Greater Acceptance, Persisting Antipathy: 50 Years of Religious Change

by Jerry Park, Joshua Tom, and Brita Andercheck,

The following is a re-post in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Reprinted from Council on Contemporary Families February 2014 Civil Rights Symposium; the full proceedings, including a set of papers focused on religion and relationships, are available here

Catholic and Jewish Americans Since The Civil Rights Era

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only ushered in stronger federal protections for racial and ethnic minorities and women, but also for religious minorities. Antipathy toward Catholics and Jews in the US was a persistent and prevalent theme through much of American history. It was common for these groups to be labeled “un-American” and even categorized as “non-white.” Members of these religions were often discriminated against in hiring and in admission to institutions of higher learning (this was especially common for Jewish applicants) and excluded from many neighborhoods, clubs, and political positions. From the late 19th through the mid-20th century, organized hate groups, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, used the threat of violence to intimidate not only African-Americans but Jews and Catholics as well.

After World War II, these restrictions and prejudices eased somewhat. By 1955 the now-classic essay Protestant Catholic Jew could proclaim that although these three religions were the primary sources of identity in America, they were now “alternative ways of being an American” rather than two of them being seen as Un-American.

Still, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism persisted. In the 1960s, some commentators worried that President Kennedy, a Catholic, would take orders from the Pope. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon was recorded making several anti-Semitic comments. And even today nativist hate groups continue to perpetuate centuries-old hostilities against Catholic and Jewish Americans. But the Civil Rights Act did give these minorities protection against outright exclusion and discrimination, and other religious minorities have also looked to it for security as the American religious landscape has diversified.

American Religious Belonging Today

Religion scholars consider the United States to be an anomaly on the modern religious scene. Compared to other nations at similar levels of modernization, the United States stands out as highly religious. For example, in Western Europe about three-quarters of the population profess a belief in a God or higher power (with this proportion significantly lower in some individual nations). In America, by contrast, 90 percent of adults profess such a belief. These American numbers have remained fairly stable, with only small long-term declines, over the past fifty years.

However, one major measure of religiosity has changed significantly over that time period: religious belonging, or identifying with a particular religion rather than simply holding religious beliefs.

Currently 80 percent of the U.S. adult population identifies as belonging to one of the 3,500 groups that make up the American religious landscape. Religion scholars categorize these groups in different ways, but one of the most popular classifications divides them into six major American religious traditions: Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Other Religions. Twenty percent of Americans fall into a seventh category, which sociologists call the ‘religious Nones’ – those who identify with no religious tradition even if they do believe in God or a higher being.

The distribution of Americans among these various groups has fluctuated and changed over the past 50 years. Figure 1 shows these trends in affiliation from 1957-1971 using Gallup polling data and from 1972-2012 using data from the General Social Survey (GSS).

Gallup data
Gallup data
GSS Data
GSS Data

We draw attention to six specific trends:

  • The Protestant share of the American population has shrunk from more than 70 percent of the population in the late 1950s to less than 50 percent today. This is primarily due to the precipitous decline of Mainline Protestants (e.g. Methodists, Lutheran and Episcopalians), from more than 30 percent of the U.S. population in the 1970’s to around 15 percent today.
  • Evangelical Protestants (e.g. Baptists, Pentecostals) have increased their representation in the population from less than a quarter of the population in the 1960s to 31 percent in the early 1990s. However, this was the period of their peak membership. Contrary to popular impression, their share of the religious market has since declined to 24 percent.
  • Catholics have sustained their share of the religious market, remaining at approximately 25 percent throughout the latter half of the 20th century. But this is primarily due to the influx of Latino immigrants to the United States. The share of native born (primarily white) Catholics has declined.
  • Despite the large percentage of Americans who profess a belief in a higher power, there has been a recent meteoric rise of the religious Nones, from about 3 percent of the population in the mid-20th century, to 10 percent in 2000, to 20 percent today. One in every 5 Americans does not identify with a particular religious tradition.
  • The proportion of Americans who identify with “Other” religious traditions has doubled, an increase that is closely tied to the increased immigration of Asian populations who brought non-western religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) with them. While still a small proportion of the overall population, they contribute greatly to the increased religious diversity of the American religious landscape. In 20 states,scattered in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian religion. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, and Buddhism is the largest religion in 13 western states. In Delaware and Arizona, Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion, while in South Carolina it is the Baha’i. For more details visit here.

