Robert Putnam's "American Grace"

American Grace

How Religion Divides and Unites Us

David Campbell
John Cardinal OHara, C.S.C. Associate Professor of Political Science

Robert D. Putnam
Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy


American Grace is a major achievement, a fascinating look at religion in today's America. Unique among nations, America is deeply religious, religiously diverse and remarkably tolerant. But in recent decades, the nation’s religious landscape has been reshaped.

America has experienced three seismic shocks, say Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In the 1960s religious observance plummeted. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s a conservative reaction produced the rise of evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Since the 1990s, however, young people, turned off by that linkage between faith and conservative politics, have abandoned organized religion entirely. The result: growing polarization. The ranks of religious conservatives and secular liberals have swelled, leaving a dwindling group of religious moderates in between. At the same time, personal interfaith ties are strengthening. Interfaith marriage has increased, while religious identities are increasingly fluid. Putnam and Campbell show how this denser web of personal ties brings surprising interfaith tolerance, notwithstanding the so-called "culture wars."

American Grace is based on two of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on religion and public life in America. It includes a dozen in-depth profiles of diverse congregations across the country, which illuminate the trends described by Putnam and Campbell in the lives of real Americans. Nearly every chapter of American Grace contains a surprise about American religious life.

Among Them
  • Between one-third and one-half of all American marriages are interfaith;
  • Roughly one-third of Americans have switched religions at some point in their lives;
  • Young people are more opposed to abortion than their parents but more accepting of gay marriage;
  • Even fervently religious Americans believe that people in other faiths can get to heaven;
  • Religious Americans are better neighbors than secular Americans—more generous with their time and treasure, even for secular causes—but the explanation has less to do with faith than with communities of faith;
  • Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today.

Notable Quotes

“Religion is perhaps the most significant but little understood force in American life, and this new book goes a long way toward illuminating how faith affects our politics and our culture. As ever, Robert Putnam has produced an original and thought-provoking work. ”
— Jon Meacham, Editor of Newsweek and author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

“Religious America is becoming increasingly pluralistic and interfaith. In American Grace, Robert Putnam and David Campbell analyze survey data and congregational profiles to give us a comprehensive look at religion in our county, and reach conclusions that will provide much thought for reflection. For those interested in the role of religion in society, this is an important book to read. It will be the topic of much discussion. ”
— Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners and author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street

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