Sunday, July 21, 2013

Robert Wuthnow

Robert Wuthnow reads widely about American history and religion, as well as in the social sciences, mostly in conjunction with his own research and teaching. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and his PhD in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. At Princeton University, he teaches in the sociology department and directs the Center for the Study of Religion. The author of several hundred articles and more than two dozen books, his most recent works are Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland and Small-Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future.

Some time ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Wuthnow’s reply:
Most of my days are filled with reading students’ and colleagues’ manuscripts, scanning old newspapers for some project I’m working on, or looking at numbers from surveys and polls. When I’m finished, more reading is the last thing I want to do. But at the Center for the Study of Religion, we annually select one or two particularly important new books and host a panel discussion with the authors. In that connection, I recently had the opportunity to read two terrific new books.

Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine by Wendy Cadge, who teaches sociology at Brandeis University, presents the results of more than five years of research during which she spent time visiting hospitals, followed chaplains on rounds, and interviewed dozens of nurses, doctors, and chaplains. Cadge is a brilliant ethnographer who previously wrote a book about immigrant and native-born American Buddhists. In this new work, she shows how challenging it has become for hospitals and health practitioners to deal with the growing ethnic and religious diversity of the US population. The book richly describes what people do (or do not) pray about, how hospital chapels are organized, and what the respective roles are of nurses, doctors, and chaplains.

Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty, by Susan Crawford Sullivan, a sociologist at the College of the Holy Cross, is another impressive book about religion that takes us outside the usual venues. Crawford spent several years interviewing and getting to know dozens of mothers who had been or were currently on welfare. Some were homeless and living in shelters. Hardly any were active participants in a religious congregation, even though most had been raised in a religious tradition and still prayed, believed in God, and considered spirituality important in their lives. The reason they were not actively involved was chilling. When they ventured near a congregation, they felt shunned. Congregations seemed incapable of embracing them with understanding and respect. Fortunately, Sullivan did find a few exceptions, from which she draws valuable ideas about how to do better.
Read more about Small-Town America at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue