Title Reviewed:
All Faithful People: Change and Continuity in Middletown's Religion

Author Reviewed:
Theodore Caplow; Howard M. Bahr; Bruce A. Chadwick

Richard Jensen


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 81, Issue 3, pp 288-289

Article Type:
Book Review

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All Faithful People: Change and Continuity in Middletown's Religion. By Theodore Caplow, Howard M. Bahr, and Bruce A. Chadwick et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Pp. x, 378. Figures, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, indexes. $19.50.)

How much has religion changed in Middletown? Not much, the sociologists conclude, except that there is more of it. Sin is still condemned from the pulpit, but no longer the sinner. "Hester Prynne would be welcomed at a church supper nowadays" (p. 287). The wrath of the godly is reserved for such secular targets as bureaucrats, abortionists, pornographers, and child abusers. Much of what used to be considered sin is now called "hedonism" and blamed on the media or society in general.

Theodore Caplow and his team of researchers who revisited Muncie a half century after Robert and Helen Lynd have two goals in this monograph. One is to describe the actual practice of religion today, correlating it with socioeconomic variables and contrasting it with what the Lynds reported. The other is to test various sociological theories, especially the notion that modernization (in the sense of economic development) causes secularization or irreligion. They note that in such other developed lands as Western Europe and Japan religion has been fading away dramatically. Such is not the case in America. The people of Muncie today are more devout and more actively religious than the people who lived there fifty (or one hundred) years ago. Agnosticism among white collar families is passe, and church participation among blue collar families has increased sharply. Revivals are flourishing, and ministers are unanimous in stating that religion is strong and getting stronger.

The book can be highly recommended to Protestant lay people and ministers. (Catholics are treated briefly.) Scattered among the tables and theorems are useful details regarding what religion actually means in the lives of men and women, youth, and activists. Historians, however, should be more cautious. Dwight W. Hoover has a chapter narrating the growth of various denominations, but he offers little analysis. The sociologists, by contrast, are too eager to speculate on historical forces. Most of the inhabitants of Muncie today are not the descendants of the folk the Lynds studied. New people have moved in—especially Appalachian fundamentalists, ethnic Catholics, students, and academics. Since their religious upbringing occurred elsewhere, their religiosity cannot simply be credited to conditions in Muncie. Each major denomination has long been "nationalized" in terms of ritual, belief, and behavior. To seek the roots of these national forces in a small Indiana city can be misleading. But Muncie is a good place to learn what Americans think about heaven and hell, and what they are doing about it.

University of Illinois, Chicago Richard Jensen

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.