I’ve been trying to read the new sociological study of U.S. religion by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010). But I’ve gotten stalled on page 18. That’s where Putnam and Campbell define a scale of religious intensity, or religiosity. They measure religiosity “with a series of questions that tap into different ways of being religious, including both behaving and believing.” And here are the six questions they use to measure religiosity:
How frequently do you attend religious services?
How frequently do you pray outside of religious services?
How important is religion in your daily life?
How important is religion to your sense of who you are?
Are you a strong believer in your religion?
How strong is your belief in God?
Using this scale, I automatically cannot rate at the highest level of religiosity. Why? Because I don’t pray (outside of the pastoral prayers I may say in Sunday services). I also get knocked down the scale because, depending on how you define “God,” I don’t have a strong belief in God. Indeed, if I have to use the word “belief” to express how I know God, then as a non-Cartesian empiricist I would have to say I don’t “believe” in God any more than I “believe” or “disbelieve” any sensory impression.
Putnam and Campbell admit one could raise some possibly valid objections to the way they measure religiosity. In particular, they admit that “readers may wonder whether these particular questions favor one religious tradition over another….” This is an objection that anyone who is a Unitarian Universalist would raise, since probably half of us don’t believe in God, including some of our most religious Unitarian Universalists. Putnam and Campbell go on to say:
…This is a common concern when social scientists study religion, as religiosity is sometimes measured with questions that are normative within Protestantism, specifically for evangelicals. …we acknowledge the concern that perhaps this particular religiosity index is inadvertently biased toward evangelical Protestantism, or some other religious tradition.
From my point of view, their measure of religiosity is clearly biased toward evangelical Protestantism. Which doesn’t make me eager to read the rest of the book. Which also makes me realize the extent to which evangelicals dominate the public conversation about religion in the U.S. And which also makes me want to force Putnam and Campbell to spend some time reading the work of linguist George Lakoff.