This is an important book for two reasons: because of its presentation of contemporary data collected in a national survey of the attitudes and behaviors of Catholics in the United States in 2011, and because this book is the fifth in a series of similar books published since 1989. The four previous national surveys of Catholic attitudes and behavior were conducted in 1987, 1993, 1999, and 2005.
The introduction to American Catholics in Transition summarizes the internal and external social forces that shaped U.S. Catholicism over the last quarter of a century and that served as the backdrop to the administration of the surveys. The introduction also highlights key trends and explanatory variables across the time span.
The fifth survey is significant for the following reasons: it finds both “persistence and change” in the beliefs, attitudes, and practices of U.S. Catholics in 2011 along a variety of indicators. It continues to track trends among the adult generations, across gender lines, and across varying levels of commitment and Catholic identity. It places particular focus on the growing Hispanic Catholic population, and on the millennial generation (1979–1993). Analysis of the Millennial Catholic generation also reveals its changing racial and ethnic makeup. New questions were added to the fifth survey about reasons for [End Page 77] attending Mass or not, spirituality, the meaning of Catholicism for the individual, and same-sex marriage.
Like the previous books in the series, the authors also focus on key Catholic institutions – the parish, the priesthood, and religious orders – and analyze shifts within and around them. They also provide an up-to-date analysis of Catholicism and party politics.
Two of the most important findings in this book require watching. The level of commitment of Catholic women is today equal to that of Catholic men, a steep decline in women’s commitment since 1987. This decline has implications for many aspects of the church’s life. Second, there was an increase, since 2005, in highly committed Catholics saying that one can be a good Catholic without donating time or money to help the poor (30 to 39 percent). If this attitude holds, it has implications for the church and society.
This book is a much-anticipated piece in the growing sociological literature on Catholicism in the United States. It is a book that is accessible for undergraduates in courses in sociology and religious studies, while also providing avenues for further research for students in graduate courses in the social sciences, religion and theology. This book is essential for college libraries so that scholars can avail themselves of the findings captured in the five books in the series over the course of the twenty-four year period (1989–2013).