Christopher Scheitle’s Religious Road Trip
Date: February 27th, 2012

What do you get when you take a seasoned sociologist and a senior research associate, put them in a rented Dodge Charger for six weeks, and tell them to discover what America’s spiritual landscape is all about?  You get a religious road trip with Christopher P. Scheitle and Roger Finke .. and you learn a whole lot about what it is like to be religious in the US!  Chris Scheitle, a senior research associate in the Department of Sociology at Penn State University and adjunct assistant professor at the College of St. Benedict – St. John’s University in Minnessota, tells us how this unique research project came about.  He reveals how he suggested this offbeat idea to Roger Finke over a few beers and that Roger came back with some research funding and his wife’s permission a few days later and off they went (after a bit of preparation).  Their first stop took them to Memphis, TN to investigate the experience and influence of an African American church headed up by Robert Cole.  Chris details how the black church experience has permeated the broader American culture and what this means for religion in America.  It is then off to Houston, TX to pop into Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, a megachurch that serves roughly 40,000 congregants on any given Sunday.  We discuss the role of megachurches in America and how they represent the adaptability and creativity of the American religious spirit.  We then stop at a local Houston Yerberia and a cowboy church just out of Amarillo to find out what these entities bring to the national experience.  Travelling up to Colorado Springs, often called the “Vatican of evangelical Christianity,” we then find out about the role played by parachurch organizations such as Focus on the Family and Global Mapping International.  And then it is off to San Francisco to peak into various Asian immigrant religious groups such as the Buddhist Churches of America and even a Hare Krishna group.  We finish up the trip with an exploration of Muslims in Detroit and Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn.  All along the way, Tony peppers Chris with questions about what it is like to drive around the country with a full professor and what kind of music Roger Finke likes to listen to.  We end with Chris’s thoughts on what he learned from this trip and find out that although the American religious landscape is defined by its pluralism and diversity, in reality many religious folks of different faith traditions often share the same concerns with one another; Chris ends up impressed with the similarities that arise from our national diversity.  Recorded: February 17, 2012.


Places of Faith: A Road Trip across America’s Religious Landscape, by Christopher P. Scheitle and Roger Finke.

Christopher P. Scheitle’s website and Penn State University.

The Association of Religious Data Archive (ARDA) at Penn State University.

An article about Places of Faith at Ahead of the Trend on The ARDA.


Roger Finke on Religious Persecution.

Daniel Stiles on  Cowboy Churches.

Chris Bader on Ghosts, Bigfoot, and the Paranormal.

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