“American Grace” a Book by Robert Putnam and David Campbell


The authors of the book aim at understanding some important aspects of religion in the US. It is worth to note that religion is a crucial component of society, and it helps to achieve stability and relatively high levels of economic growth. Specifically, the scholars who have written the book have focused on obtaining answers to the following questions:

  1. What enables Americans to have diversity and tolerance?
  2. What are the essential features of churchgoers?
  3. What aspects have influenced religious groups in America?
  4. Can political events be associated with religious happenings?

Authors and their backgrounds

Two authors ask the questions. The first is “Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor of public policy and a sociologist who shone the spotlight on the American community in Bowling Alone” (Putnam and Campbell 1). The second is “David Campbell, a professor of political science at Notre Dame” (Putnam and Campbell 1).

Putnam’s impressive credentials as a scholar and a writer make him uniquely qualified for the task of finding answers to the questions given his experiences with such works in the past. He combines efforts with Campbell, an expert in matters of religion and politics, who has authored several books on issues of sociology and religion, such as Making Civics Count and A matter of Faith. Their skills and expertise in the fields of religion and politics make them very authoritative scholars.

Sources of information

Much of the book is based on the findings of “two surveys that involved 3,108 and 1909 participants, which were conducted in 2006 and 2007 respectively” (Putnam and Campbell 10). The sample used for the initial study represented a random selection from the American public.

In order to achieve high levels of comparison, a significant number of participants used in the first study was also utilized in the second investigation. Another justification for this was to determine the changes in church attendance and other factors from one year to the next. In addition, “the authors wanted to discover if the variables they had identified in the first had interacted and influenced each other and test their hypotheses” (Putnam and Campbell 23).

For example, they concentrated on assessing whether a person who established friendships with people from another religion could change his or her view about it. The book contains congregational vignettes, which provide a documentary-like viewpoint of several American religious groups. The “opening of the book provides a historical backdrop that is noticeable even to those whose interest in religion is only casual” (Putnam and Campbell 129).

It is the contention of the authors that contemporary religion in the US is associated with numerous partisan politics (Berger et al. 87). This can be attributed to the aftershocks that came after the 1960s when God was declared dead by the Time Magazine. This was followed by a serious backlash in the 1970s and 1980s, which witnessed the emergence of religious conservatism, also referred to as the moral majority.

The second aftershock was in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the children of the conservative moral majority rebelled against their parents’ conservative ways as well as the corresponding political views (Sperry 76). Thus, it can be stated that the authors adopted an effective way of presenting their observations that were based on scientific approaches to collecting and analyzing data.

Change in views over time

Putnam and Campbell have considered the past half-century, which has demonstrated that radical public opinions on religion can change in such a short span of time. In 1960, the marriage of a “protestant to a Catholic was regularly unwelcome on both sides, and the presidential applicant John F. Kennedy confronted exceptional protestant incredulity” (Putnam and Campbell 130).

However, the modern world is typified by marriages among religious groups because people are less concerned with discriminating others for their faith (Sperry 76). Putnam and Campbell say “by 2000s, religious individuals were more critical as a political separating line than which section they…” (Putnam and Campbell 130).

This prompts a riddle. Why is that Muslims are not treated with the same familiarity as Christians? Why was the would-be 9/11 Koran burner not a religionist, yet a clergyman from a zealous church? Why are Newt Gingrich and different government officials who intend to outfit dread of Muslims administering their message to evangelicals with, evidently, a few achievements?

In the final chapter, they propose answers to the queries. They explain the earlier claim that diversity has not really involved intolerance and, in most cases, believers appear open to the idea of bending doctrines for the sake of interfaith unity. Ironically, they explain, most Christians, even the very evangelical ones, believe that even non-Christians can go to heaven, despite the fact that the New Testament is explicit that only through Christ can the kingdom be accessed (Putnam and Campbell 134).

According to the authors, this big-hearted view can be attributed to the fact that given the diversity of the United States, also every American is well socialized with people of other faiths. Many know Muslims, Hindus, and even atheists. In fact, some are family members. The authors argue that the Christian tendency to claim that they are the only truly religious people has been somewhat watered down by this perception. People are less likely to tell others that their religions are wrong, or they will go to hell, and it is easier to be tolerant. Besides, getting to interact with people who hold “alien faith” makes it easier for the listener to have a mind that is more open. Thus, a new religion is much more acceptable to him or her (Berger, Davie, and Fokas 34).

The personal opinion on the book

In my opinion, American Grace is not so much about the level of the religious faith of piety, but the fact that different faiths have managed to co-exist with each other without the all too common religious conflicts that are experienced elsewhere. To a significant extent, the book does a good job in describing the underlying factors that determine the relationships among various religious groups in the United States.

The text applies a set of empirical and statistical techniques, which give it much more credibility than conventional purely philosophical works. Nonetheless, I do not entirely agree with the findings since they have not sufficiently addressed the most controversial, and what I believe is the most important interfaith issue. Where Islam is concerned, it is more than just a matter or religion.

The attitude of most Americans toward Muslims would likely be more tolerant if America did not view international terrorism issues as a direct threat. This is probably why Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists tend to be less discriminated against than Muslims are. I think that more focused research needs to be conducted to investigate the extent to which race and religion interplay in the issue.

This notwithstanding, the book has been very insightful since it has provided me with a more objective and informed outlook on religion in the United States. I had previously assumed that most Americans were not concerned about religion. In fact, the truth that about 40% of the population is associated religions church was quite a surprise. Thus, it implies that many people are aware of a supernatural being.

My personal observation is in line with the claim that people who go to church tend to be more involved in civic engagements. The scholars tend to argue that people who frequently go to the church show relatively high levels of neighborliness. In fact, they could offer financial support to support religious and nonreligious events.

In my community, most of those who vote and engage in a multiplicity of community services are religious people who regularly attend church. In many cases, they use the church as a platform for their civil activities. In conclusion, I feel that the book is a comprehensive explication of the American religious environment.

However, it may not have mentioned or explored with sufficient depth all the key issues that could be considered more a matter of space rather than negligent research. It is an excellent read that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in religion, not necessarily from an American perspective since one can make many comparisons as far as social-cultural factors are concerned.

Works Cited

Berger, Peter, Grace Davie, and Effie Fokas. Religious America, secular Europe?: a theme and variation. Farnham, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2008. Print.

Putnam, Robert, and David Campbell. American grace: How religion divides and unites us. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012. Print.

Sperry, Willard. Religion in America. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.