According to the Pew Research Centers, “the percentage of US adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s.” It is currently is a little less than two percent.

Religion and Socio-Economic Status

Religious groups differ not only in their beliefs but in their place in the socioeconomic and educational hierarchy.

Religious groups differ not only in their beliefs but in their place in the socioeconomic and educational hierarchy. Some groups have been upwardly mobile during this time period while others have experienced more limited progress.

  • In the 19th century, white Catholics, especially Irish immigrants, were over-represented among the poor. But in the 20th century, especially since the 1960s, white Catholics have experienced unprecedented upward mobility. They now closely resemble Mainline Protestants on socioeconomic measures, with a median net worth of $156,000 compared to Mainline Protestant’s $146,000. Latino Catholics, by contrast, have a net worth of $51,500, substantially below their white Catholic counterparts. White Catholics have also spent more time in school (14 years on average) than their Latino counterparts (12.5 years).
  • Jews have the highest median net worth of any U.S. religious tradition, at $423,500, Black Protestants have the lowest, at around $22,800. On average, Jews have 16 years of education while Black Protestants have 12.7 years of education.
  • Evangelical Protestants remain near the bottom of the economic ladder with a median net worth of $82,400. They average 13.2 years of education, above Latino Catholics but below the national average.
  • The Non-Affiliated (or religious Nones) are also below the U.S. median net worth and median education level, with a median of only 12.7 years of education. Less than 10 percent of this group holds an advanced degree. Only Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics have lower levels of educational attainment than “Nones.” 

Religion and Union Formation and Dissolution

Religion is popularly thought of as a social institution that encourages marriage and family growth, and conservative religious traditions are especially supportive of “traditional” family forms and values. But there are some interesting and not always predictable variations among and within different religious groups.

  • Cohabitation is now the most common path toward marriage, and it is on the rise among religious groups as well. But non–affiliated young people are the most likely group to cohabit. Overall Catholics are the least likely to cohabit. Across all religious traditions, teens who attend religious worship services more often and say that religion is more important to them are less likely to cohabit than less observant teens.
  • Overall, couples who have higher levels of religious service attendance, especially if the couple attends together, have lower rates of divorce. But there are big variations among religious groups. White Catholics and Mainline Protestants are less likely than the average American to be divorced, with 12.4 percent and 12.5 percent of their populations being currently divorced, respectively, compared to an overall average of 14.2 of Americans currently divorced.
  • But white Conservative Protestants and Black Protestants are more likely than the average American to be divorced, with 17.2 percent and 15.7 percent of their populations being currently divorced, respectively. Indeed, Evangelical Protestants are more likely to be divorced than Americans who claim no religion.

Thus the common conservative argument that strong religion leads to strong families does not hold up. Some have argued that evangelical Protestantism (the typical example of “strong religion”) is correlated with low socioeconomic status, and that this explains the increased risk of divorce. However, new research by Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak suggests that evangelical Protestants’ cultural encouragement of early marriage and discouragement of birth control and higher education attainment explain the higher divorce rate in counties with a larger proportion of evangelical Protestants. In fact, living in such counties increases the likelihood of divorce for all couples, regardless of whether they themselves are evangelicals.

Religion and Fertility

The most dependable way for religious groups to maintain or grow their membership is through sexual reproduction. Differences in fertility rates among religious groups are a large part of this story.

