November 1, 2006

Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life

James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe

Pew Forum Dialogues on Religion & Public Life
E.J. Dionne Jr. and Michael Cromartie, Series Editors

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In the wake of a bitter 2004 presidential campaign and in the face of numerous divisive policy questions, many Americans wonder if their country has split in two. People are passionately choosing sides on contentious issues such as the invasion of Iraq, gay marriage, stem-cell research, and the right to die, and the battle over abortion continues unabated. Social and political splits fascinate the media: we hear of Red States against Blue States and the “Religious Right” against “Secular America”; Fox News and Air America; NASCAR dads and soccer moms. Is America, in fact, divided so clearly? Does a moderate middle still exist? Is the national fabric fraying? To the extent that these divisions exist, are they simply the healthy and unavoidable products of a diverse, democratic nation? In Is There a Culture War? two of America’s leading authorities on political culture lead a provocative and thoughtful investigation of this question and its ramifications.

James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe debate these questions with verve, insight, and a deep knowledge rooted in years of study and reflection. Long before most scholars and pundits addressed the issue, Hunter and Wolfe were identifying the fault lines in the debate. Hunter’s 1992 book Culture Wars put the term in popular circulation, arguing that America was in the midst of a “culture war” over “our most fundamental and cherished assumptions about how to order our lives.” Six years later, in One Nation After All, Wolfe challenged the idea of a culture war and argued that a majority of Americans were seeking a middle way, a blend of the traditional and the modern. For the first time, these two distinguished scholars join in dialogue to clarify their differences, update their arguments, and search for the truth about America’s cultural condition.

James Davison Hunter is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where he is also executive director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Among his several books is The Death of Character: On Moral Education of America’s Children (Basic Books, 2000).

Alan Wolfe is a professor of political science at Boston College, where he directs the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What It Needs to Do to Recover It (Princeton, 2005).

The Dialogues are short volumes, published jointly by the Pew Forum and the Brookings Institution, that bring together the voices of scholars, journalists and activists engaged simultaneously in the religious and policy realms. These books will appeal to public policy specialists, university students, clergy, lay leaders, seminarians, members of religious congregations, and active citizens who regularly join in dialogue on public matters. Each volume is introduced by the series editors and consists of counterpoint essays, responses to each essay, and concluding reflections on current policy debates.

Related Resource

Hunter and Wolfe spoke to journalists about culture wars at a Pew Forum event held in Key West, Fla. on May 23, 2006. Read the transcript.

Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 1, 2006) http://www.pewforum.org/2006/11/01/is-there-a-culture-war-a-dialogue-on-values-and-american-public-life/, accessed on July 23, 2014.