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Posted May 27, 2013

Book: American Catholics in Transition
Authors: William V. D'Antonio, Michele Dillon, Mary Gautier
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. New York. 2013. Pp. 202

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The American Catholic Church has received much negative press in recent years, from priest abuse scandals to the investigation of nuns. But the heart of the church runs much deeper than these challenges, and the Catholic faith in America continues to evolve. American Catholics in Transition paints a vibrant picture of the diverse church today, outlining changes in the past as well as looking toward continuity and change in the future. This book looks at provocative topics facing Catholics today, including views on church authority, women's role in the church, how Catholicism interacts with politics, how millennials and Hispanics are shaping the church and more.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Losses and Gains

A dominant view in sociology since its founding in the late 19th century is that as societies become more economically modernized, they become more secularized, with religion readily losing its relevance. Given the steady march of economic and social change over the past century, it is understandable that social scientists look for evidence of attendant religious decline. Our disciplinary short-sight, however, is that we tend to equate change decline in one set of indicators as evidence of an across-the-board decline more generally in the field of religious activity as a whole. Yet a decline in Catholics' deference toward the church hierarchy may on the one hand be taken as evidence of declining religious authority, but on the other hand, as evidence of Catholics' deference to the larger Catholic tradition and specifically to the Church-sanctioned obligation to take personal conscience seriously. Nostalgia for earlier (sometimes imagined) forms of religion --- and style of religion --- frequently shadows narratives of decline or of subtraction. Such narratives frame change as if something has been lost rather than as is empirically more accurate: some things get lost, and some things get added.

Religion is not the only sociological subject of inquiry that falls prey to narratives of decline. Community is another; scholarly and popular commentary is replete with analyses of the "decline of community," and there is much commentary too about the "decline of family." But social life, and institutional and social processes, are dynamic, not static. Change happens. With societal change, there are inevitable losses in how, for example, community is structured and how people experience community. But there are also gains --- new ways of creating and experiencing community, as is demonstrate by a large body of empirical studies.

So, too, with religion, and specifically Catholicism. It is not just that society as some external force changes. Religion itself as a domain of activity, and any given religious tradition, changes and develops new understandings and new institutional practices. Many of these changes are typically in line with already existing strands within the tradition even though their selective manifestation may vary over time and across different sociocultural contexts. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI (2007) himself has affirmed: "The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change [the Catholic doctrine on the Church], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it." Further, we should never lose sight of David Tracy's (1987) insistence on the plurality that exists within all major traditions --- religious, political, philosophical --- and the continuities and discontinuities that get entangled within any tradition. The history of the Catholic Church is a history that exemplifies doctrinally reflexive change and underscores the centrality of change to its own self-maintenance as a living tradition. Our surveys, spanning 25 years of American Catholics' attitudes on the broad range of dimensions of Catholic life, and the patterns evident in the data speak to both the resilience and the dynamism of Catholicism.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Twenty-five years of observing Catholic life

1. The legacy of pre-Vatican II Catholics

2. Catholics in the United States: a quarter century of change

3. Catholic identity and commitment

4. American Catholics and church authority

5. Catholic women: commitment and change

6. Generational changes in Catholic practice

7. Religion and party politics

8. Millennial Catholics

9. Conclusions: continuities and changes in American Catholicism

10. The 2011 survey