  • On average, women from Evangelical Protestant traditions have one more child over their lifetime than their mainline Protestant counterparts. In fact, it is estimated that the fertility practices of evangelical women explain more than 75 percent of the growth these groups have experienced over time.
  • Fertility rates among religious groups vary considerably, generally correlating with their social fortunes over time. Lower SES religious groups (who also more highly value and encourage childbearing) tend to have higher fertility rates. As groups become upwardly mobile, increasing in educational and income attainment, fertility tends to decline. For example, fertility among American White Catholics has dropped slightly below replacement rates (approximately 2.1 children per woman is considered replacement fertility) as they became upwardly mobile. But the rapid growth of new immigrant (post 1964) Latino Catholics has offset this decline. Today, Latino Catholics have fertility rates above replacement, upholding the Catholic share of the American adult population at a steady twenty-five percent. It is possible that these fertility rates will fall as immigrants live longer in the U.S.

Religious Switching

The ability of religions to retain the affiliation of individuals as they age is another key to maintaining or growing their share of the United States population. Nearly three-quarters of American adults have the same religious affiliation as their parents, but this means that more than a quarter of American adults have left the religious tradition in which they were raised.

  • The most common path for young adults leading away from the religion of their childhood is non-affiliation. This is starkly illustrated by the divergent fortunes of the Mainline Protestants and religious Nones, whose trend lines pass each other somewhere around 2004 (see Figure 1). Overall, Catholics and Evangelical Protestants are somewhat better at retention than Mainline Protestants, who see a third of each generation leave the tradition.
  • Latino Catholics are twice as likely as White Catholics to remain Catholic as they age, another way in which this subpopulation has upheld the Catholic share of the American religious market.
  • In the past it was common for young people who grew up with no religious affiliation to join a religious tradition as they transitioned into adulthood. Today, by contrast, most youths raised as religious Nones remain so as they age.
  • No matter what the religious tradition, the greatest predictor of whether a person switches at some point in the life is whether or not their parents match each other religiously. This leads to another dimension of religion and family: the marriage of individuals of different religious faiths, described in the McClendon’s “Interfaith Marriage and Romantic Unions in the United States” briefing report in this Council on Contemporary Families Civil Rights Symposium.

Conclusion

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religious minorities, particularly Catholic and Jewish Americans, have gained greater acceptance as part of the American religious mainstream. At the same time, America’s religious landscape, like its racial-ethnic one, has diversified over the past half century. The many varieties of Protestants are part of an ever-expanding religious mosaic that includes Jews, Catholics and a growing presence of Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Mormons, Muslims and Sikhs, along with increasing numbers of individuals whose spiritual beliefs are not anchored in any particular religious affiliation. Americans have certainly become more tolerant of a wide range of beliefs, but in this diverse environment the Civil Rights Act remains an important source of protection for religious (and non-religious) minorities.

References:

Chaves, Mark. 2011. American Religion: Contemporary Trends. Princeton University Press.

Chokshi, Niraj 2013. “Religion in America’s States and Counties in 6 Maps.” The Washington Post.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/12/12/religion-in-americas-states-and-counties-in-6-maps/

European Commision. 2010. “Special Eurobaromter: Biotechnology Report.”http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_341_en.pdf

Glass, Jennifer and Philip Levchak 2014. “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding Regional Variation in Divorce Rates.” American Journal of Sociology.  Summary: http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org/impact-of-conservative-protestantism-on-regional-divorce-rates/

Hout, Michael, Andrew Greeley, and Melissa J. Wilde. 2001. “The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 107(2):468–500.

Keister, Lisa A. 2011. Faith and Money: How Religion Contributes to Wealth and Poverty. Cambridge University Press.

Mahoney, Annette. 2010. “Religion in Families, 1999–2009: A Relational Spirituality Framework.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72(4):805–27.

Steensland, Brian et al. 2000. “The Measure of American Religion: Toward Improving the State of the Art.” Social Forces 79(1):291–318. 

