American Grace Critical Review Book


American Grace Critical Review: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert Putnam and David Campbell

Most people around the world refer to American religion as being a conundrum. Americans have for a long time tried to combine their ever-expanding religious diversity with religious devotion. At the same time, they try and remain tolerant of each other’s religion. There is a need to know about the factors that have shaped the current United States religious landscape. Also, people need to know about the differences that exist between people who have no faith, those with faiths from non-main stream religions and those with faith from main-stream religions. Lastly, there is a need to know about the unique nature of America’s combination of tolerance, devotion, and diversity.


The above questions have all been raised by Robert Putnam, a sociologist as well as public policy professor at Harvard University. Putnam is known globally because he effectively highlighted American society in ‘Bowling Alone’. On the other hand, David Campbell is a Notre Dame University professor in political science. The two authors have come together to give answers concerning religion in the book ‘American Grace’. The authors have sort to provide in-depth analysis and snapshot of the existing state of the contemporary religiosity in the United States.

They have asked about the relation between politics and religion as well as that between civic and religion. They want to find out if religion unites people or has a divisive role as seen in the opening chapters of the book. Furthermore, they want to find out the path followed by America in order to be where it is today. American Grace has an ambitious breadth as well as a hefty dimension. It is clearly evident that the authors were targeting sociologists of religion to read this new kind of book.


The book has two extremely large surveys whereby the first had 3108 participants and the other had 1909 participants, in the years 2006 as well as 2007 respectively. The first survey had a sample that represented America and the participants were randomly selected. In the second survey, there were also quite a number of participants and they were asked similar questions as those in the first. The author seems to argue that it is quite possible to see how some changes are taking place in the church, such as attendance. Based upon the second survey, the authors were able to find out if having a friend who is another religion different from yours makes you warmer to their religion.

Historical Backdrop

At the opening chapters of American Grace, a historical backdrop has been provided and it is not compelling to people who do not follow religious trends. It is evident that the authors believe that partisan politics has now become associated with the modern American religion and this was not the case almost a decade ago. This is because of what the authors claim is a two aftershock and earthquake event. During the 1960s there was a cultural liberalization and the Time magazine even declared that God was dead. Thereafter, in the 1980’s and 1970s an increase in religious conservatism was witnessed.

The other aftershock came about in the 2000s and 1990s by children of religious conservatism parents and they did not have the same views as their parents, also, they were disaffiliated from any form of religion. They were mostly interested in enhancing their political views.

The current American society is polarized and this means that people who are extremely religious will most likely be conservative on issues that are hot-button. On the contrary, secularists most times tend to be people who are religious rebels. The polarizing trend has in turn given rise to religious ‘nones’ or people who do not associate themselves with any religion. Currently, they make up at least seventeen percent of the entire American population.

These people are sometimes not the same as atheists because some of them claim that they believe in an afterlife and in God. At the same time, they do not have affiliations to a specific religion. Many authors have taken advantage of the fact that religion is highly polarized in order to come up with best-sellers. The authors do not even have any religious affiliations, but they want to be involved in the war that concerns culture and religion.

It should be known that there are some issues that have a correlation to religious beliefs such as pre-marital sex and sexual immorality. Most religious beliefs have no strong correlation with the topic of abortion. This means that people who believe that homosexuality and pre-marital sex are not right, are quite likely to be religious individuals. Therefore, such attitudes track the intensity of religion in a clean and clear manner.

However, evidence shows that some religions are now accepting homosexuality and this is common among the youth who are religious. At the same time, abortion presents a problematic view especially among youth who follow secular values. The authors thus believe that the dividing lines will not be useful in the future especially when it comes to mobilizing secular and religious communities.

The ‘My Pal Al’ and ‘My Aunt Susan’ principles suggest that there is a constant churn of the American religious life. It is no wonder that there are many interfaith friendships and marriages, as well as increasing conversions. This leads to higher and more tolerance of people from different faiths meaning that people who are not Christians have an opportunity of going to heaven.

The authors emphasize that 13 percent of all Americans believe that there is only one religion that is true and the others are false. This figure should be known to people who often give pause to people that claim that religious belief does not have to be intolerant. For example, most Americans who are not religious tend to be regarded as being warm based on the provided thermometer. This means that people who are not believers are not popular to people who belong to a religious group.


In conclusion, Putnam and Campbell have suggested that religion has the ability to unite and divide people because of various reasons. Furthermore, their analysis of the American religious life as seen in the first four chapters is extremely impressive. Humanists and sociologists will gain a better understanding of their different religious neighbors. They will also obtain hard data that concerns the beliefs of Americans as well as what they pray for upon reading this book. Indeed, religion is an issue that attracts the attention of people because it has many interpretations. Therefore, Americans need to be tolerant of each other’s religion without offering criticism.


Work Cited

Putnam, Robert. & Campbell, David. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.



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