Sociology Religion
by
John Evans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0046

Introduction

The sociology of religion is a social science that examines how people are religious but does not advocate for a particular theological view, as the field of theology typically does. Religion was an obsession of the first sociologists, and it has been argued that American sociology was invented in reaction to religion. Since that time religion has remained central to the sociological canon as religion has remained a central component of society. Sociologists up until the last quarter of the 20th century assumed that religion was in the process of a slow death—a process called “secularization.” Sociologists now see secularization as occurring only in certain parts of social life, opening the door to the study of the religious influences on a range of social behaviors such as immigration, race relations, and politics. For example, some scholars have asked why immigrants are more religious than others. Other sociologists continue to study religion itself in congregations, or as systems of belief. For example, some sociologists have asked why American religion is increasingly individualistic. American sociologists of religion have remained focused on religion in America and have made limited forays into other parts of the world. There is a related sociology of religion tradition in Europe.

Classic Works

Religion was the obsession of the first sociologists. The three most influential sociological theorists of the late 19th century—Marx, Weber, and Durkheim—all wrote about religion, and their ideas have been integral to the field ever since. While there remain scholars who debate what these classic authors meant in their writings, for most scholars what is important is what the sociological community has come to conclude that the authors meant. Since the “true meaning” of Weber is largely irrelevant to contemporary scholarship, it is important to know what sociologists think a “Weberian” perspective on religion is. Therefore, while I list the classic texts, these should be read in conjunction with reviews such as those found in the handbooks of the sociology of religion. Marx’s writings about religion (Marx 1977 and Marx 1978) are relatively scant, and embedded in much larger and more complicated claims, and are best approached with guidance. Durkheim’s religion claims are largely found in the Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (Durkheim 1965). Weber’s sociology of religion is much more varied and extensive, with some texts focusing on religion and the economy (Weber 1958) and others on religious change (Weber 1978). It is particularly important to approach Weber with a guide. One influential guide is O’Toole 1984.

  • Durkheim, Emile. 1965. Elementary forms of the religious life. New York: Free Press.

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    Through this study of Aborigine religion, Durkheim concludes that the religions we worship are stand-ins for our societies. Later Durkheimians take this as the insight that religious systems are structured by the societies in which they are embedded. He also defines religion as rites and rituals concerning the sacred and profane.

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  • Marx, Karl. 1977. Introduction: Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of right: In Karl Marx: Selected writings. By Karl Marx. Edited by David McLellan, 63–74. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    In the context of his early critique of Hegel, Marx makes his central claims about religion as an illusion, that “man makes religion, religion does not make man.” Also contains the famous claim that “religion is the opiate of the masses.”

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  • Marx, Karl. 1978. The German ideology. In The Marx-Engels reader. 2d ed. By Karl Marx. Edited by Robert C. Tucker, 146–200. New York: Norton.

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    A good source of Marx’s base-superstructure theory. Religion and other ideas are the superstructure arising from the economic epoch. The ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas in the epoch. Overthrow of the epoch will change religion.

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  • O’Toole, Roger. 1984. Religion: Classic sociological approaches. McGraw-Hill Ryerson Series in Canadian Sociology. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

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    Textbook providing mainstream sociological interpretations of the religion writings of Durkheim and Weber. Also good on the anthropological conceptions of religion that predated the classics.

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  • Weber, Max. 1958. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner.

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    Sociologists have taken this text to show that, contra Marx, it is not that economics determines religion but that religion determines economics, as the Protestant ethic led to the spirit of capitalism. This study of Christianity led to parallel studies of the religions of China, India, and ancient Judaism. Also important for Weber’s views of religious rationalization.

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  • Weber, Max. 1978. “Religious groups.” In Economy and society: An outline of interpretative sociology. Vol. 1. By Max Weber. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, 399–634. Sociology of Religion. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press

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    The other canonical Weber religion text. Covers origins of religion, magic, prophets, and priests; the religions of different social groups; and religious ethics of world religion, salvation, and theodicy.

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Textbooks

For a very basic overview of the field, textbooks can be useful for students. McGuire 2008, Johnstone 2007, and Roberts and Yamane 2016 are the most traditional overviews, focusing on long-running topics in the field. Christiano, et al. 2015 is more in-depth, with a focus on the academic source of the knowledge. Lundskow 2008 uses a perspective more oriented toward interdisciplinary religious studies, Chaves 2017 provides the most up-to-date survey of religious trends in America, and Kurtz 2016 is focused on religions across the globe, not just in the United States.

  • Chaves, Mark. 2017. American religion: Contemporary trends. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    This book uses survey data to describe key developments in American religion since 1972, particularly the decline of religiosity. Chaves examines trends in diversity, belief, involvement, congregational life, leadership, liberal protestant decline, and polarization.

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  • Christiano, Kevin J., William H. Swatos Jr., and Peter Kivisto. 2015. Sociology of religion: Contemporary developments. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    The most disciplinary-oriented of the textbooks. Focuses on which authors produced which knowledge and uses the common demarcations of theory, social differentiation, and religious change.

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  • Johnstone, Ronald L. 2007. Religion in society: A sociology of religion. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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    This is probably the most traditional textbook with the longest history. The early sections are about theories, and the remainder covers topics such as church-sect theory, religious conflict, religion and politics, religion and the economy, and women and religion.

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  • Kurtz, Lester R. 2016. Gods in the global village: The world’s religions in sociological perspective. 4th ed. Sociology for a New Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781483399119Save Citation »Export Citation »

    As the title implies, this is the least American focused of the textbooks. It focuses on relationships between religions in the world, with its theoretical constructs inspired by this focus, such as globalization, modernization, social conflict, and multiculturalism.

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  • Lundskow, George. 2008. The sociology of religion: A substantive and transdisciplinary approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781483329468Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This textbook is somewhat like others in that it offers an introductory theory chapter and then chapters on different topics. However, the topics themselves are not debates in the sociology of religion but substantive themes such as evil, superstition, the supernatural, and globalization. The most interdisciplinary of the textbooks.

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  • McGuire, Meredith B. 2008. Religion: The social context. 5th ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

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    Reviews the sociology of religion by starting with the theoretical constructs and reaching toward examples. Sections on defining religion, religion as providing meaning, social cohesion, and other more theoretical ideas. Deemphasizes institutional religion.

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  • Roberts, Keith A., and David Yamane. 2016. Religion in sociological perspective. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This textbook introduces students to the major theories and methods in the field while exploring meaning, structure, and belonging. The authors use open systems theory to integrate the book’s six parts.

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Handbooks

Handbooks and review articles provide detailed guides to a wide range of academic texts and are most useful for faculty and graduate students. Handbooks have separate chapters written by different authors, each on a topic, and vary by the extent to which they provide only overviews of classic questions rather than exploring more specific and more cutting-edge phenomena. Turner 2010 and Clarke 2009 are the most internationally focused, Dillon 2003 the most American, and Beckford and Demerath 2007 somewhere in between. Bender, et al. 2013 explores more cutting-edge phenomena by encouraging sociologists of religion to expand their analytical focus, methodology, and concepts. Keister and Sherkat 2014 is the most topically narrow, focusing on various relationships between religion and inequality.