July 2, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In February 2014, CCF convened an online Civil Rights Symposium. To read or download the entire symposium, visit here

The Top 11 from ’13: Academic Journals of Sociological Research on Religion

 

It’s 2014 and time for an annual review of the religion-related articles in the top journals in sociology. As I have done in the past, I use the ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports to create the ranking of all sociology journals ranked by last year’s Impact Factor. In this review I noticed that 2012 was an anomalous year; last year I only needed to review the first 10 journals to get my top 11; this year I had to search down to the first 19. Even the newly discovered European Sociological Review had only 2 articles on religion compared to 5 in the previous year. I skipped two journals (noted below) that I had not heard of in any paper or book I have read in the past year in mainstream sociology. Interestingly some journals have gotten a much lower impact factor rating while others that were low last year have gotten a boost. A few remain constant and it’s those that many scholars view as consistently prestigious. Below I include a marker “tie” for those that appear in the same journal in the same year. It’s the journal rank that counts so those articles should be more or less ranked about the same. That said, 7 of the first 19 journals with the highest impact factor contained 11 articles related to religion. As of this writing the December issues of the American Journal of Sociology and Sociological Theory were not available so it’s possible that these rankings will miss important articles here. Hat tip to all those listed for their contributions!

 

Tie (1) Edwards, Korie L., Brad Christerson, and Michael O. Emerson. 2013. “Race, Religious Organizations, and Integration.” Annual Review of Sociology 39:211-228.

Tie (1) Gorski, Philip S. and Gulay Turkmen-Dervisoglu. 2013. “Religion, Nationalism, and Violence: An Integrated Approach.” Annual Review of Sociology 39: 193-210.

[apologies to the second author, I don’t know where the umlaut symbol is and how to work it.]

(3) Goldstein, Adam and Heather A. Haveman. 2013. “Pulpit and Press: Denominational Dynamics and the Growth of Religious Magazines in Antebellum America.” American Sociological Review 78:797-827.

Annals of Tourism Research: skipped

(4) Mathias, Matthew D. 2013. “The Sacralization of the Individual: Human Rights and the Abolition of the Death Penalty.” American Journal of Sociology 118:1246-1283.

Social Networks: 0

Sociological Methodology: 0

Journal of Marriage and Family: 0

Journal of Consumer Culture: 0

Sociological Theory: 0

Population and Development Review: 0

Socio-Economic Review: 0

(5) Scheible, Jana A. and Fenella Fleischmann. 2013. “Gendering Islamic Religiosity in the Second Generation: Gender Differences in Religious Practices and the Association with Gender Ideology Among Moroccan- and Turkish-Belgian Muslims.” Gender and Society 27: 372-395.

[this article might also be awarded the “longest title of the year”]

Cornell Hospitality Quarterly: skipped

Tie (6) Charsley, Katharine and Anika Liversage. 2013. “Transforming Polygamy: Migration, Transnationalism and Multiple Marriages Among Muslim Minorities.” Global Networks 13: 60-78.

Tie (6) Singh, Gurharpal. 2013. “Religious Transnationalism, Development and the Construction of Religious Boundaries: the Case of the Derra Sachkhand Ballan and the Ravidass Dharm.” Global Networks 13: 183-199.

Tie (8) Immerzeel, Tim and Frank van Tubergen 2013. “Religion as Reassurance? Testing the Insecurity Theory in 26 European Countries.” European Sociological Review 29:359-372.

Tie (8) Davies, Scott. 2013. “Are There Catholic School Effects in Ontario, Canada?” European Sociological Review 29:871-883.

Sociological Methods and Research: 0

Politics and Society: 0

Law and Society Review: 0

Tie (10) Cao, Liqun and Edward R. Maguire. 2013. “Class, Religiosity, and Tolerance of Prostitution.” Social Problems 60: 188-205.

Tie (10) Guenther, Katja M. and Kerry Mulligan. 2013. “From the Outside In: Crossing Boundaries to Build Collective Identity in the New Atheist Movement.” Social Problems 60: 457-475.

