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.
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.
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.
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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