Category Archives: tolerance

Good interviews with Putnam/Campbell about religion in America

Two interesting interviews with American Grace co-authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell, describing the sweeping changes occurring in the American religious landscape over the past half century and their social consequences: on politics, on youth, on tolerance, and on civic engagement.

Brian Lehrer interview available here

MSNBC “Morning Joe” interview available here.

For more on American Grace, see the American Grace blog including interviews about American Grace on BBC, NPR Weekend Edition, PBS NewsHour, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Talk of the Nation, etc.

The Stained-Glass Ceiling of Religious Tolerance

[also cross-posted on AmericanGrace blog]

American Grace co-author David Campbell has an Op-Ed in today’s USA Today (with John C. Green and J. Quin Monson) entitled “Tolerance? We have a ways to go”.

The Op-Ed sizes up the chances of Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney in 2012 by examining public opinion regarding religious tolerance and America’s de facto “stained glass ceiling”.  Interestingly, those  most knowledgeable about Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints) were least likely to be intolerant, regardless of whether they were LDS themselves.

Read Op-Ed here.

AMERICAN GRACE: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives By David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, will be published in 2010.

Young Americans dropping out of religion, other American Grace findings by Putnam/Campbell

Saying Grace - Flickr photo by ImCait

Saying Grace - Flickr photo by ImCait

Robert D. Putnam (Harvard) and David Campbell (Notre Dame) recently previewed selected themes from their forthcoming book American Grace at the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that draws a select group of the leading journalists on religion in America.

As Michael Gerson, ex-speechwriter to President George Bush and one of the Pew Forum attendees, noted in his opening paragraph in a recent nationally syndicated and well-nuanced op-ed in the Washington Post:

“There is a book that everyone will be talking about — when it appears over a year from now. American Grace: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives, being written by…Putnam and… Campbell, is already creating a buzz. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is the pre-eminent academic expert on American civic life. Campbell is his rising heir. And the book they haven’t yet finished will make just about everyone constructively uncomfortable.”

Putnam and Campbell’s analysis draws on the Faith Matters data they collected — a national, authoritative large-scale, hour-long survey on religion (beliefs, belonging and behavior),  social and political engagement, and religious and political beliefs.  They followed up in a very rare panel survey, reinterviewing the same respondents 6-9 months later to understand the stability of our religion and religious beliefs and to get traction on the issue of causation.  Their research also entails a dozen to fifteen in-depth case studies of religious denominations and churches of many stripes across all parts of the nation.

American Grace finds evidence of unprecedented polarization along religious and political lines, with politics driving changes in religious attendance rather than the reverse!  But amidst the deepening divides, they find a startlingly high level of support on all sides for religious diversity. Most deeply religious Americans reject the idea of a theocratic society run by Christian ayatollahs, while most secular Americans are quite comfortable with the idea of a society infused with religious and moral values.  In short, they argue, America today represents a historical rarity—a society that is both deeply religious and deeply tolerant.  [For example, Americans believe that Americans of other religions can go to heaven, even Christians of non-Christians.  Moreover, 8 of 10 Americans think there are “basic truths in many religions” and 85% of Americans say that religious diversity is good for the country.]

Here are a few of their interesting findings:

