Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion

Wade Clark Roof

384 pages, paperback

Princeton University Press, Reprint edition (October 1, 2001)
ISBN: 0691089965

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Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion

In large chain bookstores, the "religion" section is gone and in its place is an expanding number of topics including angels, Sufism, journey, recovery, meditation, magic, inspiration, Judaica, astrology, gurus, Bible, prophesy, evangelicalism, Mary, Buddhism, Catholicism, and esoterica. As Wade Clark Roof notes, such changes over the last two decades reflect a shift away from religion as traditionally understood to more diverse and creative approaches. But what does this splintering of the religious perspective say about Americans? Have we become more interested in spiritual concerns or have we become lost among trends? Do we value personal spirituality over traditional religion and no longer see ourselves united in a larger community of faith? Roof first credited this religious diversity to the baby boomers in his bestselling A Generation of Seekers (1993). He returns to interview many of these people, now in mid-life, to reveal a generation with a unique set of spiritual values a generation that has altered our historic interpretations of religious beliefs, practices, and symbols, and perhaps even our understanding of the sacred itself.

The quest culture created by the baby boomers has generated a "marketplace" of new spiritual beliefs and practices and of revisited traditions. As Roof shows, some Americans are exploring faiths and spiritual disciplines for the first time; others are rediscovering their lost traditions; others are drawn to small groups and alternative communities; and still others create their own mix of values and metaphysical beliefs. Spiritual Marketplace charts the emergence of five subcultures: dogmatists, born-again Christians, mainstream believers, metaphysical believers and seekers, and secularists. Drawing on surveys and in-depth interviews for over a decade, Roof reports on the religious and spiritual styles, family patterns, and moral vision and values for each of these subcultures. The result is an innovative, engaging approach to understanding how religious life is being reshaped as we move into the next century.


This sociological study tackles the same subject matter (baby boomers and their self-styled spiritual quests) as Roof's 1993 book, A Generation of Seekers. Roof organizes the book almost identically, using the same methodology (a mix of comprehensive surveys and in-depth personal interviews), and even interviewing the same research subjects about their developing spirituality. Yet the second time proves to be the charm, because this book does nearly everything better than its predecessor. Where Generation recognized boomers' predilection for "spirituality" over organized religion, here Roof acknowledges the proliferation of multiple, complex spiritualities (feminist, Latino, ecological, etc.) that often overlap with various established religious traditions and therapeutic movements. Roof's contextualization of boomer spirituality is more historically nuanced. He notes that it is ironic that many boomers are now turning aside from individualistic self-fulfillment strategies, since the boomer generation first empowered the self, not the community, to direct spiritual life. This book shows not only how the 76 million boomers have been shaped by such seeking but how they have remapped the spiritual landscape for all Americans; boomers have shifted attention from the institution to the individual, emphasized "lived religion" (religion in practice) and created a "quest culture." Scholars may quibble with Roof's free use of the marketplace metaphor, with its oversimplified emphasis on supply and demand and the "range of goods and services" now available from an ever-increasing parade of vendors. But even so, Roof's work thoughtfully articulates the introspective fluidity of the baby-boom generation he studies.

Publishers Weekly


Wade Clark RoofWade Clark Roof, a well-known commentator on religious trends in the United States, is the J. F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of eight books, including A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Lives of the Baby Boom Generation.

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