Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace: A review

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites UsAmerican Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert D. Putnam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently read Huch Heclo’s Christianity and American Democracy, which is better that Putnam and Campbell’s book as an examination of the relationship between Christianity and political life in America. And you should know that although Putnam and Campbell talk about “religion,” they actually almost always mean “Christianity,” and Protestantism in particular (see pp. 30-31 for their recognition of this point). They do use some non-Christian religious examples, but not many.

Where American Grace succeeds is in its discussion of the social side of religious life and how it both knits us together and divides us. I actually expected Putnam to connect this aspect of religious life to the development of social capital more than he did. Isn’t religious participation one of those things that overcomes the “bowling alone” problem? He treats the issue at such a general level that it is difficult to relate it to how social capital is actually developed, expanded, sustained or eroded through the current movements in religious life.

So, on the whole, I was disappointed with the book, and thought Heclo saw deeper into the dilemma of American religious life today.

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