What kind of role does religion play in American society? Is the influence of religion for better or for worse? The question is an important one, since America continues to be a remarkably religious nation. This issue — how religion contributes to and influences American society — is one of the main purposes of a new sociological study of religion: American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. The study was conducted by Robert A. Putnam of Harvard University and David E. Campbell of the University of Notre Dame. While it addresses a broad range of questions about the social significance of religion, one of the study’s central interests is to analyze the nature of religion’s social influence. “Who is right,” the study asks, “those who make the case for the positive contribution of religion to civil society, or those who make the case against?” The study uses newly gathered survey data and a number of different measures to assess religion’s role in American society. These measures of “neighborliness” include charitable giving, volunteerism, altruism, tolerance, trust, life satisfaction and civic engagement.
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