  • Beckford, James A., and Nicholas J. Demerath III, eds. 2007. The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The first section contains chapters about theories and concepts such as rational choice and globalization, the second section focuses on methods, and the third contains topical essays. Tends toward the more specific end of the spectrum. A bit less American focused than most, with a selection of non-American authors.

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  • Bender, Courtney, Wendy Cadge, Peggy Levitt, and David Smilde, eds. 2013. Religion on the edge: De-centering and re-centering the sociology of religion. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    The authors urge scholars to look beyond congregations, the United States, and Christianity. This book is an investigation of what scholars who attend to these “blind spots” can learn about self, pluralism, and modernity. The book is split into two sections: “Rethinking Categories: Theoretical Approaches,” and “Exemplary Cases: Empirical Examinations.”

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  • Clarke, Peter, ed. 2009. The Oxford handbook of the sociology of religion. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    More than 1,000 pages and fifty-four essays, with a very international roster of authors. Remains fairly focused on overviews of existing debates such as secularization, family, and so on. Common format of theory, methods, and institutions sections.

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  • Dillon, Michele, ed. 2003. A handbook of the sociology of religion. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Dillon’s volume tends toward the “overviews of established questions” end of the continuum, but with some more specific chapters, such as religion and voting behavior. Most of the authors are Americans, and therefore this is their geographic focus.

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  • Keister, Lisa A., and Darren E. Sherkat, eds. 2014. Religion and inequality in America: Research and theory on religion’s role in stratification. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This is more specific than the others listed, but the top scholars in this handbook still cover a broad range of topics including education, income, wealth, the labor market, attitudes, cultural capital, power, health, and well-being. This book is a good place to start to learn about religion and stratification.

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  • Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2010. The new Blackwell companion to the sociology of religion. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444320787Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A standard organization with a section devoted to theories and a number of chapters reviewing established debates. Also has chapters on global religions and a number of chapters on very specific topics such as religious commodification. Fairly international—only one-third of the authors are American.

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Data Sources

Much research in the sociology of religion is qualitative—either case study ethnographies or interview studies. The data for these studies are often difficult to share with other scholars, or are so specific that they are not useful to others. However, quantitative research in the sociology of religion is often based on public opinion surveys, many of which are generally available to scholars. There are a number of long-running cross-sectional studies that include not only religion questions but a myriad of other social variables. The General Social Survey (GSS), the American National Election Studies (ANES), and the National Congregations Study (NCS) are based on US samples. The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and the World Values Survey (WVS) are cross-national surveys that include a set of religion questions. The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) serves as an archive for individual scholars’ data sets.

  • American National Election Studies.

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    The American National Election Studies (ANES) is like the General Social Survey (GSS), except that its focus is on electoral politics. Some questions reach back fifty years. Scholars interested in religion and politics will find the plethora of political questions useful, but the religion questions are more sparse. It is more difficult to use than the GSS due to changes in survey design over time.

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  • Association of Religion Data Archives.

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    The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) archives quality data on religion from surveys and other sources from all over the world. For each of the hundreds of data sets a scholar can get code books and sampling information and download the raw data. The website includes search functions so that scholars can look for particular survey questions.

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  • General Social Survey.

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    Established by the National Science Foundation in 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) is the premier national opinion data set for sociologists of religion in the United States. Based on a nationally representative sample of adults, the GSS has many questions that are repeatedly asked. The GSS has a plethora of religion questions, which can be associated with a wide range of other questions on the GSS.

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  • International Social Survey Programme.

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    The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) is a collaboration on surveys, bringing together preexisting social science projects, so that uniform questions can be asked to facilitate cross-national comparison. Coordinated surveys have been conducted annually since 1985, with special religion modules in 1991, 1998, and 2008. There are now forty-three nations in the data set.

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  • National Congregations Study.

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    This survey has had four waves: 1998, 2006, 2012, and 2018. The study collects data on worship, programs, staffing, finances, and other characteristics of American congregations from a representative sample of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship.

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  • World Values Survey.

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    Five waves of the World Values Survey have been conducted between 1981 and 2007, with more being planned. This survey is actually representative national surveys in a set of countries in each wave, with a total over the waves of ninety-seven included countries that contain nearly 90 percent of the world’s population. Since the same questions are asked of people in each country, comparisons between countries are possible. Each wave contains a set of questions on religion.

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Journals

Articles in the sociology of religion are often found in general-purpose sociology journals. There are three American speciality journals that publish a substantial number of articles in the sociology of religion: the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR); the Sociology of Religion (SR); and the Review of Religious Research (RRR). The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion is the most interdisciplinary and quantitative, Sociology of Religion almost exclusively publishes sociological articles, and Review of Religious Research has a somewhat less academic and more practical focus. Social Compass: International Review of Sociology of Religion is international, with articles in either French or English, with abstracts in both languages. Some sociology of religion articles with a more humanistic and religious studies focus appear in religious studies journals, most notably the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

Conferences

The sociology of religion has three specialized conferences in the United States that one could attend to either present research or to learn about the most up-to-date research. The conferences have different foci. The annual conference of the American Sociological Association (ASA) is by far the largest, and sessions on religion are interspersed with sessions on other sociological topics. This conference is most likely to have participation from sociologists who are not primarily scholars of religion. The Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) is much smaller and occurs at the same time and place as the larger ASA meeting. Papers tend to be more narrowly focused upon topics that concern religion scholars. The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) conference is distinct from the others in time and place each year. Attendees are also not exclusively sociologists, although they are the largest group, with attendees who are psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and others. The latter two conferences have keynote lectures and mechanisms for the socialization and integration of younger scholars.

Religion as a Cultural System

Scholars beginning in the 1960s came to think of religion in more anthropological terms, as a system of symbols. Religion was the system that provided ultimate meaning and purpose in life or was the basis for one’s conception of reality. In Geertz 1973, the definition of religion removed any requirement of transcendence by describing religion as symbols that “formulate conceptions of a general order of existence.” Berger 1967 was the most influential, defining religion as an institutionalized worldview—a set of symbols that concern the meaning and purpose of life. This built on his more general statement in Berger and Luckmann 1966. Wuthnow 1987 demonstrated the commonality among these seemingly diverse theories. These conceptions of religion essentially made the sociology of religion a subfield of the broader sociology of culture, as religion became simply another discourse that could be studied. More recently, both Wuthnow 2011 and Edgell 2012 argued for a revitalization of the study of religion as a cultural system, which Wuthnow suggests has been overwhelmed by a social scientific preference for quantification and generalization.

  • Berger, Peter L. 1967. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. New York: Anchor.

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    Berger more briefly states his theory worked out in a 1966 book and applies it more specifically to religion. This is possibly the most influential text in the sociology of religion over the past fifty years. The short appendix outlining possible ways to define religion is also a key text.

