Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University's Center for the Study of Religion says that America too often fails to live up to its ideals in everything from race to corruption to affordable health care. Wuthnow, with an eye on the role of religion, asks, "How does a society renew itself?" Sadly, readers hoping for specific guidance will be disappointed by his irenic but largely ivory tower–level discussion. Wuthnow recognizes that part of the problem is Americans' increasingly privatized understanding of faith. He praises America for creating an atmosphere of great spiritual diversity. But he also points out that this can lead people to be reticent about their beliefs. Religious faith has become something so deeply personal that to speak of it publicly—especially, say, at a dinner party—is akin to discussing your favored methods for maintaining a clean colon.

"A man who grew up in Cuba says he is deeply religious even though he no longer goes to [Mass] and disagrees with many of the teachings of the Catholic church," Wuthnow writes in describing the eclectic nature of American faith. "He mostly 'keeps quiet' about what he believes or does not believe. Being in a more pluralistic environment has encouraged him to 'look at other philosophies and religions and try to come up with my own.'"

Related Elsewhere:

American Mythos is available from and other book retailers.

An excerpt from Wuthnow's America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity is available on our site.

More information, including an interview with Wuthnow and an excerpt, is available from Princeton University Press.

For book lovers, our 2006 CT book awards are available ...

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