Chaves, ch. 4-9

This week, we learned primarily about shifting patters of religious life in America. The clearest pattern is that no symbol of religiosity in American life has increased, but most of the time, any declines have been gradual and/or not statistically significant. A few trends do stand out, however. First, childhood and youth involvement has declined, decreasing the possibility that they will become religiously involved adults. As a result, the church population is growing considerably older, and the number of young people interested in a religious career has plummeted. Finally, congregants have consolidated themselves into a small number of very large churches, which means that smaller churches are closing more quickly.
In terms of shifts among different kinds of Protestantism, Chaves distinguishes between liberal and conservative Protestants. Conservative Protestant denominations have grown partly by siphoning off members from liberal denominations but more importantly by merely keeping their young people involved at a higher rate than liberal denominations do. However, Chaves believes that liberal religious sentiments have not declined, only their expression in the form of church participation. On a national stage, the polarization of Republicans and Democrats has contributed to increasing polarization between liberal and conservative Protestants. As the religious conservatives aligned themselves with the Republican party in the 1980s, the liberal conservatives in turn allied themselves with Democrats. While Chaves posits that our society has not yet engaged in a “culture war,” he believes that it may be headed in that direction if the political parties continue to move further apart.