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  • Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. 1966. The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. New York: Anchor.

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    The original statement by Berger, offering a general theoretical combination of the work of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Mead, and phenomenologists such as Shutz that explains how and why people create worldviews.

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  • Edgell, Penny. 2012. A cultural sociology of religion: New directions. Annual Review of Sociology 38.1: 247–265.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071811-145424Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Edgell reviews three streams of research that she argues are revitalizing the cultural analysis of religion: research from an institutional field perspective, research on lived religion, and research on religious cultural tools and symbolic boundaries. She concludes with a new research agenda for a cultural approach to the study of religion.

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  • Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Religion as a cultural system. In The interpretation of cultures. By Clifford Geertz, 87–125. New York: Basic Books.

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    Clearly written, this essay contains Geertz’s classic functional definition of religion. Solidified a number of intellectual currents circulating at the time.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 1987. Beyond the problem of meaning. In Meaning and moral order: Explorations in cultural analysis. By Robert Wuthnow, 1–65. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Theoretically distinguishes the scholars in this tradition from the classics, describes their commonalities, and engages in criticism. Argues for a post-structural approach to studying the patterns of symbols in religion.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 2011. Taking talk seriously: Religious discourse as social practice. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50.1: 1–21.

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    Wuthnow reviews the work of select scholars who have fruitfully studied religious discourse. He argues that speech is an observable aspect of culture that is worth studying.

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Measurement

Much research in the sociology of religion uses surveys, and it is difficult to identify the religious identity of respondents using this method. As of the 1960s, survey researchers in the American context were still splitting respondents into the categories of Catholic/Protestant/Jew/Other. It was perhaps always apparent that there were greater differences between types of Protestants than between these different religions, so various more specific schemes were created. Smith 1990 is an early and still-influential version of splitting all religious traditions in the United States into three categories: fundamentalist, moderate, and liberal. Woodberry, et al. 2012 updates the still-dominant scheme first introduced by Steensland and colleague in 2000, which splits religious identification into seven groups using a more historical approach. Lehman and Sherkat 2018 critiques this scheme. Another approach that fits better with some theories in cultural sociology—and that is economical to administer on surveys—is to simply ask the respondent if they identify with certain traditions. Debates on this approach can be found in Smith 1998 and Alwin, et al. 2006. Hackett and Lindsay 2008 focuses not on the complexity of creating religion categories, but on the importance of how scholars measure individual membership in a given category.

  • Alwin, Duane F., Jacob L. Felson, Edward T. Walker, and Paula A. Tufis. 2006. Measuring religious identities in surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly 70.4: 530–564.

    DOI: 10.1093/poq/nfl024Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Compares the Steensland classification with the self-identification method for Protestants that asks the respondent if they are Pentecostal, fundamentalist, evangelical, mainline, or liberal Protestant. Concludes that both systems have their place and combining them is the best.

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  • Hackett, Conrad, and D. Michael Lindsay. 2008. Measuring evangelicalism: Consequences of different operationalization strategies. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47:499–513.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00423.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    Instead of debating the classification framework, this article focuses on how scholars decide to classify an individual into a category—in this case evangelical. They demonstrate that even while using the same data set (General Social Survey), scholars using different measurement strategies describe drastically different pictures of the demographic, cultural, and religious characteristics of evangelicals.

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  • Lehman, Derek, and Darren E. Sherkat. 2018. Measuring religious identification in the United States. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 57.4: 779–794.

    DOI: 10.1111/jssr.12543Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The authors argue that the classification system first introduced by Steensland and colleague in 2000 (now updated in Woodberry, et al. 2012) unnecessarily collapses distinct Protestant groups and ignores distinctions based on ethnicity and history. They propose a framework based on a continuum of theological exclusivism-universalism.

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  • Smith, Christian. 1998. American evangelicalism: Embattled and thriving. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226229225.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Appendix B offers a defense of using self-identification instead of denominational affiliation to identify different types of Protestants.

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  • Smith, Tom W. 1990. Classifying Protestant denominations. Review of Religious Research 31.3: 225–245.

    DOI: 10.2307/3511614Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Classifies all denominations into three categories of liberal, moderate, and fundamentalist. This classification is used to create the FUND variable in the General Social Survey and is therefore still influential. Criticized for its assumptions of a latent and linear “degree of fundamentalism” shared by all religions.

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  • Woodberry, Robert D., Jerry Z. Park, Lyman A. Kellstedt, Mark Regnerus, and Brian Steensland. 2012. The measure of American religious traditions: Theoretical and measurement considerations. Social Forces 91:65–73.

    DOI: 10.1093/sf/sos121Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This updates the 2000 article by Steensland and colleague that included the now-dominant coding scheme for denominations based on history and social context, but also lacks an underlying directional scale. Categories are evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, black Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, other, and unaffiliated. This article makes new recommendations, such as removing Mormons from “other” and assigning them a separate category.

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Individualism and Spirituality

For centuries scholars have noted that the Protestant reformation itself in the 16th century fostered religious individualism; in recent times they have documented a proliferating individualism in the United States. Bellah and his colleagues in their classic work (Bellah, et al. 2008) identify utilitarian and expressive individualism in religion and in the culture in general. People choose the religious beliefs they want to believe in, and those tend to be the beliefs that serve their personal or therapeutic interests. Smith 2005 conducts a comprehensive study of the religiosity of teenagers and finds something very similar to that, already found twenty years previously by Bellah and his colleagues. In recent years, religious individualists have come to describe themselves as “spiritual not religious.” Steensland, et al. 2018 uses survey data to describe what Americans mean by “spirituality.” Roof 1999 is a study of the individualistic orientation of baby boomers. Wuthnow 1998 provides a macrocultural explanation for the rise of individualist-type religions, arguing that they fit with everyday American lives. Marti and Ganiel 2014 offers an in-depth analysis of the individualist tradition called the Emerging Church Movement (ECM). Taking a different perspective, Bender 2010 and Madsen 2009 study spiritual individuals and religious communities, respectively, but similarly argue that despite the diversity within their samples, one can find a unified overarching religion.

  • Bellah, Robert, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton. 2008. Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This classic study in cultural sociology, originally published in 1985, finds that the languages of expressive and utilitarian individualism are dominant in the United States.

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  • Bender, Courtney. 2010. The new metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American religious imagination. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226043173.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This ethnography explores how individuals become spiritual but not religious. Bender disrupts the association of spirituality with individuality by demonstrating how, through their practices and discourses, spiritual individuals create something analogous to institutionalized religion.

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  • Madsen, Richard. 2009. The archipelago of faith: Religious individualism and faith community in America today. American Journal of Sociology 114:1263–1301.

    DOI: 10.1086/595946Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This ethnography of four religious communities makes the argument that despite differences in belief, styles of worship, and moral prescriptions, there are common underlying cultural principles that tie these diverse forms of American religious life together. The author calls this American religion.

