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Posts Tagged ‘culture wars’

In 2002, then-Berkeley (now-NYU) sociologist Michael Hout and I published a paper pointing out a new trend in Americans’ religious identity: A rapidly increasing proportion of survey respondents answered “no religion” when asked questions such as “What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?” In the 1991 General Social Survey, about 7 percent answered no religion and in the 2000 GSS, 14 percent did.* We explained the trend this way:

the increase was not connected to a loss of religious piety, [but] it was connected to politics. In the 1990s many people who had weak attachments to religion and either moderate or liberal political views found themselves at odds with the conservative political agenda of the Christian Right and reacted by renouncing their weak attachment to organized religion.

If that is what religion is, most of the “Nones” seemed to be saying, count me out.

In the years since, the trend has continued, Nones reaching 20 percent in the 2012 GSS. And a good deal of research has also accumulated on the topic (some of it reported in an earlier post). Notably, Robert Putnam and David Campbell refined our argument in their 2010 book, American Grace, pointing more sharply to lifestyle issues as the triggers for Americans declaring no religious identity.

Mike and I have just published a paper in Sociological Science updating the trend over an additional dozen years, applying new methods to the trend, and retesting explanations for the rise in Nones. We – actually it’s 90 percent Mike’s work – find that our earlier account stands up even more strongly.

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Reconstructing Memory

The Berkeley campus has an eatery with an interesting name and story: “The Free Speech Movement Café.” At the 2000 dedication of the café, then-Chancellor Robert Behrdahl lauded the tumultuous student movement of 1964 for having brought adult rights to college students, including the right of  free expression, and for having broadened civil debate.

Back in 1964, however, then-Chancellor Edward Strong strongly resisted the movement – as did probably most Californians; they saw it as an anarchic uprising. Californians now have a different, hallowed memory of the the FSM; old photographs of heroes, posters, and other memorabilia are plastered all over the walls and tables of the cafe.

We have yet blunter examples of how history gets reconstructed in its retelling. Recent California law, for example, required that K-12 students be taught about the historical contributions of women, blacks, and gays. And then there is the Texas School Board order requiring that history textbooks “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.”

History is rewritten as much as it is remembered.

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The political struggles and the hot rhetoric of recent years, especially around social issues, has led many commentators to worry – and perhaps some activists to hope – that America is fragmenting; that Americans are becoming increasingly, deeply divided against each other.

Source: Fibonacci Blue

Studies of this proposition have yielded a complex picture: Our politics have certainly become more polarized in the last half-century, but average Americans have not become increasingly divided on the “culture war” issues that have so attracted the media and many politicians. The divisions that are deeper and more profound are the social divisions – by immigrant status, by race, and especially the widening division by social class.

In Part 1 of this post, I review what’s happened on the political and culture wars fronts. In Part 2, I review the ways that immigration, race, and class — notably, educational attainment — divide Americans.

(I draw from this 2009 article and from chapter 9 of Century of Difference.)

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