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Religion: The Social Context summarizes a vast literature in the
sociology of religion. Below, I have chosen a few books and articles that
are especially relevant to each chapter. I have included a few works of
fiction that illustrate social processes in religious life
Click on a bullet to show its contents:
|Chapter 1: The Sociological Perspective on Religion
|Chapter 2: The Provision of Meaning and Belonging
Peter L. Berger. The Sacred
Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion.
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967.
Berger’s interpretation of the
contemporary religious situation is based upon a carefully developed
theory of identity.
Thomas Luckmann. The Invisible
Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society. New
York: Macmillan, 1967.
Luckmann develops a theory of modern
religion, interpreting nonofficial religion, privatization, and
individual religious forms.
Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer,
eds. Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic
Movements. New York: Routledge, 1997.
This collection includes several
fascinating case studies in historical context, as well as theories
Max Weber. The Sociology of
Religion. Trans. E. Fischoff. Boston: Beacon, 1963 .
This book contains Weber’s mature
thinking on several important aspects of religion, including
theodicy, the idea of salvation, asceticism and mysticism, the role
of the prophet, and the religion of nonprivileged classes.
|books (fiction & literature):
Walter M. Miller, Jr. A Canticle
for Leibowitz. New York: Harold Matson, 1959.
Describes the role of religion in
regenerating civilization following nuclear war, how the Albertian
Order of Leibowitz was founded, and how it struggled against the
Dark Ages that followed the nuclear holocaust. The few artifacts
upon which the new knowledge was built included sacred texts written
by the Blessed Leibowitz, such as the following fragment:
"Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels . . . ."
Sheri S. Tepper. Raising the
Stones. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
Science fictional depiction of cosmic
clashes of religions. Clever portrayal of patriarchal and dualistic
religions. One finds oneself empathizing with the people whose god
appears to be—well, a fungus.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Cat’s Cradle.
Baltimore: Penguin, 1963.
A science fiction account of the end of the
world and the ultimate religious movement, Bokonism. Serious humor
about the construction of sacred texts, symbols, and meaning.
Elie Wiesel. Night. New
York: Pyramid, 1960.
A moving personal journal of the author’s
experience as a child in a Nazi concentration camp. The issue of
meaning is implicit and powerful.
|Chapter 3: The Individual's Religion
Nancy Tatom Ammerman. Bible
Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World. New
Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987.
This highly readable ethnography shows how
members of a fundamentalist congregation maintain their worldview
Eileen Barker. The
Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing. Oxford: Basil
Winner of the 1985 Distinguished Book Award
of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, this book is a
methodologically exemplary and highly readable description of the
beliefs, recruitment, conversion, and commitment processes of the
Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Lynn Davidman. Tradition
in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
This is a rich ethnography of two groups
through which young, secular Jewish women make a transition to
Orthodoxy, with its traditional patterns of family life and
restrictive roles for women.
Jody Shapiro Davie. Women
in the Presence: Constructing Community and Seeking Spirituality in
Mainline Protestantism. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
Based on ethnographic and interview
evidence, this well-written book gives a real flavor of the personal
spirituality of active Presbyterian laywomen.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Commitment
and Community. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972.
Using evidence from nineteenth-century
American communitarian ventures, this book presents a well-organized
theoretical schema for analyzing commitment.
Mary Jo Neitz. Charisma
and Community: A Study of Religious Commitment Within the
Charismatic Renewal. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987.
An ethnography of Catholic charismatic
social reality, conversion, and community experience.
|Chapter 4: Official and Unofficial Religion
Meredith B. McGuire. "Gendered
Spirituality and Quasi-religious Ritual," Religion and
the Social Order 4 (1994): 273–287.
Mary Jo Neitz. "Queering the
Dragonfest: Changing Sexualities in a Post-Patriarchal
Religion," Sociology of Religion 61 (2000): 369-391.
R. Steven Warner. "The Place of
the Congregation in the Contemporary American Religious
Configuration." In American Congregations, J. P. Wind and
J. W. Lewis, eds. Vol. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1994, pp. 54–99.
Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama
Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1991.
This rich and highly readable ethnographic
narrative about a New York Vodou community and its priestess
captivates my sociology of religion classes, while it vividly
illustrates how an individual’s lived religion often involves
elements of both official and non-official religion, interwoven in a
complex single fabric.
Cheryl Townsend Gilkes. "If
It Wasn’t for the Women …": Black Women’s Experience and
Womanist Culture in Church and Community. Maryknoll, NY:
A collection of essays about
African-American women’s religious experiences and struggles for
dignity, social justice, and change in their churches and
communities, this book highlights the intersection of gender, race,
David H. Hall, ed., Lived Religion
in America: Toward a History of Practice. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1997.
An anthology of historical, sociological
and anthropological case studies of U.S. popular religious
expressions as "lived religion."
Edward Muir, Ritual in
Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University
This highly readable social history
presents essential background for sociological interpretation of
contemporary European and Euro-American official and non-official
Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual
Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
A deeper exploration of the spiritual
journeys of the Baby Boom generation than his 1993 work, Roof’s
volume discusses the differences in patterns of religiosity or
spirituality among five American subcultures—dogmatists,
Born-again believers, mainstream believers, metaphysical believers
and seekers, and secularists.