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  • Marti, Gerardo, and Gladys Ganiel. 2014. The deconstructed church: Understanding emerging Christianity. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199959884.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This piece analyzes the Emerging Church Movement, a nebulous Christian movement that encourages multiple approaches to spirituality. The authors argue that emphases on innovative, individualistic, and anti-institutional religious expression make ECM particularly well suited to our times.

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  • Roof, Wade Clark. 1999. Spiritual marketplace: Baby boomers and the remaking of American religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Baby boomers are part of an individualist and often therapeutic “quest culture” that is distrustful of institutions. People want to find out on their own what they are. Provides great understanding of the detail of these individualistic and spiritual beliefs.

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  • Smith, Christian. 2005. Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/019518095X.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    In his enormous and comprehensive study, Smith concludes that American teenagers subscribe to “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a general religious pattern that is centrally about the usefulness of religion to the believer, combined with belief in a very undemanding God.

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  • Steensland, Brian, Xiaoyun Wang, and Lauren Schmidt. 2018. Spirituality: What does it mean and to whom? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 57:450–472.

    DOI: 10.1111/jssr.12534Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study uses a nationally representative survey to describe the meaning of spirituality among Americans. The authors find patterns that both confirm and differ from findings in previous studies.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 1998. After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520213968.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Macrostructural explanation of the rise of “seeking” religions and the decline of “dwelling” religions. Seeking religion is transient, episodic, and uncertain—just like contemporary American lives. Classic explanation for the rise of “spiritual” and New Age beliefs.

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Religion and Immigration

A substantial body of scholarship on the relationships between immigration and religion has emerged since the late 20th century. This increase has been driven by established sociologists of immigration incorporating religion into their analyses, like Alba and Foner 2015, as well as sociologists of religion following research agendas set in Warner 1998 and Ebaugh and Chafetz 2000. Syntheses of scholarship to date can be found in Cadge and Ecklund 2007 and Kivisto 2016. Core questions in this area include the role of religion in immigrant integration, the phenomenon of transnational religion, whether immigration is a theologizing experience, and how immigrant religion shapes receiving countries. Levitt 2007 explores several of these questions while arguing that religious immigrants are transforming American religion into a global phenomenon. The literature is somewhat fragmented due to the high number of case studies, typically of immigrant congregations. Chen and Jeung 2012 provides a core sampling of this scholarship, with an emphasis on migrants from Asia and Latin America. Connor 2014 provides one of the few statistical analyses of immigrant religion across several countries. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2011 represents an important emerging area of scholarship on forced migration driven by global refugee crises. This interdisciplinary literature focuses on religion as a cause of displacement, as well as the role of religion in the global response to refugees.

  • Alba, Richard, and Nancy Foner. 2015. Immigrant religion. In Strangers no more: Immigration and the challenges of integration in North America and Western Europe. By Richard Alba and Nancy Foner, 118–142. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    The authors compare immigrant integration across France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, the United States, and Canada. They argue that religion is a more serious barrier to integration in Western Europe compared to the United States.

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  • Cadge, Wendy, and Elaine Howard Ecklund. 2007. Immigration and religion. Annual Review of Sociology 33:359–379.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.33.040406.131707Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Review article synthesizing an enormous number of case studies of immigrant religion. Good, recent overview and orienting essay.

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  • Chen, Carolyn, and Russell Jeung, eds. 2012. Sustaining faith traditions: Race, ethnicity, and religion among the Latino and Asian American second generation. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    This anthology examines the religious experiences of second generation Asian and Latino immigrants. It covers a range of religious communities, including Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish. Together, the authors emphasize how race, ethnicity, and religion intersect for second-generation Americans.

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  • Connor, Phillip. 2014. Immigrant faith: Patterns of immigrant religion in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. New York and London: New York Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479853908.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Using data sources from several countries and statistical data from thousands of interviews, this book offers a readable bird’s-eye view of key patterns among immigrants from diverse religious groups.

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  • Ebaugh, Helen Rose, and Janet Salzman Chafetz, eds. 2000. Religion and the new immigrants: Continuities and adaptations in immigrant congregations. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

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    Summary of a multisite ethnography of post-1965 immigrant congregations in Houston. Multiple chapters of synthesis and case studies. An agenda-setting book in the field. There is an abridged and a longer version of this book published under the same title.

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  • Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena. 2011. Introduction: Faith-based humanitarianism in contexts of forced displacement. Journal of Refugee Studies 24.3: 429–439.

    DOI: 10.1093/jrs/fer033Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This introduction summarizes the contents of a special issue in the interdisciplinary Journal of Refugee Studies, focusing on the extent to which religion underpins humanitarian responses to forced migration.

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  • Herberg, Will. 1960. Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An essay in American religious sociology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

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    Classic summary of the multigenerational immigration experience of pre-1965 immigrants. Cited in almost all texts on religion and immigration. While obviously a statement from the view of the 1950s, and thus dated in its details, the central theoretical statement remains influential.

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  • Kivisto, Peter. 2016. International migration. In Handbook of religion and society. Edited by David Yamane, 547–568. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-31395-5_27Save Citation »Export Citation »

    By way of exploring five central questions that have been raised in the literature, the author reviews a substantial body of research on religion and immigration that has emerged since the late 20th century.

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  • Levitt, Peggy. 2007. God needs no passport: Immigrants and the changing American religious landscape. New York: New Press.

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    Most comprehensive statement by the primary proponent of this perspective. Shows how the religion of immigrants is not limited to the borders of their new country.

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  • Warner, R. Stephen. 1998. Approaching religious diversity: Barriers, byways, and beginnings. Sociology of Religion 59.3: 193–215.

    DOI: 10.2307/3711908Save Citation »Export Citation »

    An early agenda-setting text for the study of the religious lives of immigrants. Identifies research challenges such as a lack of data and the ideological proclivities of sociologists.

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Religion and Race

With the exception of literature on immigration and religion, scholarship on race and religion has been historically focused on the black church or religious white racism toward blacks. On these topics there is perhaps no more canonical sociologist than W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois 1903 includes descriptions of the black church, while Du Bois 2003 (1903) is the centennial edition of Du Bois’s more specific study of African American religion. The canonical history of the African American religious experience and the standard reference for sociological data is Lincoln and Mamiya 1990. The quip “Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week” highlights the fact of segregation in religion, particularly of African Americans, and segregation remains a predominant theme in scholarship about African American religion. In recent years scholars have begun to examine the fairly rare examples of racially integrated religious congregations to look for explanations for success. The most prominent scholar is Emerson, who makes the most influential statement in Emerson 2008. Dougherty and Huyser 2008 is a comprehensive study produced in the same year, focusing on the role of congregational identity. Edwards, et al. 2013 reviews the congregational diversity literature and sets a renewed research agenda. Emerson and Smith 2000 focuses on the problem within evangelicalism. Another theme has been that the black church is the social anchor of black neighborhoods and African American life in general. McRoberts 2003 challenges all of these dominant assumptions. Edwards 2009 also analyzes the “culture” of the black church, questioning whether there is a distinctly black style of worship. Another focus in this literature has been the black church’s support of political activism. Frederick 2003 explores the intersection of race, gender, and religion.

