After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s.

Wuthnow, Robert. After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s. University of California Press, 1998.

Robert Wuthnow argues that in the spiritual landscape of America there has been a profound change during the last half of the twentieth century characterized by a movement away from the traditional spirituality of inhabiting sacred places to a new spirituality of seeking. Largely woven around the metaphors of dwelling and seeking, Wuthnow’s analysis of spirituality in America since the 1950s is based on (1) in-depth interviews with a diverse group of two hundred people, (2) published literature on religion and culture in America, and (3) several dozen large-scale opinion surveys.
“Habitation” is the key concept animating the spirituality of dwelling; this was the predominant paradigm of spirituality prior to the 1950s. Habitation implies a mapped out territory; the spirituality of habitation marks out a definite place for God in the universe and narrates a sacred space where humans too can dwell: it implies a sense of being at home. In contrast, the currently predominant spirituality of seeking emphasizes “negotiation” through which individuals seek and experience fleeting moments of being in touch with the transcendent. In a spirituality of seeking there is no sense of a familiar territory but a quest for new spiritual horizons negotiated through complex and confusing meanings of spirituality. To be sure, Wuthnow notes that these two modes of spirituality have been historically present in most world religions; however, neither of these models of spirituality is, in his view, satisfactory. The spirituality of dwelling fosters dependence on communities that are inherently undependable; it encourages idolization of particular places to the point of distracting engagement with pressing human needs in a complex world. On the other hand, a spirituality of seeking is too unstable to provide the support of social structures that individuals need and to encourage the stability required to grow spiritually and to become mature in character.
As an alternative, Wuthnow offers a practice-oriented spirituality that has individual as well as communal dimensions. Spiritual practices require individuals to worship and commune with God in the company of others; however, they need to be performed individually to provide meaning and enrichment at a personal level. In practice-oriented spirituality, people reflexively engage with their past examining how they have been shaped and where they are headed. Wuthnow notes that practice-oriented spirituality is fostered best by practice-oriented religious organizations that take active interest in encouraging spirituality among its members and ground them in the particulars of faith to which they belong.
Wuthnow’s book is organized into seven chapters: chapters two to six provide narrative descriptions of people’s engagement with a quest for spirituality which for the most part is either a spirituality of dwelling, or more predominantly a spirituality of seeking; chapter 1 lays out the general background against which models of spirituality are painted; Wuthnow notes several cultural and social factors precipitating the move towards a spirituality of seeking. Chapter 7 describes the salient features of a practice-oriented spirituality that Wuthnow offers as an alternative to the spirituality of seeking and the spirituality of dwelling.