The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy

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Rutgers University Press, 2005 - Religion - 347 pages
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In this provocative book, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark challenge popular perceptions about American religion. They view the religious environment as a free market economy, where churches compete for souls. The story they tell is one of gains for upstart sects and losses for mainline denominations.

Although many Americans assume that religious participation has declined in America, Finke and Stark present a different picture. In 1776, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans were active in church affairs. Today, church membership includes about 6 out of 10 people.

But, as Finke and Stark show, not all denominations benefited. They explain how and why the early nineteenth-century churches began their descent, while two newcomer sects, the Baptists and the Methodists, gained ground. They also analyze why the Methodists then began a long, downward slide, why the Baptists continued to succeed, how the Catholic Church met the competition of ardent Protestant missionaries, and why the Catholic commitment has declined since Vatican II. The authors also explain why ecumenical movements always fail

In short, Americans are not abandoning religion; they have been moving away from established denominations. A "church-sect process" is always under way, Finke and Stark argue, as successful churches lose their organizational vigor and are replaced by less worldly groups.

Some observers assert that the rise in churching rates indicates increased participation, not increased belief. Finke and Stark challenge this as well. They find that those groups that have gained the greatest numbers have demanded that their followers accept traditional doctrines and otherworldliness. They argue that religious organizations can thrive only when they comfort souls and demand sacrifice. When theology becomes too logical, or too secular, it loses people.



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Dellwing, Religion
Michael Dellwing
No preview available - 2007
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About the author (2005)

Roger Finke is Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives ( He has published in numerous social science journals and has co-authored two award-winning books with Rodney Stark: Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion and The Churching of America, 1776 1990. He is the past president of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture; is a past chair of the American Sociological Association's Sociology of Religion Section; and has served as a member of multiple national and international councils, boards, and committees. He is the 2009 recipient of the Pennsylvania State University President's Award for integrating research, teaching, and service.

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