  • Dougherty, Kevin D., and Kimberly R. Huyser. 2008. Racially diverse congregations: Organizational identity and the accommodation of differences. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47:23–44.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00390.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    The authors attempt to address limitations of past research and extend work on multiracial congregations by using nationally representative congregational data to provide a comprehensive picture of their diversity. The authors argue that congregation identity is important to consider in future studies.

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  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 1903. The souls of black folk: Essays and sketches. Chicago: A. C. McClurg.

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    This contains chapters that offer more general insights about black religion, with markedly sociological emphases on the communal and social benefits of religious participation.

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  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 2003. The negro church. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

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    First published in 1903. This is the first empirical study of African American religion. The contributing authors for this edition help contextualize Du Bois’s work.

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  • Edwards, Korie L. 2009. Race, religion, and worship: Are African-American worship practices distinct? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48:30–52.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2009.01428.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    Compares ecstatic and participatory worship between white and black congregations as a way to analyze if race matters for contemporary congregational worship, and if not, why congregational characteristics have been misattributed to race.

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  • Edwards, Korie L., Brad Christerson, and Michael O. Emerson. 2013. Race, religious organizations, and integration. Annual Review of Sociology 39:211–228.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145636Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Reviews the literature on multiracial organizations and sets a new three-fold research agenda focusing on race, religion, and integration.

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  • Emerson, Michael O. 2008. People of the dream: Multiracial congregations in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Definitive study of multiracial congregations. Answers the questions of who attends multiracial congregations, how they form, and which traditions are more likely to be segregated. Based on quantitative, qualitative, and ethnographic data.

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  • Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. 2000. Divided by faith: Evangelical religion and the problem of race in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Explains the failure of evangelical attempts at desegregation as the result of the cultural practices of evangelicalism. The individualistic orientation of evangelical theology does not allow evangelicals to see the social sources of racial inequality.

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  • Frederick, Marla F. 2003. Between Sundays: Black women and everyday struggles of faith. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

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    This qualitative analysis of black Baptist women in rural North Carolina takes an intersectional approach to understanding how race and gender shape the experience of spirituality and everyday practice of faith.

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  • Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence H. Mamiya. 1990. The black church in the African American experience. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822381648Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The most in-depth analysis of the African American religious experience available. Includes history of African American denominations, statistics about rural and urban churches, views of the civil rights movement, funding, women’s ordination. Based on survey of clergy in African American denominations.

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  • McRoberts, Omar. 2003. Streets of glory: Church and community in a black urban neighborhood. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Ethnography of the churches in a black neighborhood in Boston. Reorients sociologists to the relationship between the population and local churches. Rich description of practices and beliefs of diverse churches.

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Religion and Class/Stratification

Religion has long been linked with stratification and class inequality. A huge body of research examines how religion is related to economic outcomes, demonstrating that religion can help explain individual differences in education, occupation, income, and wealth. Although scholars know that education and socioeconomic indicators predict religious affiliation and vice versa, causal arguments are sparse and often contentious. Some studies show evidence of causality, such as Fitzgerald and Glass 2014 and Keister 2008, but most document various forms of religious stratification and inequality without focusing on identifying causal relationships. The majority of works look at religious or denominational stratification, with the exception of Reimer 2007, which analyzes the effects of class at the congregational level. Sherkat 2012 analyzes the role of religion in occupation stratification. Wilde, et al. 2018 is the most recent article to update long-standing patterns of socioeconomic stratification between and within religious traditions in the United States.

  • Fitzgerald, Scott T., and Jennifer L. Glass. 2014. Conservative Protestants, normative pathways, and adult attainment. In Religion and inequality in America: Research and theory on religion’s role in stratification. Edited by Lisa A. Keister and Darren E. Sherkat, 97–118. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139226479.008Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The authors argue that class-based differences in religious preferences and participation are mechanisms through which class is reproduced across generations.

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  • Keister, Lisa A. 2008. Conservative Protestants and wealth: How religion perpetuates asset poverty. American Journal of Sociology 113:1237–1271.

    DOI: 10.1086/525506Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Religions in the United States are unequal in the wealth they possess, with conservative Protestants being the least wealthy. In this article Keister explains the mechanism by which this wealth inequality occurs.

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  • Reimer, Sam. 2007. Class and congregations: Class and religious affiliation at the congregational level of analysis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46.4: 583–594.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2007.00379.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This article finds that class has an even stronger effect at the congregational level compared to the denominational level. Though neither effect is particularly strong, the author argues that studies on religion and stratification should include congregational-level explanations.

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  • Sherkat, Darren E. 2012. Religion and the American occupational structure. In Religion, work and inequality. Edited by Lisa A. Keister, John Mccarthy, and Roger Finke, 75–102. Research in the Sociology of Work 23. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.

    DOI: 10.1108/S0277-2833(2012)0000023007Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Argues that religion continues to influence the occupational structure of the United States, contributing to occupational stratification.

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  • Wilde, Melissa J., Patricia Tevington, and Wensong Shen. 2018. Religious inequality in America. Social Inclusion 6.2: 107–126.

    DOI: 10.17645/si.v6i2.1447Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This article is stats heavy and therefore challenging to read; however, it is the most recent statistical confirmation of long-standing patterns of socioeconomic stratification between and within religious traditions in the United States. The authors also promote a “complex religion” theory that states that religion interacts with other structures of inequality such as race and gender.

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Religion and Gender

Sociologists of religion have only been analyzing gender as a central point of analysis since the feminist movements in the 1960s and 1970s, prompting studies about women in church leadership, which is the topic of Chaves 1997. The rise of feminism also prompted scholars to analyze the relationship between religious affiliation and support for gender equality, or feminism. Ecklund 2003, a study of Catholic women, and Griffith 1997, a study of evangelical women, both examine the apparent contradiction of female faith and feminism. Davidman 1991 considers gender as a central part of religious conversion. Gallagher 2003 and Orsi 2010 both focus on the importance of family in religious traditions, thereby focusing on the prominence of gender roles in the expression of faith. It has long been noted that women are disproportionately religious, so there is a large body of scholarship on faith as a gendered phenomenon. Most studies on this subject are concerned with explaining why, with the exception of Sullins 2006, which argues that this pattern is not actually universal.

  • Chaves, Mark. 1997. Ordaining women: Culture and conflict in religious organizations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    The most comprehensive examination of women’s ordinations. Chaves uses data from debates and policies about women’s ordination in over one hundred Christian denominations to contribute to our understanding of religious organizations and gender.

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  • Davidman, Lynn. 1991. Tradition in a rootless world: Women turn to Orthodox Judaism. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A readable analysis of gender in the dynamics of conversion and faith in God. The author compares female orthodox converts as a participant-observer and shows how women find “traditional” solutions to dilemmas within their modern lives.

