” Through the decades that same question has been asked many times, and the results are always the same: just about everyone believes in God. What that means, of course, is that to know that Americans ...

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10 Evil: Did Sin Cause the Hurricane?

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pp. 79-86

The existence of evil has always troubled theologians. How can God be omnipotent and loving and yet allow sin to exist and so often seem to triumph? Responses to this dilemma have long been the subject of theological and philosophical debate. The fourth-century British monk Pelagius argued that evil was a ...

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11 Spirituality: Religion and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive

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pp. 87-94

There seem to be many Americans who, like the young woman quoted above, have come to separate spirituality and religiousness, and by the 1990s this gave rise to the belief that spirituality is displacing religiosity. Consequently, scholars rushed to enumerate the growing proportions of spiritual ...

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12 Giving: The Rich, the Poor, and the Widow’s Mite

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pp. 95-100

Tithing (from the Old English word for a tenth) has always aroused controversy among Christians. The Old Testament (Mal 3:8-12) sets an obligation on all Jews to contribute a tenth of their incomes to the temple, more often in kind than in cash. Eventually, tithing took the form of a mandatory religious tax imposed by ...

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13 Personality: Are We Hardwired for God?

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pp. 101-112

Social scientists have often speculated that there might be something innate about individual religiousness. Obviously, the details of religious culture are transmitted socially, but are they rooted in an underlying biological component of the human makeup, independent of culture and society? That certainly would account for ...

Part III Atheism and Irreligion

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pp. 113

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14 Atheism: The Godless Revolution That Never Happened

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pp. 115-124

For several centuries, Western intellectuals have been predicting the death of religion. Writing in about 1710, the English freethinker Thomas Woolston (1670–1731) expressed his confidence that religion would be gone by 1900. Voltaire (1694–1778) thought Woolston was being far too pessimistic and ...

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15 Credulity: Who Believes in Bigfoot?

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pp. 125-132

Twenty-eight years ago, two sociologists1 provoked consternation among the readers of a humanist-sponsored magazine by reporting that in their large sample of college students those who said they were irreligious were the ones by far the most likely to embrace a series of occult and paranormal beliefs, ...

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16 New Age Adherents: Well-Educated, Formerly Irreligious Elites

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pp. 133-140

For years, the sociology of religion was stuck with a fallacy about new religious movements—that they always arise from lower-class protest and discontent. This claim derived from Marx’ dismissal of religion as the “opium of the people” by way of the American Protestant theologian-turned-sociologist ...

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17 The Irreligious: Simply Unchurched—Not Atheists

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pp. 141-146

Much is being made of an apparent rise in the percentage of Americans who report that they have no religious affiliation.1 Recent surveys find that 11 to 12 percent now say they have no religion, while surveys conducted from the late 1940s through the 1980s found that only about 6 to 7 percent reported they ...

Part IV The Public Square

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pp. 147

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18 Faith and Politics: Is There a Secret Plot of Evangelicals to Take Over the American Government?

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pp. 149-158

Evangelical Christians are the new scapegoats of liberal American culture. A survey of a national sample of college professors conducted in 2006 found that 53 percent admitted to having negative feelings toward Evangelicals, compared with 3 percent having such feelings towards Jews and 18 percent ...

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19 Merry Christmas, Jesus: It’s Okay to Put Sacred Symbols in Public Space

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pp. 159-162

Amazingly, opinion researchers have almost entirely ignored Christmas. The only previous poll finding related to this holiday found that 67 percent of Americans prefer that advertisers use “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” This poll, by the Rasmussen Report (November 2007), ...

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20 Incivility: Talking about Faith in Public

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pp. 163-166

Advisors on proper etiquette used to suggest that in polite company one must never discuss politics or religion. Today, when polite company has gone the way of the formal dinner party, it is not clear that there are rules of etiquette, and, in any event, the advice to avoid talking about politics and religion seems ...

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21 Religious-Media Consumption: The Da Vinci Code Effect

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pp. 167-176

In recent decades there has been a explosion of media religion in America—cable channels, network television series, movies, books, art, and recorded music with explicit religious content. Although media religion has generated a great deal of comment, it has prompted remarkably little market analysis. ...

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22 Civic Participation: Faith as Social Capital

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pp. 177-182

Robert Bellah and his covey of coauthors described the excesses of individualism and lack of civic engagement in their influential Habits of the Heart (1985). According to Bellah and his collaborators, many societal ills result from too great an emphasis on individualism and too weak a commitment to the community. ...

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23 Going to College, Getting a Job: What Happens When Mom and Dad Take Their Kids to Church

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pp. 183-190

The introduction rejected the current anxieties that the churches are losing their young people by showing that young adults have been prone to nonattendance for as long as there have been polls on religious activity. It was suggested that many people let their religious participation lapse while they are single ...

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Epilogue: Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) at Baylor

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pp. 191-198

Because Baylor University has long competed in major college sports and is a member of the powerful Big 12 Conference, few people realize that until quite recently it was primarily a fine undergraduate school. Serious efforts to add a distinguished research and graduate-school component began only several years ago. ...


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pp. 199-208


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pp. 209

Stark back

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E-ISBN-13: 9781602582163
E-ISBN-10: 1602582165
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602581784
Print-ISBN-10: 1602581789

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1