 

The Top 11 from ’12: an Exceptional Year of Religious Research Studies in Sociology

 

Last year around this time I introduced readers to the way sociologists rank the visibility of their research. With new readers tracking BWG, I’d like to re-introduce some of the basics and then get to list making. One of the major tasks of research university professors is to publish studies that they have been working on between classes, class prep, administrative duties, committee work, grant applications, and the like.  Such research usually takes the form of a 30-50 page study of some phenomenon including tables and references to the previous research that one is building on. This study is submitted for “peer-review” which can entail a single-blind or double-blind review of one’s submission. Single-blind refers to the reviewer’s knowledge of the author(s) submitting the work, and double-blind refers to neither the reviewer(s) nor the author’s knowledge of one another in this process. Usually there are between 2 and 6 reviewers per article submitted. Given that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of submissions, the academic research community has continually expanded the number of outlets in which one can submit a paper for possible publication. Last year there were 132 journals listed in the Journal Citation Reports Social Science Edition of Sociology journals. This year there are 138. Like most competitive forms of accomplishment, a hierarchy develops over time, and certain journals appear at the top- it’s these journals where one’s work gains the most recognition and visibility in the academic community.

Not surprisingly, few scholars can lay claim to have landed their work in this orbit, and the peer-review here is very critical and very thorough. Consequently, we often see little shifting in the ranks of the top journals from year to year. As a scholar who focuses on race and religion, it’s been an interesting challenge to keep track of the research on religion in particular in the top journals. Last year I noted that I had to review up to the top 18 journals before I could identify 11 studies that focused on religion. Readers may ask “why 11?” to which I quote from the cult classic Spinal Tap: “Because it’s one louder.”

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This year was a curious one and one perhaps we will not see for another decade. I scanned the article abstracts from the top 10 journals (skipping the 1 or 2 I had never heard of) this time in order to identify the top 11 studies of religion-related topics in sociology for 2012. But perhaps most striking of all is that 8 of the top 11 were found in the top two journals alone. This is unbelievable. The number in parentheses is the number of abstracts I found that mentioned religion.

Annual Review of Sociology (2)

American Sociological Review (6)

Annals of Tourism Research (skipped)

American Journal of Sociology (0)

Sociological Methodology (0)

Social Networks (0)

Gender and Society (2)

Population and Development Review (0)

Politics and Society (0)

Journal of Marriage and Family (1)

European Sociological Review (5)

Rural Sociology (0)

Notably I should have simply stopped at the Journal of Marriage and Family to get my top 11. But I had not seen the European Sociological Review before, and since it seemed analogous to the American Sociological Review I thought it couldn’t hurt to review that as well. To my surprise, I found 5 more studies that covered the topic of religion. So if ESR has the same kind of prestige as ASR (as the leading sociology journal in a nation or continent), 11 papers appeared from these two sources alone. This suggests that religion has truly come unto its own as a topic of relevance to social scientists, and it remains to be seen how such visibility will sustain itself in years to come.

Below are the references of these publications with a link to the abstract. In this list I also included items dealing with morality, a topic that has some overlap with religion; given the shared conceptual space between these terms I decided to include them both. Perhaps in the future studies in morality will be obviously distinct from religion, but for now I remain open to including both. As before, if readers chime in with their votes, I will do a post on the article of greatest interest to readers. Comment below!

These references by the way are listed according to appearance from oldest (or earliest in 2012) to most recent. Hats off to these scholars for their great work!

Edgell, Penny. 2012. “A Cultural Sociology of Religion: New Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 38:247-265.

Voas, David and Fenella Fleishmann. 2012. “Islam Moves West: Religious Change in the First and Second Generations.” Annual Review of Sociology 38: 525-545.

Stets, Jan E. and Michael J. Carter. 2012. “A Theory of the Self for the Sociology of Morality”, American Sociological Review 77:120-140.

Kim, Hyojoung and Steven Pfaff. 2012. “Structure and Dynamics of Religious Insurgency: Students and the Spread of the Reformation.” American Sociological Review 77: 188-215.

Adamczyk, Amy and Brittany E. Hayes. 2012. “Religion and Sexual Behaviors: Understanding the Influence of Islamic Cultures and Religious Affiliation for Explaining Sex Outside of Marriage.” American Sociological Review 77: 723-746.