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  • Ecklund, Elaine Howard. 2003. Catholic women negotiate feminism. Sociology of Religion 64.4: 515–524.

    DOI: 10.2307/3712339Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The author studies how women who identify as both Catholic and feminist reconcile what appear to be contradictory identities. Her findings help gender scholars understand the relationship between feminism and religion, and sociologists of religion understand another aspect of religious individualism.

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  • Gallagher, Sally. 2003. Evangelical identity and gendered family life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Empirical study of gender ideals in evangelicalism based on family advice literature, a survey, and a nationwide interview study.

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  • Griffith, R. Marie. 1997. God’s daughters: Evangelical women and the power of submission. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An ethnographic study of the largest “spirit filled” women’s international evangelical organization. The author explores how these women reject feminism and embrace ideas of submission, but simultaneously criticize abusive male power and proclaim freedom and empowerment in ways similar to feminists.

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  • Orsi, Robert. 2010. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950. 3d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    First published in 1985. This book takes more of a religious studies perspective but has been praised for its thorough examination of the lived religion of Italian immigrants. The author describes a uniquely Italian American expression of religious faith that centered on the family and was therefore deeply gendered.

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  • Sullins, D. Paul. 2006. Gender and religion: Deconstructing universality, constructing complexity. American Journal of Sociology 112.3: 38–80.

    DOI: 10.1086/507852Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Instead of joining the debate over why women are more religious than men (as is universally assumed as true in the literature), the author argues that among Jews and Muslims worldwide it is men who are more religious than women.

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Secularization and Pluralism

Secularization is the general decline of religion. Early sociologists all assumed that secularization was in process and would eventually be complete with the death of religion at the hands of modernity, science, and enlightenment thinking more generally. In recent decades scholars have more closely specified the different components of secularization and have shown how some aspects are occurring, while others may not be. Dobbelaere 1981 provides the modern distinction between types of secularization as: “laicization,” usually known as institutional differentiation; religious involvement; and a change in the content of religion. With the differentiation type of secularization, religion becomes privatized in an institution that does not influence others. This is challenged in Casanova 1994, and explained in Smith 2003. While it was long argued that institutional differentiation has occurred, attendance and religious identity have remained steady or grown in the United States (while declining in Europe). This has led others to consider secularization to be a myth, and this view is well represented in Stark 1999. Bender 2012 offers a recent summary of the secularization debate, including the effect of pluralism on religious commitment. Also concerned with pluralism, Evans 2013 considers whether pluralism actually supports religious diversity. Hout and Fischer 2002 explains a drop in religious identification. By using a distinct definition of religion, Norris and Inglehart 2004 predicts the secularization of societies as a function of their level of existential security.

  • Bender, Courtney. 2012. Pluralism and secularism. In Religion on the edge: De-centering and re-centering the sociology of religion. Edited by Courtney Bender, Wendy Cadge, Peggy Levitt, and David Smilde, 137–158. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199938629.003.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This chapter explores how approaches to pluralism developed after theories of secularization failed to account for the persistence of religious fervor in the United States.

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  • Casanova, José. 1994. Public religions in the modern world. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226190204.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    With institutional differentiation, religion becomes an institution by itself, unable to influence other institutions. Casanova classically argues that in many cases this institutional differentiation is reversing as some religions have been influencing the political sphere.

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  • Dobbelaere, Karel. 1981. Trend report. Secularization: A multi-dimensional concept. Current Sociology 29.2: 1–213.

    DOI: 10.1177/001139218102900203Save Citation »Export Citation »

    In this book-length journal article, the author distinguishes between secularization as laicization, religious involvement, and religious change. Laicization is the differentiation of religion from other institutions, religious involvement is basically attendance, and change is a decline in the transcendence of religious symbols.

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  • Evans, John. 2013. Religious pluralism in modern America: A sociological overview. In Gods in America: Religious pluralism in the United States. Edited by Charles L. Cohen and Ronald L. Numbers, 43–55. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199931903.003.0002Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This chapter considers whether adherence to pluralism undermines a believer’s ability to view religious traditions as distinct, thereby undermining the religious diversity that pluralism purports to promote.

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  • Hout, Michael, and Claude S. Fischer. 2002. Why more Americans have no religious preference: Politics and generations. American Sociological Review 67.2: 165–190.

    DOI: 10.2307/3088891Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The percentage of Americans who claim to have no religion was consistent and low for decades. A recent doubling of the percentage is explained in this article as a function of demography and a reaction against religious conservatives in politics.

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  • Norris, Pippa, and Ronald Inglehart. 2004. Sacred and secular: Religion and politics worldwide. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511791017Save Citation »Export Citation »

    People around the globe with less existential security are more religious. This explains the greater religiosity of the Global South compared to Europe and even explains the “exceptional” case of the United States, as people in the United States are less secure than other Westerners.

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  • Smith, Christian, ed. 2003. The secular revolution: Power, interests, and conflict in the secularization of American public life. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    In a long and detailed introduction, as well as case studies by other authors, the case is made that institutional differentiation was not the result of abstract forces such as “modernity,” but rather occurred by the hand of secularizers who mobilized resources to achieve their goal of secularizing the public sphere.

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  • Stark, Rodney. 1999. Secularization, r.i.p. Sociology of Religion 60.3: 249–273.

    DOI: 10.2307/3711936Save Citation »Export Citation »

    While admitting that the institutional differentiation type of secularization has occurred, makes a strong argument that other types of secularization have not.

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Religious Traditions and Denominations in the United States

Religious people in the United States are not each unique in their beliefs but rather are part of religious traditions and denominations. Understanding the evolution of these traditions is then key to any sociologist, and the writings of historians are helpful as reference points. Ahlstrom 1972 provides a classic and comprehensive history of religious traditions and denominations in the United States. Butler 1990 is part of a revisionist strand of historians who have offered a less Puritan-centered history. Glazer 1988 offers the canonical history of American Judaism. Wuthnow 1988 produced the vision of a rearranged categorization of religious traditions in the United States, which is dominant to this day. It is also important to be familiar with the distinct traditions, most notably, evangelicalism and fundamentalism; mainline Protestantism; Catholicism; and Jews, Muslims, and other religious minorities. Religious practice in the United States is somewhat distinct from religious practice in other countries, and as a comparison Davie 2000 offers a good examination of European patterns.

  • Ahlstrom, Sydney. 1972. A religious history of the American people. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Magisterial, one-thousand-page history of religion in the United States. Serves as either a definitive history for those willing to read straight through or, due to its efficient compartmentalization, a reference for particular historical eras and religions.

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  • Butler, Jon. 1990. Awash in a sea of faith: Christianizing the American people. Studies in Cultural History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    History of America from the colonial period to the Civil War. Overturns New England Puritanism as the center of religious history and explains the explosive growth in religiosity during the period.