Susan Starr Sered. Priestess,
Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women. New
York: Oxford, 1994.
Drawing on anthropological studies of a
wide range of religious groups, subcultures, and social movements,
this volume examines the themes particular to women’s religious
experience and expression, such as childbirth and healing, ritual
space and time, food and other material concerns, trance and
possession, and women’ religious leadership and relationships.
James V. Spickard, J. Shawn Landres,
and Meredith B. McGuire, eds., Personal Knowledge and Beyond:
Reshaping the Ethnography of Religion. New York: New York
University Press, 2002.
A collection of personal reflections of
some of the best current ethnographers of religion, with trenchant
feminist and post-colonialist critiques of the old ethnography,
together with thoughtful ideas for going beyond the current
"state of the art" toward reshaping our ways of knowing.
R. Stephen Warner and Judith G.
Wittner, eds. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and
the New Immigration. Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
Based on fieldwork in immigrant communities
from L.A. to New York, this collection examines the varieties of
immigrant religious expression and the place of religious
communities and practicesin the immigrant experience in the U.S.
Margaret Atwood. Handmaid’s Tale.
New York: Fawcett Crest, 1985.
A dystopian vision of a society governed by
a fundamentalist theocracy that has drastically reshaped gender and
Ursula LeGuin, Always Coming Home.
New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
An imaginative futuristic novel written as
an anthropologist’s field-notes (complete with sketches of
symbols, transcripts of songs, etc.) about two religious cultures
– one patriarchal, aggressive, and rigidly rule-based, and the
other androgynous, creative, and spiritual – that dwell in the
remnants of what was once central coast California.
|Chapter 5: The Dynamics of Religious Collectivities
|books (edited collections):
David G. Bromley and Jeffrey K.
Hadden, eds. The Handbook on Cults and Sects in America.
Vols. 3A and 3B of Religion and the Social Order. Greenwich,
Conn.: JAI Press, 1993.
Lorne L. Dawson, ed. Cults in
Context: Readings in the Study of New Religious Movements.
New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1998.
|books (case studies):
Nancy Tatom Ammerman. Baptist
Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern
Baptist Convention. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University
A richly contextualized analysis of ongoing
conflicts within one of the largest U.S. denominational groups.
Phillip Charles Lucas. The
Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to
Orthodoxy. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press,
The fascinating transition of a religious
movement from cultic synthesis of diverse New Age and older
nonofficial religious paths to becoming an order within the Eastern
Armand L. Mauss. The Angel
and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Illustrates the ongoing tension in a large,
established religious movement between retaining some of its
dissenting tension with "the world" and accommodating to
the larger society in which it has become a prosperous participant.
R. Stephen Warner. New Wine in Old
Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
A highly readable ethnography of a single
Presbyterian congregation as it underwent significant internal
changes, growth, and divisions; this book received the 1989
Distinguished Book Award of the Society for the Scientific Study of
Umberto Eco. The Name of
the Rose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.
Set in a fourteenth-century Italian
monastery, this novel is full of mystery, historical and
philosophical webs, occult and esoteric allusions, theology and
religious history, semiotic riches, and, above all, the love of
words—spoken words, written words, read words, experienced words.
Frank Herbert. Dune
(1965); Dune Messiah (1969); Children of Dune (1976)
all published by Berkley Books, N.Y. God Emperor of Dune
(1981), Heretics of Dune (1984), and Chapterhouse Dune
(1985) are published by G. P. Putnam & Sons, N.Y.
This science fiction series includes many
excellent illustrations of religious movement formation,
mobilization, charisma, routinization, sectarianization, and so on.
|Chapter 6: Religion, Social Cohesion, and Conflict
Robert N. Bellah. "Religion and
Legitimation in the American Republic." Society 15
Robert N. Bellah. "Civil
Religion in America." Daedalus 96, 1967:1–21.
Theodor Hanf. "The Sacred
Marker: Religion, Communalism and Nationalism." Social
Compass 41 (1), 1994: 9–20.
R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence
of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation. Lanham,
Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.
Analyzing the histories of such conflicts
as South Africa, Palestine, Northern Ireland, India, and the former
Yugoslavia, this book explores how religion is involved in promoting
not only violence and war, but also peace and reconciliation.
Anthony D. Buckley and Mary Catherine
Kenney. Negotiating Identity: Rhetoric, Metaphor, and Social
Drama in Northern Ireland. Washington: Smithsonian
Institution Press, 1995.
With a theoretically sophisticated
appreciation of the social construction of identities, this book is
a highly readable ethnography of the everyday practices by which
rural Northern Irish Protestants accomplish separate identities from
those of their Catholic neighbors with whom they share a largely
David Chidester. Shots in the
Streets: Violence and Religion in South Africa. Boston:
Although South Africa has moved
politically beyond its decades-old policy of apartheid, this
analysis of the complex ways that religion has been linked with
cohesion and conflict will continue to be useful for understanding
the problems that country will face in the future, as well as those
it faced in the immediate past.
