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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

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Shifting Soulscapes
Americans deal with religion and spirituality much differently today than they did before 1950

By Linda Elliott, special to Scene

Patricia O'Connell KillenReligion today might be compared to the advertising slogan "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." Americans over 35 have experienced a radically different spiritual world from that of their parents and grandparents.

According to Patricia O'Connell Killen, professor of religion at PLU and an expert on American religiousness, our country's religious landscape changed drastically after 1950, when several major cultural forces came into play.

"Class, race, national origin, regionalism, family, gender equity -- everything changed," explained Killen, who has written two books and was recently chosen to write the history of the Seattle Archdiocese.

Before 1950, religious ideals and practices were channeled along pre-existing social and cultural lines. For example, if your father was a Presbyterian, you became a Presbyterian. If the family went to church every Sunday, there was no deviating from the ritual and -- more important -- there was little desire to do so.

Today, the overarching theme for American individuals is that their religious identity is a lifelong, solitary project. Gone are the days when your religious identity was chosen for you by your parents and played out in community churches.

For the most part, individuals pick and choose the style of spirituality that works best for them from among a wide range of traditions and movements. They seek a religion that is useful, portable and pragmatic -- one that is suited to an ever-changing and increasingly technological world.

Unlike their parents, it would be unthinkable not to question religious choices or to rebel against the tradition they grew up in. Individual freedom and opportunity are as much the watchwords in religion as they are in economic and social life, Killen said.

Killen predicts this framework for relating to the world will continue for the next 75 to 100 years, unless major economic changes or natural disasters force us into a different cultural setting.

"Our world is structured on constant change," she said. "It keeps us asking more of the 'who are we?' and 'where do we belong?' questions. From every quarter come challenges to our identity and meaning."

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