Producing the Sacred: An Essay on American Religion.

Wuthnow, Robert. Producing the Sacred: An Essay on American Religion. University of Illinois Press, 1994.

In “Producing the Sacred,” Robert Wuthnow describes how the sacred comes to public expression through the activities of five distinct forms of religious organizations: (1) congregations, (2) hierarchies, (3) special interests, (4) academies, and (5) public rituals. The aforementioned forms of religious organizations are described in terms of their internal structure, how they contribute to public religion, the challenges they currently face, and the prospects they have in the future. Wuthnow’s book is part of a broader study examining the four areas representative of public expressions of religion in America, namely (1) public religious discourse, (2) communal and organizational sources for the public expressions of religion, (3) portrayals of religion in the mass media, and, (4) public expression of religion in the American Arts.
Beginning with the assumption that the sacred is “produced” in the public arena through various forms of religious organizations, Wuthnow suggests that studying public forms of religion in America is best approached through the “cultural production” perspective in social sciences. Cultural production implies that activities of human organizations are integral to any public expression of religion.
Local congregations participate in public religion by virtue of their public identity. Congregations also have multiple purposes organized in a hierarchy, most of which become avenues for “producing” the sacred in the public arena. Wuthnow observes a move within congregations from being ascriptively oriented to being achievement-centered. Ascription implies that religious values are stable and rooted in tradition and history; achievement emphasizes individual choices.
Hierarchies such as church councils and denominational structures operate at a level of organization above local congregations through administrative oversight and coordination of the activities of several congregations. Hierarchies seldom participate in public religion except in discursive and rational forms such as doctrinal and policy statements, position papers and non-binding resolutions.
Religious organizations in the form of special interest groups are most often formed around a single issue. Such special interest groups in the context of public religion are for the most part concerned with questions of public morality and social ethics; special interest groups seek to directly influence public discourse.
Academies are institutions of education and higher learning, which contribute to public religion through training and influencing beliefs, and values of their students. In so far as there exists divisions between reason and emotion, and knowledge and moral discourse in academies, they are limited in the extent of their direct participation in public religion.
Public rituals such as Memorial Day are sites of religious organization in so far as they are public expressions of religion that connects the sacred with America’s collective history and identity as a people and require organized efforts. On the other hand the contents of public ritual are outside the control of any particular religious organization.
All of the forms of religious organizations described above invest extensive organized efforts in “producing” public expressions of religion in America. In conclusion, Wuthnow points out that pluralism has always been an integral feature of American public religion which can sustain a plural yet consensual expressions of the sacred on which a vibrant society is based.