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American Grace

How Religion Divides and Unites Us
By Robert D. Putnam, David E. Campbell

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for American Grace includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    INTRODUCTION

    1. This is a good ice breaker to open the discussion of American Grace, keeping in mind that not everyone is comfortable talking about his/her religion. Take a piece of paper and list your 5 closest friends. Next to their names, jot down their religion. Are there any surprises? Do you know everyone’s religion? Are they all your religion—and if so, did you already know this? Are you surprised by this?

    2. How important is it to you to worship in a congregation? In other words, can you imagine belonging to the same religion but just worshipping at home? If you are someone who is spiritual but does not belong to a congregation, can you talk about what this is like?

    3. In the Ethnicity, Gender, and Religion vignette, how do you feel about Pastor White’s stance on gender as a fundamental keystone for modern religion? Even if you would not join a congregation in which women have a second-class role, can you understand how it could be attractive or comfortable to some women?

    4. Discuss the ways in which politics and religion overlap as presented in Chapter 10. Consider Pastor Hammond of LWCC, Beth Emet synagogue, and the Mormon congregation in Utah. How do your own politics align with your faith? Do you feel that your religion has influenced your politics, or have your political views influenced your religious choices?

    5. Do you think it is good for the country when faith and partisan politics are closely aligned? Refer to Figure 11.2 and the increasing correlation between Republican identification and religious attendance in the last decade in considering your answer.

    6. If you belong to a religious congregation, is there anything in any of the vignettes that you would like to see in your own congregation? For example, more emphasis on small groups, greater focus on community activism, or a different style of worship service?

    7. Do you see a true correlation between the rise in Evangelical Protestantism and the aftermath of the social revolution in the “long 60’s?” Why didn’t mainstream Protestantism or Catholicism flourish after this more liberal period of change?

    8. In your experience, why do people change congregations? Look at the reasons given in Figure 6.2. Which of these was most important to you in choosing your congregation?

    9. Have you known anyone who has changed his or her religion? How do his or her reasons compare with those given in Figure 5.3?

    10. Considering that most Americans believe religion should play a role in American society (Figure 14.1), how do you explain the increase in “nones” in the current generation?

    11. Discuss your favorite vignette, particularly what you liked about it. Which of the characters in the vignette did you find the most interesting? Which institution is most/least like your own? Is there more that you would like to know about any of the congregations covered?

    12. After reading this book, what is your view of the state of religious pluralism in America? Do you agree that our religious diversity and intermixing are truly America’s grace? Why or why not?

    13. Table 14.1 presents the “feeling thermometer” scores, showing how people of various faiths view other faiths. Is there any part of this Table that surprises you?

    14. The authors claim that religious friends are “supercharged” friends, that they have greater life satisfaction and are better neighbors and public citizens. What explains this, and does this finding agree with your experience?

    15. American Grace emphasizes differences in religious outlook among succeeding generations: pre-boomers, boomers, gen X, and millenials. How does your religious outlook differ from that typical of your parents’ generation, if at all? How does it differ from your children’s generation, if at all?

    16. How has reading this book changed the way you read or listen to the news? For instance, do you find yourself noticing more articles about religion, or religious strife?

    ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

    1. Choose 5-6 questions from the Faith Matters Survey in an area that interests you, and ask them of your friends and family. If possible, also find out whether they attend religious services. How do your results compare with those reported in American Grace?

    For example, in Chapter 13 there is a list of possible good deeds that one might do; also in Chapter 13, there are many questions that measure theological beliefs.

    2. Attend a service that you don’t normally attend at a local religious institution (perhaps you and another book group member could visit each other’s congregations). Write down your observations on how the congregation differs from your own. Be specific.

    3. Go online and find a local newspaper from a location mentioned in one of the vignettes. Read a few articles and see if you find any comparison between current events or local politics and the kind of religious landscape presented in American Grace.

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