The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation

Wasn’t That A Time?

Handout 1

"Baby Boomers have long been the focus of debate about moral values and the tone they set for this country–controversial from the time they were in youthful rebellion right down to the more recent crisis of the Clinton presidency. An aging generation, its members are increasingly ensconced in midlife, at a juncture where we can better assess their impact religiously and morally. Hence, as we move into another century, it is appropriate to reflect upon where this "lead" demographic cohort may be taking us. " (Roof, Spiritual Marketplace, 3).

In 1950s: 2 out of 3 households attended religious services at least once a month, 42% attended weekly. Church membership in 1953 was 60% of the population (Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land, 425).

Will Herberg’s Protestant-Catholic-Jew argued that religion would continue to be integral to American’s identities ". . . religion is accepted as a normal part of the American Way of Life. Not to be–that is, not to identify oneself and be identified as–either a Protestant, a Catholic, or a Jew is somehow not to be an American." (Herberg, Protestant-Catholic-Jew, 274)

At the same time there was an identification of American culture and political structure with religion (not for the first time in our history). "Cardinal Francis Spellman had proudly insisted of the American soldiers in WWII ‘their blood mingling reverently with that of Christ as they brought "salvation and peace to their fellowmen.’ Using language of the kind that Lincoln once cautioned against, Spellman declared that the entire American struggle grew out of a motive of charity to the neighbor, that every drop of blood fell in what was ultimately God’s cause." (Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land, 409)

A decade later Billy Graham, "a new leader (who) came from old rural-revivalist roots. . . As he traveled, he was surprised to find that the liberalism against which he had been warmed–a real, old-fashioned, dyed-in the-wool modernism–had almost disappeared. He wanted to take his movement ‘into the camps of the devil’, but he needed to find new camps or other devils . . . In 1949 Graham took on pagan Los Angeles. . . Graham told Los Angeles that the communists had targeted their city of wickedness, sin, crime, and immorality. ‘Fifth Columnists, called Communists, are more rampant in Los Angeles than any other city in America. We need a revival.’" (Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land, 413)


"What the early Boom cohort did in a very real sense was not so much to initiate as to bring to the surface tensions in religion and morality that had long been festering. They were a catalyst leading to the release of a good deal of pent-up frustration and ambivalence. Further, this early cohort–and the generation more generally–became the carrier of cultural and religious values that would permeate "upward" to older generations and "downward" to those born after them. Feminism, ecology, and tolerance of gay and lesbian lifestyles exemplify a new consciousness associated with this generation in its youth, but which is now broadly diffused in American society. . . Yet we should not overlook the depths of this generation’s experience. For those born from 1946 to 964, there was a break with institutional religious authority that has had lasting consequences for both institutions and individuals" (Roof, Spiritual Marketplace, 50).

"Uprooted in faiths and family traditions, many Americans are looking within themselves in hopes of finding a God not bound by older canons of literalism, moralism, and patriarchy, in hopes that their own biographies might yield personal insight about the sacred" (Marketplace, 57).

Marty, Martin. Pilgrims in Their Own Lands: 500 Years of Religion in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1984.

Roof, Wade Clark. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Warner, R. Stephen. New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988.

Wuthnow, Robert. After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.


Homework (Optional)–Adapted from Dan Wakefield’s The Story of Your Life

  1. Think of something that happened in childhood (loosely defined as the time before adolescence) that you might consider a spiritual experience. It doesn’t have to have occurred in a church of synagogue or any kind of formal place of worship, or be specifically religious in nature, like a baptism or confirmation or incident at Sunday School. Take a pen or a piece of paper and a timer–this exercise will last for only 30 minutes. Write as much as you can remember about this experience in 30 minutes, and then stop.
  2. You may want to meditate on the following quote from Wade Clark Roof.

"They (the Boomers) dwell on fate and the dilemmas of life simply because their understanding of why life is as it is are rooted more in their own biographies and experiences than in any grand religious narrative that purports to provide answers for all times and all places" (Roof, A Generation of Seekers, 85).


Roof, Wade Clark. A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993.

Wakefield, Dan. The Story of Your Life: Writing a Spiritual Autobiography. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.