Private Needs, Public Selves: Talk About Religion in America.

Roth, John K. Private Needs, Public Selves: Talk About Religion in America. University of Illinois Press, 1997.

John K. Roth argues that talk about religion in America occurs more often than it appears to be the case, which is particularly remarkable considering the opinion that there is a general religious decline across the board. Roth takes religion to include myths, rituals, narratives, traditions, and theories which inform a society’s deepest yearnings, meanings, and purposes. As Roth describes the contours of talk about religion in America, he firmly locates it within the interaction between private needs and public selves. Personal lives without social relationships would be without any content because private needs entail social relationships; on the other hand, particularity of experiences marks out the boundaries of private needs without which personal life would be an abstraction.
Roth illustrates his thesis through several examples encompassing events in recent public memory such as the Midwest floods of 1993 and the Los Angles fires, events in lives of prominent individuals, and through popular titles exploring religion and spirituality in public. A few of these crises events brought to the fore the underlying religious convictions within American society both in terms of the interpretation of these events and the manner in which such crises were addressed. On the other hand, Roth also asserts that there is room for greater clarity in public talk about religion that will encompass the interaction between self and society so that each of these dimensions are properly nurtured for the betterment of both.