Humanism Amidst Our Machines   /   Summer 2011   /    Book Reviews

Courtney Bender's The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination

David Yamane

American religion has been described as a spiritual market- place in which people are reli- gious consumers free to shop for the faiths that meet their indi- vidual tastes and preferences. This reality has deep roots in American history but has come into full bloom only recently. The formal disestablishment of religion encoded an open market for religion into the DNA of the country. Still, American culture remained steadfastly Protestant for some time, eventually giving way to a moderate denomina- tional pluralism that allowed Protestants, catholics, and Jews to be seen as equal contributors to the “American Way of Life.” In the decades following the Second World War, Protestant- catholic-Jew would yield to the seemingly unlimited diversity of religious options in present- day America. Religion as an integrative force and source of collective identity gave way to a more individualized approach to faith, which centered on personal  autonomy.  Rober t Bellah and his co-authors in Habits of the Heart present an exemplar of religious individu- alism in the person of Sheila Larson: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just  my  own  little  voice.” The authors conclude that “‘Sheilaism’ somehow seems a perfectly natural expression of current American religious life”

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