After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion


Much has been written about the profound impact the post-World War II baby boomers had on American religion. But the lifestyles and beliefs of the generation that has followed--and the influence these younger Americans in their twenties and thirties are having on the face of religion--are not so well understood. It is this next wave of post-boomers that Robert Wuthnow examines in this illuminating book.

What are their churchgoing habits and spiritual interests and needs? How does their faith affect their families, their communities, and their politics? Interpreting new evidence from scores of in-depth interviews and surveys, Wuthnow reveals a generation of younger adults who, unlike the baby boomers that preceded them, are taking their time establishing themselves in careers, getting married, starting families of their own, and settling down--resulting in an estimated six million fewer regular churchgoers. He shows how the recent growth in evangelicalism is tapering off, and traces how biblical literalism, while still popular, is becoming less dogmatic and more preoccupied with practical guidance. At the same time, Wuthnow explains how conflicts between religious liberals and conservatives continue--including among new immigrant groups such as Hispanics and Asians--and how in the absence of institutional support many post-boomers have taken a more individualistic, improvised approach to spirituality. Wuthnow's fascinating analysis also explores the impacts of the Internet and so-called virtual churches, and the appeal of megachurches.

After the Baby Boomers offers us a tantalizing look at the future of American religion for decades to come.


For the past century and a half, theologians and social scientists have found very little about which to agree. Theologians start from the premise that a supraempirical realm exists, or that the existence of such a reality or being is worth imagining. Social scientists' orienting premise is that the empirical is all that can be known. Accordingly, theologians generally stake their authority on the interpretation of texts, while social scientists stake theirs on the interpretation of data. Marx's assertion that consciousness does not shape events but is shaped by them, Weber's memorable analysis of modern life as an iron cage of rationality, and Durkheim's observation that men worshipped society when they thought themselves worshipping the gods are powerful reminders of the longstanding tensions between theology and social science. Although there have been notable attempts to find middle ground (one thinks of Peter Berger's delineation of methodological “atheism,” for instance, and Robert Bellah's emphasis on symbolic realism), social science as practiced has continued to diverge from theology both in practice and in presuppositions. Indeed, the two are more often regarded as competing than as complementary modes of inquiry. Thus, it has been possible even in recent years for such a distinguished scholar as theologian John Milbank to caution against social science itself becoming a kind of all-encompassing naturalistic world view.

There is, however, one point on which theologians and social scientists agree: from whatever source theological inspiration originates, it manifests itself in the concrete realities of human life. in theological language, this truth is expressed in the doctrine of the incarnation: the word made flesh. in social science, the same idea is captured from the ground up, so to speak, in arguments about the social construction of knowledge and belief. the individual person of faith is influenced by the social contexts in which he or she lives. Faith is thus not only a conviction about the unseen but also an expression of the opportunities a person has experienced to grow up in a particular culture, to be exposed to the values of one's parents, to mingle with like-minded and unlike-minded associates, to attend school, to work, to marry, and to reflect on life's decisions and mysteries. the flanks of our beliefs are always exposed.

So it is, too, with our organizations and institutions, including our churches and synagogues, mosques and temples. Because they require resources to exist, these places of worship exist only to the extent that they are able to adapt to their environments. They are the products of opportunity . . .

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