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What Americans Really Believe: New Findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion [Paperback]

By Rodney Stark (Author)
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Item description for What Americans Really Believe: New Findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion by Rodney Stark...

"What Americans Really Believe" gives a detailed, comprehensive often surprising snapshot of the most current impulses in American religion . . . confirm[ing] that about 95 percent of the American population is interested in religion and spirituality. --George H. Gallup Jr.

Publishers Description
A shocking snapshot of the most current impulses in American religion. Rodney Stark reports the surprising findings of the 2007 Baylor Surveys of Religion, a follow up to the 2005 survey revealing most Americans believe in God or a higher power. This new volume highlights even more hot-button issues of religious life in our country. A must-read for anyone interested in Americans' religious beliefs and practices.

Citations And Professional Reviews
What Americans Really Believe: New Findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion by Rodney Stark has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Choice - 04/01/2009
  • Publishers Weekly - 07/14/2008 page 64
  • Christian Retailing - 09/22/2008 page 19

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Baylor University Press
Pages   209
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.06" Width: 6.36" Height: 0.55"
Weight:   0.69 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 19, 2008
Publisher   Baylor University Press
Age  22
ISBN  1602581789  
ISBN13  9781602581784  

Availability  2 units.
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More About Rodney Stark

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Rodney Stark (Ph.D. University of California, Berkley) University Professor of Social Sciences at Baylor University. Co-Director of the Institute of Studies of Religion, Stark is also widely published. His most recent publications include Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (2007), Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (2006), and The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (2005).

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Reference
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Religion

Christian Product Categories
Books > Education (K-12) > Social Science > History

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Reviews - What do customers think about What Americans Really Believe?

Response rate...? Hello....?  Oct 14, 2009
The good: the book is clearly written and clearly presented. Very accessible. Very engaging. And it is a very quick, smooth read (took me about one hour to go through it all). The findings are also quite interesting. For example, it is quite fascinating that people with "no religion" are the most likely to oppose the death penalty and support protecting the environment, and the least likely to support George "Where are the WMD?" Bush. I also appreciated Stark's snarling, snarky comments throughout -- he loves to put people down, take jabs at liberals, etc. All his contempt and condescension may not be very "Christian-like," but it sure makes the reading more provocative.

The bad: anytime one engages in survey research, there is something called a "response rate." It refers to the percentage of people that -- when asked -- actually agreed to take the survey. In other words, how many people responded to the sociologist's request? If most people -- after being asked -- agree to take the survey, you have a high response rate. If most people refuse to take the survey, you have a low response rate. Stark knows this. George Gallup (who endorses the book) knows this. Paul Froese (one of the co-authors) knows this. Harold Bloom (who also endorses the book) may not know this. But anyway, EVERY survey study should always reveal what its response rate was. That way we know if the results are valid and generalizable or not. After all, if only 17% of people asked actually agreed to do the survey -- that means that 83% declined! Can one really place much confidence in a survey with such a low response rate? Hardly. And here is where Stark fails us: he purposely fails to tell us the response rate for this survey. My hunch is that it was embarasingly low -- like probably around 17%. That's why he purposely concealed it. The title of the book is "WHAT AMERICANS REALLY BELIEVE" -- but a more accurate (and honest) title would have been "WHAT 17% OF OF AMERICANS REALLY BELIEVE."

Other minor critiques: Why no mention of the ARIS national surveys? Why no mention of the 2006 study by Egdell et. al. showing that atheists are the most hated group within America (Stark says that is actually the religious the are the least tolerated -- citing some study from 1996!?). Stark seems to think that only people who self-identify as "convinced atheist" are atheists. This is simply not so. Many people who lack a belief in a God don't like to self-label as "convinced atheist" for a variety of reasons. Numerous studies reveal this (see for instance the work of Andrew Greeley on religion in Europe, 2004). Why does Stark not get this? Perhaps because it would reveal that more people are actually non-believers than he would like to admit. Also, to see how Stark may have fudged the numbers in this study, google: "Gregory S Paul Baylor Study" and read a scathing but illuminating critique. Finally, what was up with the last chapter? It was just a commercial for Baylor. How lame.

In short - like most of Stark's work -- it is clearly presented, engaging, snarky, and provocative. And not without plenty to be suspicious of.