  • Young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of 5-6 times the historic rate (30-40% have no religion today versus 5-10% a generation ago).  But youth’s religious disaffection is largely due to discomfort with religiosity having been tied to conservative politics.  Putnam and Campbell expect, given the remarkable history of American religious entrepreneurship (from Mormonism to revival meetings to megachurches), that this disaffection from religion is temporary: religious entrepreneurs will rise to offer these young Americans the less politicized religion that they crave.
  • Americans today inherit both religion and congregation far less than their parents and grandparents did and there is remarkable religious fluidity, with between 1/3 and 1/2 of all Americans changing religion from the one they were born into.  [The lower bound does not count a denominational shift like that from Methodists to Calvinists as a switch and only counts a change in religion from Judaism to Buddhism or from Baptist to no-religion.]  And there has been remarkably more entrepreneurial sorting of congregations and congregation shopping with congregants finding a religious home within a denomination that maximally meets their wants and needs (sometimes through stricter “churches”, sometimes through looser ones).
  • There is a remarkable degree of religious bridging in our social networks: approximately 70% of Americans have at least some extended family of a different religion than they are, and this rises to 75% for closest friends, and 85% of Americans who live among at least some neighbors of a different religion.  The interlinkage of these religious networks helps to constrain any message of intolerance that parishioners get from the pulpit.
  • Religious Americans are better citizens than non-religious ones (they give more to secular causes, volunteer more for secular causes, and join more, to mention a few markers of good citizenship). However, it is not their particular theology that predicts good citizenship, but the extent to which they are embedded in a friendship network of religious others (regardless of their religion). [Putnam refers to these religious friends as “powerful, supercharged friends.”]  So it is religious social networks, not teachings from the pulpit that are key to them being 3-4 times more generous than the most secular Americans.

American Grace will come out in October 2010.

Michael Gerson’s syndicated Op-Ed “Religion and Our Civic Behavior” is here. (Wash. Post, 5/8/09)

See “Getting to Know You” (Wall Street Journal by Naomi Schaefer Riley, 5/15/09) [which discusses the extent of religious bridging social capital in America, and how having friends of different religions changes ones views toward that religion]

Also, see “Religious People Make Better Citizens” (

Excerpt below from “Religion and Our Civic Behavior” By Michael Gerson:

“[R]eligious affiliation has declined in America since World War II, especially among the young. The change was not gradual or linear. It arrived, according to Putnam, in “one shock and two aftershocks.” The shock came in the 1960s. As conservatives have asserted, the philosophy of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is an alternative to religious affiliation (though some of the rocking religious would dispute the musical part). Baby boomers were far less religious than their parents at the same age — the probable result, says Putnam, of a “very rapid change in morals and customs.”

“This retreating tide of religion affected nearly every denomination equally — except that it was less severe among evangelicals. While not dramatically increasing their percentage of the American population, evangelicals did increase their percentage among the religious in America. According to Putnam, religious “entrepreneurs” such as Jerry Falwell organized and channeled the conservative religious reaction against the 1960s into the religious right — the first aftershock.

“But this reaction provoked a reaction — the second aftershock. The politicization of religion by the religious right, argues Putnam, caused many young people in the 1990s to turn against religion itself, adopting the attitude: “If this is religion, I’m not interested.” The social views of this younger cohort are not entirely predictable — both the pro-life and the homosexual-rights movement have made gains. But Americans now in their 20s are much more secular than the baby boomers were at the same stage of life. About 30 percent or 35 percent are religiously unaffiliated…. Putnam calls this “a stunning development.” As many liberals suspected, the religious right was not good for religion.

The result of the shock and aftershocks is polarization. The general level of religiosity in America hasn’t changed much over the years. But, as Putnam says, “more people are very religious and many are not at all.” And these beliefs have become “correlated with partisan politics….There are fewer liberals in the pews and fewer unchurched conservatives.”

Is a British Obama possible?

Obama '08 (photo by beebo wallace)
Obama ’08 (photo by beebo wallace)

Harvard and Manchester through the SCHMi collaboration released their findings about whether a British Obama is possible.  Broadly we found that substantial generational patterns of increased tolerance in both Britain and the U.S., whether related to attitudes towards a black boss or intermarriage or towards black politicians (in the US).  Robert Putnam (Harvard Professor and visiting professor at Univ. of Manchester) noted that: “Change is taking a similar form on both sides of the Atlantic: exactly as in the US, the generation of Britons uncomfortable with non-whites in positions of power or intimacy is gradually dying off, and being replaced by its more tolerant offspring….It is fair to add, however, that the smaller minority population in the UK, as well as the much shallower pool of black politicians and the more centralised political recruitment paths, still tends to work against black representation in Britain.”

