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The Dartmouth
May 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Wuthnow speaks on American spirituality

Princeton University Sociology Professor Dr. Robert Wuthnow spoke on the evolution of religion in the 20th century and likened spirituality to hamburgers during yesterday's 23rd annual Orr Lecture held in 2 Rockefeller Center.

The lecture, entitled "The Gods We Deserve? Spirituality in America," focused on the ways in which religious beliefs have evolved with the changes in culture.

Wuthrow, the Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton, derived his ideas from observations of more than 1,000 people representing a cross-section of American society.

"I'm convinced that spiritual lives of Americans have changed significantly over the last century," he said. "It has become harder to find God."

The spirituality of the 1950s had transformed into a superficial spirituality as a result of the increased freedom of choice in the 1960s, Wuthnow said.

"Spirituality, like hamburgers, was something you could get quickly and in a variety of places," he said.

This led to the development of groups of "seekers" in the last decades of this century, Wuthnow said. He also noted that more than 75 percent of people that he interviewed thought that growing spiritually was either very or fairly important to them.

Another change that Wuthnow discussed was the increased fascination with supernatural phenomena. He said that guardian angels, close encounters with aliens and near death experiences have become a part of our culture because "we seem to need more proof that there is more to life than what we experience."

With the approach of the 21st century, Wuthnow said he expects to see the adaptation of organized religion in order to accommodate the growing group of seekers.

Wuthnow, is the author of more than 20 books since 1975 and has taught in the Sociology Department at Princeton since 1976.

His speech was part of a series that originated in 1972 through an endowment by James H. Orr, a Boston financier. The event is sponsored by Dartmouth's religion department every year. Past speakers have included noted historian Mircea Eliade, Lionel Trilling and Mary Douglas.

"Our aim in this series has continued to be to bring to Dartmouth each year scholars and writers whose achievements are at that highest level," Dartmouth religion professor Robert G, Henricks said.