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Robert Putnam to Discuss Religion, Politics and Community at UF’s Bob Graham Center

Robert D. Putnam, one of the nation’s leading experts on community and civic engagement, will be discussing his new book on the changing composition of religious faith in the United States during a visit to the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service on Nov. 30.

Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, will discuss the recently released American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us at 7 p.m. in Pugh Hall’s Ocora.

American Grace, written with David E. Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, combines exhaustive demographic and survey data with detailed narratives discussing the profound shift in the American religious landscape over the last three centuries. The authors also examine the complex interaction of religion and politics and provide a nuanced balance sheet of how religion both contributes to and detracts from the vibrancy and stability of American democracy.

The huge shift in religious tolerance, as well as disengagement from organized religion, is one of the key themes of the new work. One of the biggest changes over the past 20 years has been that more and more Americans, when polled, cite no religious affiliation at all. That group, which Putnam and Campbell call “the nones,” now comprise 17 percent of the population, outnumbering America’s longtime majority of mainline Protestants, who now make up just 14 percent of the population.

Just as significant is what the scholars call the “Aunt Susan effect” – the rate of intermarriage between faiths in the United States.

"By now more than half of all Americans are married to someone in a different religious or faith tradition,” Putnam says. "Our friendships increasingly cross religious boundaries.” He adds: "It's hard to demonize people of a certain religion when you have someone like that in your own family. Almost every American has an 'Aunt Susan' because of intermarriage and so on.”

Increasingly, the authors also say, Americans are switching their religions to match their politics, rather than the other way around. Among the politically committed, the conservatives have migrated toward the most theologically conservative congregations, while liberals have become less religious and more secular.

Putnam, who the London Telegraph once described as “the most influential academic in the world today,” is also the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a classic work that actually sparked greater examination of civic engagement in the United States. Putnam’s advice is often sought out by policy makers on the state, national and international level.

The Bob Graham Center for Public Service is a community of students, scholars and politically engaged citizens, devoted to enhanced citizenship; the training of current and future public and civic leaders who can identify problems and spearhead change; and the development of policy on issues of importance to Florida, the United States and the global community.

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Vicki Gervickas, 352-846-1575, gervickas@bellsouth.net

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