Wuthnow, R. (1998). After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s.

Wuthnow, R. (1998). After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

School of thought: Historical/Cultural studies

The general gist: People are moving from what Wuthnow describes as “Dwelling-oriented spirituality” to “Practice-oriented spirituality.” This is a different understanding for what it means to be spiritual and it has profound implications for establishment religious institutions in America (3, 15). Dwelling-oriented spirituality is what was predominantly practiced in America prior to the 1950s and Practice-oriented spirituality has been increasing in practice since then (2).

This shift occurred as a result of changing social forces, in particular, changes in mass communication and the growth of material culture (18). “Mass communication brings foreign places to people’s homes but leaves them feeling like tourists.” (50).

He argues that the 1980s sought to bring back “dwelling-oriented spirituality” through the rise of the Moral Majority and the Religious Right. He lays much of this at the feet of Ronald Reagan. There always has been a religious right, but Reagan politicized it. One could then see dwelling-oriented spirituality and practice-oriented spirituality as a sort of back and forth cycle.

Method: Performed 200 interviews, examined existing research studies and large-scale opinion surveys (viii).

Definition of Spirituality: “All beliefs and activities by which individuals attempt to relate their lives to God or to a divine being, or some other conception of transcendent reality” (viii). He defines two types of spirituality: dwelling-oriented and practice oriented. Both types are written into all spiritual traditions (169). Churches have even adopted this language with “seeker-friendly” services.
-Dwelling-oriented spirituality- Also referred to as “settled” spirituality or “Habitation.” Here God occupies a definite place in the universe and create a sacred space in which humans can dwell (3). It offers secure spaces to worship God in familiar ways (15). Present day, this type of spirituality is difficult to sustain because of the complex social realities that leave many Americans with spiritual homelessness (168).
Practice-oriented spirituality– Also refered to as “seeking” spirituality or “Negotiation.” Individuals search for sacred moments that reinforce their conviction (3). This is most priented to todays Americans. The congregation is seen as a supplier of goods and services. Congregations are seen as a lunch buffet–if you can’t get it one place, you’ll get it somewhere else (15). Spiritual practice is a cluster of intentional activities concerned with relating to the sacred. Spirituality deepens as it is practices (170). It requires deliberate effort (178).

What changed: Wuthnow builds on this idea of the 1950s as a settled conformity that is then disrupted by the 1960s. It’s not an incorrect image, but there were a lot of things going on the 1950s.

During this time period, there was an interest in overcoming time and space. This occurred through the expanision of television and the highway system. Americans developed a new, consumer-oriented self. Consumption became the defining characteristic of the self. Religious entrepreneurs began to imitate the strategies of advertisers and retailers (67).

Criticisms: It isn’t that Wuthnow is wrong, just that he over simplifies the 1950s, which was the same era in which the New Age movement arose. The problem is in looking at the country as a unified whole.

-The change from dwelling orientation to practice orientation isn’t just in terms of spirituality, but in terms of the use of media and transportation. We live differently than we used to.
-This also indicates some of the reasons why the need for a physical church seem to be declining.