More From Robert Putnam on ‘American Grace’

BY Elizabeth Shell  October 12, 2010 at 5:13 PM EST

On Monday’s broadcast, correspondent Paul Solman interviewed Robert Putnam, a Harvard public policy professor and one of the co-authors of “American Grace,” on religion in America.

The full interview delved into many more topics than there was time to air, so we’re posting some web-only clips.


Robert Putnam:

“American Grace” is, we think, the most comprehensive and most in-depth examination of the role of religion in American life in the last half century. We try to look at the civic consequences of religion in America. And religion both unites and divides us.

Putnam and David Campbell of Notre Dame spent six years surveying 3,000 Americans and visiting various congregations–from a tiny Mormon church in Utah to a large black church in Baltimore–to discover the various strands that make up the dynamic tapestry that is attitudes towards religion in the U.S.

Besides discovering America to be a very religious country, Putnam said there were some interesting findings as well:

We discovered pretty good evidence that religious people are actually better friends and neighbors than less religious people. People who are move involved in religion are more likely to give philanthropy, including to secular causes.

They are more likely to work on community projects, more likely to take part in community civic life, to go to public meetings and to vote and so on.

The reason for this, Putnam found, was not a religiously-derived sense of guilt or duty to do these types of things- in other words, believing that God was going to punish them if they were bad and didn’t do these things wasn’t a factor. What did matter was their involvement in church and other religiously-based social networks.

“If you have a lot of friends at church, you are very likely to be a more generous person,” Putnam said.

Robert Putnam will be part of a reader Q & A on Paul Solman’s Making Sen$e page. If you have a question for Robert, put it in the comment section on the Business Desk.