Voluntary and Diverse: American Religion and American Society

Nancy Ammerman
Theology and Sociology, Boston University

Date: January 28, 2004

Event Recap

On January 28th, Professor Nancy T. Ammerman of the School of Theology and the Department of Sociology at Boston University launched the spring lunch seminar series with a presentation entitled, “Voluntary and Diverse: American Religion and American Society.” Reviewing the origins of religious diversity in the United States, Ammerman emphasized both the plural aspects of American religion and the things about the American context that make immigrant religions more homogeneous. She pointed to institutional patterns and organizational forms that religious organizations assume to help them to adapt and get along in a diverse and religiously plural society. For example, they tend to become voluntary associations; they adopt a democratic or congregational structure; they develop a role that has a status similar to that of the professional clergyperson; and they become dependent upon members for social and financial resources. In these ways, the American environment has a homogenizing influence on new religious groups. The process of forming and supporting new congregations provides important exercise in the skills that are necessary for participation in civil society, such as cooperation, developing collective goals and strategies, and building communities which contribute to the thickening of the civic culture.