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  • Davie, Grace. 2000. Religion in modern Europe: A memory mutates. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Examination of the landscape of religion in Europe. Europeans are not so much secular as they are uninterested in regular participation in traditional religious institutions.

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  • Glazer, Nathan. 1988. American Judaism. 2d ed. Chicago History of American Civilization. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    First published in 1957, the canonical history of Jews in America up to the 1950s.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 1988. The restructuring of American religion: Society and faith since World War II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Canonical explanation of how the old Protestant/Catholic/Jewish divide has come to be replaced with a model where religious liberals are in conflict with religious conservatives of whatever religious tradition.

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Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism

The largest religious tradition in the United States is evangelicalism. This is a broad umbrella, which includes Pentecostals, fundamentalists, and members of seeker churches. Previous general examinations of the history of evangelicalism and the views of its members have been superseded by Smith 1998. Woodberry and Smith 1998 also provides a useful categorization of different types of conservative Protestants. While these are macro analyses, Ammerman 1987 provides a now-classic ethnography of a fundamentalist congregation that offers a richness of understanding of the fundamentalist worldview. The massive and comprehensive five-volume results of the Fundamentalism Project, in Marty and Appleby 1995, expand the concept of fundamentalism beyond Protestantism to all religions. One important emerging subset of evangelicalism is the seeker church, studied in Sargeant 2000. Another is Pentecostalism, exploding in the Third World, and an early and influential statement is Martin 1993.

  • Ammerman, Nancy Tatom. 1987. Bible believers: Fundamentalists in the modern world. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Classic ethnography of a fundamentalist congregation in New England.

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  • Martin, David. 1993. Tongues of fire: The explosion of Protestantism in Latin America. New York: Wiley.

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    Takes a macro approach to the growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America, arguing that it is the result of various social transformations.

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  • Marty, Martin, and R. Scott Appleby, eds. 1995. Fundamentalisms comprehended. Fundamentalism Project 5. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Final volume of five massive and comprehensive eight-hundred-page volumes of findings from the Fundamentalism Project at the University of Chicago. Dedicated to understanding fundamentalism in all religions and areas of the globe. Based on the premise of common features among “fundamentalisms.”

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  • Sargeant, Kimon. 2000. Seeker churches: Promoting traditional religion in a nontraditional way. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    One of the fastest-growing parts of conservative Protestantism is seeker churches that appeal to the “non-churched.” Such churches radically integrate religious practice and contemporary culture. Sargeant focuses on the Willow Creek movement as an example.

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  • Smith, Christian. 1998. American evangelicalism: Embattled and thriving. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226229225.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Revisits the perennial theme in sociological studies of evangelicals: How do they survive? The answer is that they have created a strong subcultural identity based on their self-concept as an embattled group.

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  • Woodberry, Robert D., and Christian S. Smith. 1998. Fundamentalism, et al.: Conservative Protestants in America. Annual Review of Sociology 24:25–56.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.25Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Good summary of the history of evangelicalism. Clarifies distinctions between sub-components of the tradition, and the beliefs of each group. Useful summary of debates about ways to empirically identify different types of conservative Protestants.

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Mainline Protestantism

While never numerically dominant, the tradition now called “mainline Protestantism” dominated public life in the United States until the 1960s. For example, essentially all presidents before the 1960s were mainline Protestants. Yet, despite a decline, these more liberal Protestants remain an important component of the religious landscape of the United States, representing approximately 25 percent of Americans. The literature is dominated by attempts to understand both the shrinkage in the number of mainliners but also the decline in their social influence. The modern debate about the numeric decline of the mainline probably began with Hadden 1969, which claimed that the decline was due to a gap between an overly liberal clergy and a more conservative laity. Hoge, et al. 1994 summarizes the debate over numeric decline and offers its own explanation from a study of the Presbyterian Church (United States). Demerath 1995 explains the decline as the result of the paradoxical cultural victory of the mainline. After years of debate on the cause, Hout, et al. 2001 demonstrates that the decline is not due to the ideological content of the mainline but to demographic forces. Independent of numeric decline, other scholars have asked why the mainline has lost its dominance in the public sphere. Evans 2009 reviews seven explanations for this decline, while Wuthnow and Evans 2002 argues that the actual influence of the mainline is hidden by its quiet and behind-the-scenes style of influence.

  • Demerath, N. Jay. 1995. Cultural victory and organizational defeat in the paradoxical decline of Liberal Protestantism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34.4: 458–469.

    DOI: 10.2307/1387339Save Citation »Export Citation »

    In a generally underappreciated essay, Demerath explains the organizational decline of mainline Protestants as the result of their paradoxical victory in the broader culture, which has adopted many tenets of mainline Protestant thought.

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  • Evans, John H. 2009. Where is the counterweight? Explorations of the decline in mainline Protestant participation in public debates over values. In Evangelicals and democracy in America. Vol. 1, Religion and society. Edited by Steven Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel, 221–247. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    Reviews seven possible explanations for the decline of public influence of mainline Protestants.

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  • Hadden, Jeffrey K. 1969. The gathering storm in the churches. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

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    Uses extensive data to show that the mainline clergy are more liberal than the laity. This is the urtext for the claim that the decline of the mainline is the result of the liberalism of its leadership.

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  • Hoge, Dean R., Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens. 1994. Vanishing boundaries: The religion of mainline Protestant baby boomers. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.

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    A study of one mainline denomination to try to explain its numeric decline. Includes a good summary of the debate and focuses on baby boomers and why those born into the mainline do not stay there.

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  • 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.

    DOI: 10.1086/324189Save Citation »Export Citation »

    In contrast to claiming that the mainline numeric declines are due to liberalism, or conversions to evangelicalism, the authors show that relative mainline decline is the result of a drop in the number of traditional conversions from evangelical to mainline traditions, as well as a lower birthrate among mainline women.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert, and John H. Evans. 2002. The quiet hand of God: Faith-based activism and the public role of mainline Protestantism. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An edited volume that chronicles the contemporary influence of the mainline in the public sphere. The central theme is that the mainline is “quietly influential,” leading people not to realize how influential they remain.

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Catholicism

Catholicism is roughly tied with mainline Protestantism as the second-largest religious tradition in the United States. Dolan 1985 offers a canonical history of American Catholicism. The literature in earlier decades focused on discrimination against Catholics. In more recent years, as Catholics have progressed toward parity with other groups, focus has turned to understanding the beliefs of American Catholics, and how these are changing. A particular focus has been on the views of the laity and how they diverge from those of the hierarchy. D’Antonio, et al. 1989 offers survey results of the views of Catholics, and in d’Antonio, et al. 2007, the authors offer the fourth installment of this longitudinal study, focusing on how views are changing. Baggett 2009 compliments these quantitative, survey-based studies with an ethnographic study of the lives of active Catholic laity, which again shows how much Catholics are like other religious Americans. Dillon 1999 focuses on why Catholics who strongly disagree with the leadership in the church remain in the church. Andrew Greeley famously identifies a distinct Catholic sensibility in The Catholic Imagination (Greeley 2000).

