Inventing American Religion

Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation's Faith

by

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780190258900
  • 9780190258917
  • 9780190258924
Today, a billion-dollar-a-year polling industry floods the media with information. Pollsters tell us not only which political candidates will win, but how we are practicing our faith. How many Americans went to church last week? Have they been born again? Is Jesus as popular as Harry Potter? Polls tell us that 40 percent of Americans attend religious services each week. They show that African Americans are no more religious than white Americans, and that Jews are abandoning their religion in record numbers. According to leading sociologist Robert Wuthnow, none of that is correct. Pollsters say that attendance at religious services has been constant for decades. But during that time response rates in polls have plummeted, robotic "push poll" calls have proliferated, and sampling has become more difficult. The accuracy of political polling can be known because elections actually happen. But there are no election results to show if the proportion of people who say they pray every day or attend services every week is correct. A large majority of the public doubts that polls can be trusted, and yet night after night on TV, polls experts sum up the nation's habits to an eager audience of millions.Inventing American Religion offers a provocative new argument about the influence of polls in contemporary American society. Wuthnow contends that polls and surveys have shaped-and distorted-how religion is understood and portrayed in the media and also by religious leaders, practitioners, and scholars. He calls for a robust public discussion about American religion that extends well beyond the information provided by polls and surveys, and suggests practical steps to facilitate such a discussion, including changes in how the results of polls and surveys are presented.
  • Oxford University Press; September 2015
  • ISBN: 9780190258917
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure EPUB format
  • Title: Inventing American Religion
  • Author: Robert Wuthnow
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press
Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780190258900
  • 9780190258917
  • 9780190258924

In The Press

"As one of the leading researchers and scholars in the sociology of religion, Robert Wuthnow is perfectly positioned to provide considerable insight into the process and production of sociological research into religion. This work provides interesting historical context to some of the most famous studies in the field. This book will be of interest to those who are interested in the history of those famous studies, those who are interested in polling and sociological research methods, and those who are interested in the social construction of knowledge itself. Readers will be challenged to reconsider what they think they know about what it means to be religious."--V. Jacquette Rhoades, Reading Religion
"Based on survey research, Robert Wuthnow has written some of the most widely read books about American religion. Here he turns a critical eye on surveys and polls. As only Wuthnow can, he shows that numbers cannot speak for themselves, that Americans have gone too far in letting surveys and polls define our faith experiences for us. Anyone who cares about how we count the past or future of American religion should read this book." --Elaine Howard Ecklund, Herbert S. Autrey Chair Professor of Sociology, Rice University
"Wuthnow's Inventing American Religion offers a remarkable portrait not just of the history of religious polls and surveys in the United States, but also how these methods of research have shaped - if not sometimes distorted - the development of religious categories. The book is packed full of insights about the role of polls and surveys in studying religion, at times attempting to capture new trends, and other times labeling those trends and offering new maps for portraying this ever-changing territory. A must read for scholars and journalists alike interested in American religion." --Wade Clark Roof, J.F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society Emeritus and Research Professor
"Inventing American Religion is an important contribution to our expanding map of twentieth-century American culture and religious life, framing a way to understand how public understandings of 'American religion' were shaped and continue to be influenced by the rise of surveys and public polling. Wuthnow brings both a sociological insider's first-hand knowledge of the promises and problems of polling and survey techniques, and an historian's interest in the complexity of American religious life to this lively study. The result is a rich, rewarding, and thought-provoking book about the complex role that polling and surveys continue to play in shaping Americans' public understandings of what it means to be religious." --Courtney Bender, Professor of Religion, Columbia University
"Written at a level for advanced undergraduates and early-career graduate students, the book has worked well in my courses on contemporary American religion and social scientific methods. That Wuthnow sometimes understates his harshest criticisms means that readers and instructors must amplify his soft-spoken advice, but these qualities also make the book rich for close reading and discussion." --American Academy of Religion
"In this clear, timely book, Wuthnow explores a subject both ubiquitous and curiously elusive to critical engagement. Wuthnow narrates the history of religion polling to raise questions about how Americans self-understanding is constructed and managed. The narrative is staged via numerous well chosen historical episodes, each illustrating Wuthnow s concern about the lack of critical interrogation of and insufficient nuance within polls."--Religious Studies Review

About The Author

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous books on American culture and religion.

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780190258900
  • 9780190258917
  • 9780190258924