Emile Durkheim. The Elementary
Forms of Religious Life. Tr. K. Fields. New York: Free
Press, 1995 .
Durkheim’s classical study uses
illustrations from the religion of the Arunta of Australia to
explicate his theory of the social foundations of religious beliefs
and practices. This new translation is far superior to the older
David Kertzer. Ritual, Politics
and Power. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.
A lively analysis of how ritual promotes
cohesion and conflict, liberally illustrated with examples from many
different cultures and historical periods.
Stanley Tambiah. Buddhism
Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
How does a religious group that has
historically promoted peace and renunciation of worldly power and
gain become entangled in nationalistic politics, violence, and war?
Without oversimplifying the complexities of this small country’s
postcolonial development, Tambiah explores the role of Buddhism in
its social cohesion and conflict.
|Chapter 7: The Impact of Religion on Social Change
Hans A. Baer and Merrill Singer. African-American
Religion in the Twentieth Century: Varieties of Protest and
Accommodation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press,
Traces both hegemonic and counterhegemonic
elements in diverse African-American religious expressions, locating
each in its historical and socioeconomic context.
Fredrick C. Harris. Something
Within: Religion in African-American Political Activism. New
York: Oxford, 1999.
A careful re-analysis of 1960s survey data
and historical record to understand which aspects of
African-American religion promoted civil rights activism and which
promoted quietism. The book received the 2000 Distinguished Book
Award of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Roger N. Lancaster. Thanks to God
and the Revolution: Popular Religion and Class Consciousness in the
New Nicaragua. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
With rich ethnographic description, the
author compares and contrasts the religious expressions of
Nicaraguan peasants and recent rural immigrants to cities: official
Catholicism, folk religion, the Popular church, and evangelical
Liston Pope. Millhands and
Preachers. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1942.
A classic sociohistorical analysis of the
role of religion in a famous mill strike.
Max Weber. The Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism. Tr. T. Parsons, New York:
The most readable of Weber’s classical
studies of religion, originally published in 1904.
Peter Worsley. The Trumpet Shall
Sound. New York: Schocken, 1968.
A neo-Marxian analysis of Melanesian cargo
cults. Worsley’s critique of Weber’s social change theories is
the weakest part of this highly readable, well-documented study of
religion’s change-promoting impact in a concrete historical
|Chapter 8: Religion in the Modern World
Nancy Ammerman. "Organized
Religion in a Voluntaristic Society," Sociology of
Religion 58(3) 1997: 203-215.
James Beckford. "The Restoration
of ‘Power’ to the Sociology of Religion." Sociological
Analysis 44 (1), 1983:11–32.
Robert N. Bellah. "Religious
Evolution." American Sociological Review 29 (3),
N. J. Demerath, III, and Rhys H.
Williams. "The Mythical Past and Uncertain Future."
Pp. 77–90 in T. Robbins and R. Robertson (eds.), Church–State
Relations: Tensions and Transitions. New Brunswick, N.J.:
Frank J. Lechner. "Global
Fundamentalism." Pp. 19–36 in W. Swatos (ed.), A
Future for Religion? New Paradigms for Social Analysis. Newbury
Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993.
Thomas Luckmann. "Shrinking
Transcendence, Expanding Religion?" Sociological
Analysis 50 (2), 1990:127–138.
Ole Riis. "Religion Re-Emerging:
The Role of Religion in Legitimating Integration and Power in Modern
Societies." International Sociology 13(2), 1998:
Roland Robertson. "The
Globalization Paradigm: Thinking Globally." Religion and
the Social Order 1 (1991): 207–224.
James Beckford. Religion and
Advanced Industrial Societies. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
A critical synthesis of sociological
theories about religion, modernization, and the nature of advanced
Peter Beyer. Religion and
Globalization. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1994.
This book gives a lucid thematic
explanation of the contributions to globalization theory by
Wallerstein, Meyer, Luhman, and Robertson, followed by succinct
applications of these themes to case studies of the New Christian
Right in the U.S., Liberation Theological movements in Latin
America, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, new religious Zionism in
Israel, and religious environmentalism.
José Casanova. Public Religions
in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
Following a theoretical discussion of the
impact of modernization for public and private religions, this book
examines five case studies: Spain, Poland, Brazil, Evangelical
Protestantism, and Catholicism in the United States. Winner of the
Distinguished Book Award of the Society for the Scientific Study of
Finke, Roger, and Rodney Stark The
Churching of America: Winners and Losers in the Our Religious
Economy, 1776–1990. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers
This book interprets America religious
history through the lens of supply-side theory, illustrating the
strengths and weaknesses of that approach.
Danièle Hervieu-Léger. Religion
as a Chain of Memory. Simon Lee (tr.). New Brunswick, N.J.:
Rutgers University Press, 2000.
By reframing the definition of religion,
this book takes a fresh and theoretically sophisticated look at the
location of religion in complex modern societies.