David Campbell and “American Grace” at WC

By Aubrey Hastings
Student Life Editor

“Raise your hand if you say grace over your iPod daily,” asked David Campbell to the WC community audience. Questions like these are life to Campbell after years of research and study on American religion and politics.

Campbell co-authored the work entitled “American Grace: How Religion Unites Us and Divides Us” with author Robert Putnam, a man Campbell actually studied under for several years. He is John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C. Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy.

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture at WC sponsored the event.
Campbell and Putnam conducted two of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on religion and public life in America and are recognized nationally as leading experts on religion and American politics. The findings expose the puzzle of America, that is, how can America be religiously devout and diverse, yet religiously tolerant?

“The fact is that we are a highly religious nation and a highly tolerant nation. Not every religion is respected equally, but for the most part we are highly tolerant without busting at the seams,” said Campbell.

The book has recently been awarded the American Political Science Association’s 2011 Woodrow Wilson Award, which recognizes the year’s best book on government, politics, or international affairs.

He told of his book’s revelation of the years 1950 to 2000. “All of this raises the question, how did we get here in America, to a place of such polarization and diversity,” said Campbell.

In 1950, America was bursting with religious evangelical awakening, but the “long 1960’s” took a turn counter culturally. In response to this earthquake counterculture of the 60’s, the “conservative aftershock” of the 1980’s linked up religious association with conservative politics of the Republican Party. This is crucial because this labeling has led to the emergence of the “nones” from the mid 90’s to the present: a group of individuals preferring no religious association at all.

“Back to the puzzle, how is it then that America is religiously devout, diverse, and tolerant? The answer lies in our Aunt Susan and our friend Al. As we mix and mingle, and build bridges across other faiths, we become more tolerant in the process. Though religion can divide us in many ways, the unity is even more amazing, despite the wedge in our politics,” said Campbell.

Students in Dr. Melissa Deckman’s Religion and Politics class here at WC recently finished studying Campbell’s book, and he was even willing to sit in on a class and hold discussion based off of their questions. If you too are curious to learn more about Campbell and Putnam’s theory of “Aunt Susan and our friend Al,” and the other research presented, pick up a copy of “American Grace.”

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