Lim, Chaeyoon and Carol Ann MacGregor. 2012. “Religion and Volunteering in Context: Disentangling the Contextual Effects of Religion on Voluntary Behavior.” American Sociological Review 77:747-779

Bail, Christopher A. 2012. “The Fringe Effect: Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse About Islam Since the September 11th Attacks.” American Sociological Review 77: 855-879.

 Simko, Christina. 2012. “Rhetorics of Suffering: September 11 Commemorations as Theodicy.” American Sociological Review 77: 880-902. 

 Pande, Amrita. 2012. “From ‘Balcony Talk’ and ‘Practical Prayers’ to Illegal Collectives: Migrant Domestic Workers and Meso-Level Resistance in Lebanon.” Gender and Society 26: 382-405.

Sumereau, J. Edward. 2012. “’That’s What a Man is Supposed to Do’: Compensatory Manhood Acts in an LGBT Christian Church.” Gender and Society 26: 461-487.

Petts, Richard J. 2012. “Single Mothers’ Religious Participation and Early Childhood Behavior.” Journal of Marriage and Family 74: 251-268.

 

And here are links to the 5 articles I found in ESR:

Berghammer, Caroline. 2012. “Family Life Trajectories and Religiosity in Austria” European Sociological Review 28:127-144

Voicu, Malina 2012. “Effect of Nationalism on Religiosity in 30 European Countries.” European Sociological Review 28:333-343

van Eijck, Koen. 2012. “The Impact of Religious Identity and Social Orientations on Visuals Arts Appreciation.” European Sociological Review 28:394-407.

Stegmueller, Daniel, Peer Scheepers, Sigrid Robteutscher, and Eelke de Jong. 2012. “Support for Redistribution in Western Europe: Assessing the Role of Religion.” European Sociological Review 28:482-497.

Eichorn, Jan. 2012. “Happiness for Believers? Contextualizing the Effects of Religiosity on Life-Satisfaction.” European Sociological Review 28:583-593

 

“Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty”

 

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Last week, I organized a panel at the Association for the Sociology of Religion to discuss Susan Crawford Sullivan‘s new book Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty?University of Chicago Press, 2011). Here  are my brief comments.

“Jamila. Age 28, Black, single. Two children ages 5 and 7 months. Raised Catholic (graduated from Catholic school); now attends Mass occasionally with her mother. Sends her daughter to Mass every week with her mother. On welfare, living in a family shelter.

Lenora, age 22. Hispanic. Single. One child almost two years old. Occasionally attends an evangelical church. On welfare; living in a family shelter.

Peggy. Aged 43. White. Divorced. Two children ages 5 and 15. Devout Evangelical who stopped her previously frequent church attendance when she got divorced. On welfare.” (Appendix A, pp. 227-229, Living Faith).

What images come to mind when you here these profiles, the profiles of 3 of the approximately 50 poor mothers Sullivan interviewed for her book Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty?”

Whatever image came to your mind, I assure you that you will have a very different image of mothers in poverty, and of their deep prayer lives, after you read this book. Among the many reasons I liked this book, perhaps the most important one is that Sullivan presents her interviewees with all the drama of their very difficult lives, and all their hope and faith for a better life to come. She presents their deep trust that “God has a plan”, their strong sense of personal sinfulness and desire to be better, alongside stories of their social isolation from most types of social groups and the particular stigma they often feel from many members and leaders of organized religion.

In presenting the struggles, faith and resilience of extremely poor mothers, Sullivan presents her interviewees in their full humanity and dignity, an important starting point for both social theory and public policy.

 

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I first met Susan at a conference in 2009, where I presented findings from my book telling very similar narratives of hope in the midst of life-threatening trials and extreme poverty among Haitian immigrants. We then exchanged numerous emails and helped each other discover deeper insights from our work, in particular about religion and resilience among the poor. I encourage you to read every word of her new book, even the full list of bios of her interviewees in the appendix.

Her book, although just published, has already been awarded the best new book prize from the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association. I’m sure our recent author-meets-crtiics panel at the Association for the Sociology of Religion and Susan’s well-deserved award represent the start of much discussion about this important book.


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