The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans

Citation: 
Davidson, James D., et al. The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1997
Abstract: 

The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans, is the result of a three-year research project by a team of researchers led by sociologist James D. Davidson of Purdue University. The book explores, in a statistically detailed yet clear and useful manner, how American Catholics approach faith and morals, giving a reliable picture of the beliefs of the Catholic community and adding essential clarifying information to current debates over where the Church is going and what should be done about it. A comprehensive research strategy was employed to ensure that the data gathered by the project would be reliable. Nearly 3000 Indiana Catholics were interviewed, participated in focus groups, or answered a questionnaire on their religious beliefs and practices; another 1,058 participated in a nationwide telephone poll. All of these samples were controlled to ensure representative diversity of races, ethnic groups, genders and ages, and urban and rural settings. The data are analyzed topically over eleven chapters: 1. The American Church, 1930s to 1990s Increasing Diversity in Faith and Morals; 2. Questions Church Leaders Ask: What Do Lay People Believe and Why?; 3. Faith and Morals: A Catholic Worldview?; 4. Self-concept and Self-interest: Bases of Faith and Morals; 5. Lifecourse Experiences: Their Effects on Faith and Morals; 6. Religious Formation: The Impact of Families, Catholic Schools, and Religious Education; 7. The Impact of Generations: Pre-Vatican II Catholics, Vatican II Catholics, and Post-Vatican II Catholics; 8. Gender Differences: Male and Female Approaches to Faith and Morals; 9. Racial and Ethnic Background: Another Source of Religious Diversity; 10. Catholics Without Parishes: Who, and How Different Are They?; 11. Pathways to Faith and Morals: Implications for Church Leaders. Ten technical appendices give further details on the statistical measures used. Among the many findings from Davidson et. al.'s research that should prove useful to Church leaders and others interested in understanding the contemporary American Catholic community, Dean Hoge highlights two: First, the major fault line running through American Catholicism is not one of race or gender, but age. The beliefs and attitudes of Catholics fifty-six or younger differ in significant ways from those of older Catholics; in addition, the data shows that the change from what the authors describe as pre- to post-Vatican II Catholics was and remains unique, rather than illustrating an ongoing trend. Second, the authors find Catholics are far less polarized than popular news media would have us believe. While there are serious differences on questions of Church leadership, the priesthood, and Catholic moral teaching, there is no similar division on doctrine, creed, or sacraments. The last chapter of the book should be of particular interest to Church leaders and parish personnel. After summarizing their findings, the authors indicate areas of the greatest unity and largest diversity among today's Catholics. The factors that most influence religious beliefs and practices are identified, and the links between these factors and their combined effects on ideas and behaviors are examined. Finally, the implications for Church leaders are discussed, with special attention to the lessons that can be gleaned from this research by those concerned with transmitting Catholic faith and morals to the next generation.

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