Mark Schmitt asks a good question:
The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change. I need some reading suggestions here.
Well, here are four from the Sociology department. Bob Wuthnow’s After Heaven: Spirituality in American Since the 1950s might be a good place to get a sense of the shift from what Wuthnow calls “place-based” to “practice-based” spirituality in America. His recent Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society looks at the social-service role of religions. Mark Chaves’ Congregations in America is built around the first nationally representative survey of U.S. congregations and emphasizes how small a role politics and social services play in the lives of churches. And The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism, edited by Wuthnow and John Evans, offers a survey of recent trends in the political involvement of the Mainline. (Full disclosure: Bob was one of my advisors, Mark is head of my department, and John is a friend of mine from grad school.) But I’m not a sociologist of religion, so there’s probably a lot of other relevant stuff out there I don’t know about.
fn1. Bob can write books faster than most people can read them.