In an age of modern science, can supposedly "reasonable" people harbor hope for Heaven? Or salvation through Jesus Christ? Can faith be plausible in the face of the billions of galaxies discovered by modern astronomy?
In The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable (University of California Press), Princeton University's Robert Wuthnow brings his sociological acumen to bear on these most vexing of questions. Wuthnow, arguably the most productive and insightful sociologist of American religion, deploys rich empirical evidence against the widespread notion that faith and reason, religion and science, are engaged in a struggle for the soul of America. The evidence indicates that for many religious people there is no conflict but rather a creative tension, which they manage by establishing a balance between two distinct ways of looking at the world.
There are two polemical edges to the book. Less central, and mainly of interest to other social scientists, is Wuthnow's suspicion of survey methods in the area of religion. Surveys rely on structure questionnaires; much of the time we don't understand what the answers mean unless we actually talk to the people who gave them. (By the way, I share the suspicion—without denying that surveys, if used judiciously, can indeed disclose some religious realities.) Wuthnow uses a very sophisticated methodology of so-called "discourse analysis"—semi-structured interviews, followed by a careful examination of the language used by the interviewees. Essentially, this is the sort of approach used by anthropologists, leading to what Clifford Geertz (another Princeton social scientist) called "thick description."
The central ...