Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The Transformation of American Religion by Alan Wolfe

the transformation of american religion: how we actually practice our faith

God is not dead in America, but the way he lives and breathes has nothing in common with the old-time religion dramatized in Inherit the Wind. In this groundbreaking work, leading American social scientist Alan Wolfe demonstrates that American religion has been transformed beyond recognition. God has met and struggled fiercely against American culture - and the culture has won.

On the face of it, religion in America seems to be booming. Church attendance remains high, and God-talk is omnipresent. Yet after traveling across the country, visiting with clergy, joining in worship services, and digesting reports from every corner of the land, Wolfe discovered that the reality of religion as we actually practice it is utterly different from the stereotype. Gone is the language of sin and damnation. Forgotten are all the doctrinal differences that were once of burning importance. Worship and prayer serve the needs of the inner self. Witnessing is another lifestyle option.

In short, American religion has been tamed, and God has become a friend rather than an authority figure. Even conservative religion has become part of the culture of narcissism. Evangelicals are more interested in planting and growing churches than they are in saving souls. People change denominations as frequently as they change jobs.

Americans continue to take their religion seriously, but as a group we have thoroughly domesticated what was once a matter of spiritual life and death. We are witnessing the end of religion as our grandparents understood it - and the start of a new religion we are just beginning to know. The Transformation of American Religion offers nothing less than a roadmap to our new national faith.