  • Baggett, Jerome P. 2009. Sense of the faithful: How American Catholics live their faith. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Qualitative analysis of how more than three hundrend active Catholics live their Catholic lives. Offers a rich addition to the survey results that dominate other studies. E-book.

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  • d’Antonio, William V., James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hoge, and Ruth Wallace. 1989. American Catholic laity in a changing church. Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward.

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    A study of how Catholic laity respond to church authority, particularly on issues having to do with sex and marriage. As with other studies, while disagreeing with the leadership on many issues, Catholics remain committed to the church.

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  • d’Antonio, William V., James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hoge, and Mary L. Gautier. 2007. American Catholics today: New realities of their faith and their church. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    The most recent installment in a longitudinal study of American Catholics that began in 1987. Focus is on both internal church issues and broader social issues. Longitudinal design allows for comparison both across cohorts and within cohorts over time.

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  • Dillon, Michele. 1999. Catholic identity: Balancing reason, faith and power. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511752728Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on the question of why “pro-change” Catholics—those who want radical change in the church—remain church members. Pro-change Catholics do not argue with cultural resources from outside of the church, but rather use intellectual resources from within.

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  • Dolan, Jay P. 1985. The American Catholic experience: A history from colonial times to the present. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

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    Canonical history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Written from a social history perspective focusing on the people, rather than an institutional perspective focusing on elites.

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  • Greeley, Andrew. 2000. The Catholic imagination. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Following theologian David Tracy’s idea of the analogical imagination, Greeley maps out the enchanted world of Catholics and the practices that sustain this enchantment. The Catholic imagination is more immanent and communal than that of Protestants.

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Jews, Muslims, and Other Religious Minorities

Sociologists have understandably focused their research on the larger religious traditions in the United States. However, religious minorities have also been the subject of investigation. The literature on religious minorities is often understandably focused on relationships with the majority, and Wuthnow 2005 is a contemporary version that accounts for the newer immigrants such as Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. Haddad and Esposito 2000 provides a series of essays about the relationship of Muslims to the majority groups in the United States. Heilman 1995 provides us with an overview of Judaism in the United States since the mid-20th century. Cadge 2005 examines the Buddhism of both immigrants and European American converts. Atheists are another minority “religious” group—marked by their lack of religion—and scholars have recently become more interested in this seemingly growing group. Jacoby 2004 provides a history of freethinkers more generally, including atheists, in American society. Edgell, et al. 2006 shows that the most ostracized group in the United States are atheists.

  • Cadge, Wendy. 2005. Heartwood: The first generation of Theravada Buddhism in America. Morality and Society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Parallel ethnographies of Thai immigrant and European American convert Buddhist temples. Shows how different “the same” religion is in two different American contexts.

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  • Edgell, Penny, Joseph Gerteis, and Douglas Hartmann. 2006. Atheists as “Other”: Moral boundaries and cultural membership in American society. American Sociological Review 71.2: 211–234.

    DOI: 10.1177/000312240607100203Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study shows that the minority group in the United States that is least likely to be accepted is not African Americans, Muslims, or Hispanics, but rather atheists. Written in technical quantitative form, but still understandable to generalists.

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  • Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and John L. Esposito, eds. 2000. Muslims on the Americanization path? New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Edited volume focused on the relationship of American Muslims to the majority.

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  • Heilman, Samuel. 1995. Portrait of American Jews: The last half of the 20th century. Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

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    A good overview of changes in American Judaism since the mid-20th century by one of the leading sociologists of Judaism in the United States. Written in a very readable narrative form.

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  • Jacoby, Susan. 2004. Freethinkers: A history of American secularism. New York: Metropolitan Books.

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    A history of free thought among American elites from the colonial era to the early 21st century. Written for a general reader.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 2005. America and the challenges of religious diversity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400837243Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines relationships between the religious majority and various religious minorities.

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Congregations and Groups

In the United States, most religious practice takes place in groups, particularly the congregation. National or worldwide religions come to life on the local level in these groups, so understanding the dynamics of congregations is critical to understanding religion in the West. Chaves 2004 is now considered the best data on what congregations in the United States are like and what they do. Chaves 2006 uses these congregation data to contextualize the rise of megachurches. Another vibrant area of scholarship focuses on the relationship between congregation membership and individual well-being. Becker 1999 is the best study of conflict within congregations. Lim and Putnam 2010 exemplifies scholarship trying to explain the positive relationship between religious affiliation and well-being. Rather than focusing on one or the other, Ellison, et al. 2009 looks at both negative and positive individual effects. How congregations change in reaction to change in their community is the focus of Ammerman 1997, a broad study. How congregations are linked to the rest of civil society is the focus of Ammerman 2005. Scholars have come to realize that much religion occurs at a more microlevel than the congregation—in small groups. Wuthnow 1994 is still the standard bearer for investigation of support groups.

  • Ammerman, Nancy. 1997. Congregation and community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Based on twenty-three case studies of a range of congregations, focusing on how they react to cultural, economic, and social/cultural changes in their community.

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  • Ammerman, Nancy. 2005. Pillars of faith: American congregations and their partners. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Expands our thinking beyond looking at congregations as discrete entities. Describes the partnerships that congregations have with community organizations, showing their centrality to most communities.

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  • Becker, Penny Edgell. 1999. Congregations in conflict: Cultural models of local religious life. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499319Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Empirical study of congregations’ sources of conflict. In the end it is not structure such as church size that determines conflict but rather congregational culture.

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  • Chaves, Mark. 2004. Congregations in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Up until the initiation of Chaves’s research project, there was no way to generate a random sample of congregations in the United States, so few generalizations could be made about congregations. This book reports the quantitative results of Chaves’s path-breaking study.

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  • Chaves, Mark. 2006. All creatures great and small: Megachurches in context. Review of Religious Research 47.4: 329–346.

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    Chaves reveals that people in every denomination are increasingly concentrated in the largest churches. He proposes that rising costs make life difficult for smaller churches, which pushes members out.

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  • Ellison, Christopher G., Neal M. Krause, Bryan C. Shepherd, and Mark A. Chaves. 2009. Size, conflict, and opportunities for interaction: Congregational effects on members. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48.1: 1–15.

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    This study focuses on two key parts of congregations that may influence health: anticipated support and negative interaction. It looks at both positive and negative effects of congregations on individuals.

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  • Lim, Chaeyoon, and Robert D. Putnam. 2010. Religion, social networks, and life satisfaction. American Sociological Review 75.6: 914–933.

    DOI: 10.1177/0003122410386686Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The positive association between religiosity and life satisfaction is well documented. This paper is a great example of how social scientists try to measure the mechanisms through which religion affects well-being. The authors find that membership in a congregation promotes well-being because of within-congregation friendship.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 1994. Sharing the journey: Support groups and America’s new quest for community. New York: Free Press.

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    Study of support groups in and out of religious settings. General focus on religious implications of the groups.

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