Good information  Feb 11, 2009
it is a very good review of some opinion polls about religion in America. I hoped it might be more text than polls, but it is not. But, it is interesting.
Lots of charts & data with fascinating conclusions...  Jan 13, 2009
I've reviewed one Rodney Stark book before on my blog - his amazing work on early Christianity called The Rise of Christianity. In this book, Stark continues his pattern of using great research to challenge the common misconceptions that people inside and outside the church have about the Christian faith. I really appreciated his insights in What Americans Really Believe because I hear all the wrong conclusions in the circles I run with all the time. Pastors tend to continue to spread summary statements like "We're losing this generation of young people" or "The church is shrinking in America" or "Mega-churches have low standards for their people" without any supporting data. This book is definitely not for everyone (hence the 4/5 rating) because it contains lots of data and lots of charts about American religious life. But for a pastor in the trenches, it was very helpful.

Here are my pick of the top ten points that Stark makes in this book...

(1) Weekly church attendance as percentage of American population has been consistent over the last 50 years. Now people may report that they attend weekly when they actually don't (called the Halo effect), but the data shows that the same percentage of Americans have reported they attend weekly over the last 50 years.

(2) Conservative, evangelical denominations have been growing rapidly over the last 50 years while more liberal denominations have been shrinking. While attendance has been consistent overall, it has not been consistent across denominations. Those who believe the Bible and teach the historical doctrines of the faith have been growing, while those who don't have been getting smaller.

(3) The percentage of Americans who belong to a local church (members) has increased from 17% in 1776 to 69% in 2005. Despite the common myth that America has gone from churched to unchurched over the course of our nation's history, the data shows the opposite. That separation of church from state (no government funding of churches) has helped churches become more competitive for members and thus increased the percentage of churched Americans.

(4) Across the board, mega-churches tend to be more conservative doctrinally and expect more of their members than small congregations. Despite the common belief that big is bad, larger churches seem to be growing because they are more committed to the gospel, not less, and because they ask more from their members.

(5) Most Americans believe in a real heaven and real hell, and that they will most likely be going to heaven. Americans are interesting in that they believe that God created hell, but that He won't be sending anyone there when they die.

(6) As Americans make more money, the percentage of what they give to their local church goes down. In other words, the poorest Americans give the highest percent of their income. People who make less than $20k a year give 6.2% on average, while those that make over $100k a year give 2.2% on average. I would think that this shows us that more wealth makes us more selfish and less generous.

(7) The percentage of Americans who don't believe in God has held steady at 4% from 1944 until 2007. Despite constant claims that more and more Americans are denying God's existance because of the increase of scientific knowledge, Stark's research shows that the same percentage of Americans are atheists today as were in 1944.

(8) Irreligious Americans are most likely unchurched but not atheists. Somewhat related to the last point, this insight helps those of us trying to reach people in our culture who are irreligious. The people who are irreligious are not necessarily hostile toward the idea of God, but more likely just turned off by the church.

(9) Level of education does not correlate with level of church involvement. This was one of my favorite findings in Stark's book because it puts to bed the myth that stupid, uneducated people are religious and highly educated people are irreligious. Instead, Stark's team found that the % of people involved in church varies little between those who did not complete high school and those with post-graduate education.

(10) People are 50% less likely to be divorced if they attend religious services at least twice a month. Despite all the research showing that Christians have the same divorce rate as non-Christians, Stark goes at the question not from the angle of what people believe, but what they actually do. Regular church-attenders are much less likely to get divorced.
Quite intriguing, highly entertaining, and educational  Jan 13, 2009
All too often, conservative politicians will claim America is a Christian nation. But do the numbers back up their claim? "What Americans Really Believe" is a scholarly and far reaching study on a number of subjects ranging from politics to faith to the paranormal, to even the value of civil service. The surveys presented are quite intriguing and a look into the true American mindset when it comes to how their minds work. "What Americans Really Believe" is quite intriguing, highly entertaining, and educational.
The rest of the story behind the common themes talked about in churches today  Nov 27, 2008
This book does a great job giving the rest of the story behind the common themes talked about in churches today. For example, they explain where all those "missing" young adults are who have left church.Hint: Check their apartments, they may just be sleeping in as young people have done for as long as people have been paying attention to church attendance stats. Either that, or they are attending another church that has a program they prefer more.

"These examples also reveal how often even very reputable observers of American religion get things wrong and some of the potential costs of their errors. For example, it would be a waste of their funds for some churches to mount a campaign to save their young people from leaving the church, when no such thing is going on. On the other hand, some groups clearly are loosing their young (and many of their older members too), not to irreligion but to other denominations. For those churches, any effort to reverse their declines depends upon being able to motivate their current members to reach out to others." (page 14)

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