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Beyond Denominationalism?: Community and Culture in American Religion

William H. Swatos, Jr.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 20, No. 3 (Sep., 1981), pp. 217-227
DOI: 10.2307/1385544
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1385544
Page Count: 11
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Beyond Denominationalism?: Community and Culture in American Religion
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Abstract

Working from the theoretical model and historical analysis provided in "Into Denominationalism: The Anglican Metamorphosis," this essay addresses the socio-cultural significance of denominationalism in America, the apparent decline of denominational religiosity in contemporary society, and the rise of "nondenominational" churches. T. H. Breen's concept of "persistent localism" is introduced to suggest a common Anglo-American cultural heritage for the social function of denominations. With the shift from a rural home-farm productive-consumptive society to an urban bureau-technical one, the traditional denominations, as religious organizations in conformity with their socio-cultural environment, developed into large supralocal non-profit corporations. In so doing, they failed to recognize the importance of localism in maintaining voluntary organizations. As our system is currently engaged in a centralization-decentralization push-pull process, the non-coercive nature of religious pluralism prohibits the traditional denominations from exercising controls of any significance to retain or increase their membership. The new nondenominational churches, then, are emerging as the functional and typological equivalents of the traditional denominations.

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