There is an interesting article on these findings by Allegra Stratton “Britain ready for black prime minister” in today’s Guardian and in-depth piece called “Mixed Blessing” and an editorial “Geography of Race” by co-author of the forthcoming book Age of Obama, Tom Clark.

In addition, the BBC aired several pieces on the story (“Black prime minister likely to take decades” and Robert Putnam interview with the BBC).

One can find the underlying scholarly papers (on which the report draws) and a sample chapter of the book Age of Obama here.

Press release on this topic available here.


Social Change: a Harvard-Manchester Initiative (SCHMi) is a collaboration of Harvard University and the University of Manchester that seeks to understand the complex consequences of big societal changes, like the Industrial Revolution or the civil rights revolution, which require careful inter-disciplinary research to identify ways to maximize social benefits and minimize social costs. Much as the sharp declines in life expectancy in the train of the Industrial Revolution in the later 1800s spawned empirical research that uncovered the importance of clean water and sanitation and ultimately reversed the adverse health effects, so too SCHMi aims to spur careful research on large-scale social issues today and thus to foster social progress. Transatlantic comparison and transatlantic learning have long been pivotal to such efforts.

One objective of the SCHMi collaboration is to produce roughly annually a book or report for the informed public, comparing and contrasting the US and UK experiences on some major social issue. The first project, nearing now completion, is on diversity/immigration. We anticipate future reports on religion and public life, and on inequality. The fourth and final topic has not yet been determined, but will likely be either the social consequences of technology or the changing workplace.

Diversity is a critically important subject. In the opening decade of the 21st century immigration and racial diversity are high on both countries’ agendas, for both are undergoing rapid demographic change. But their starting points and trajectories are different, and the policy debates, while intertwined transatlantically, are also different. The Age of Obama (to come out in Fall 2009) compares the social, economic, demographic, and political consequences of immigration and racial diversity in the US and the UK. The work is unusually timely because many are now wondering whether there could be a British Obama.

The Age of Obama is written by Tom Clark, an experienced writer for The Guardian, and builds on substantive contributions from Professors Waters (Harvard), Fieldhouse (Manchester), Peach (Manchester-Oxford), Yaojun Li (Manchester), Daniel Hopkins (post-doc, Harvard Govt. Dept.), and Rob Ford (post-doc, Manchester sociology) with overall project direction being provided by Robert Putnam.

  • The underlying chapters are:1. Comparing Immigrant Integration in the US and the UK (based on research by Mary Waters)2. Ethnic and Racial Segregation in the US and Britain (based on research by Ceri Peach)3. Immigration and neighborhood diversity in the U.K. and the U.S.  Does diversity damage social capital? (based on research by Ed Fieldhouse and David Cutts)4. Socio-economic integration of immigrants in the US and UK (based on research by Yaojun Li)5. How levels of neighborhood immigration influence attitudes towards immigration in the U.S and the U.K and generational changes in the US and UK in attitudes toward race (based on research by Dan Hopkins and Rob Ford).

Schools of choice boost civic values

In a meta-analysis of 21 quantitative studies, Patrick J. Wolf (Univ. of Arkansas) found that schools of choice (private and public) better inculcate students in 7 civic values  necessary for democratic citizenship: political tolerance, voluntarism, political knowledge, political participation, social capital, civic skills, and patriotism.  Study called “Civics Exam: Schools of Choice Boost Civic Values” in EducationNext journal (Summer 2007). Among the more rigorous studies analyzed, 23 of 59 findings (52%) show school choice or private schooling as having statistically significant positive effects on civic values. [Ten findings show a neutral effect and only one finding showed a negative effect of school choice on civic values.]

All these studies control for selection bias in addition to differences in student backgrounds in the various schools. Most of the studies  compared students in private schools with those in public schools, but the effects were found in Catholic and non-Catholic private schools.

Wolf concluded that “These results suggest that the expansion of school choice is more likely to enhance than diminish the civic values of our next generation of citizens.”