Although we teach in very different settingsa mid-sized state university, a private Catholic college, and a private universityeach of us looks forward to our opportunities to teach Sociology of Religion to undergraduate students. There is something about the study of the social aspects of religion that makes for a good class, a class that teaches itself. Students who take a Sociology of Religion class seem especially motivated to struggle with the material, and they typically have a wide range of personal experiences to draw upon as they apply abstract principles to instances of religion in their own lives.
The study of religion in modern society is an exciting enterprise. No matter what you are interested inthe structure and experiences of particular religious groups, the overall state of religion in society, religious belief, ritual and experience, the relation between religion and other social institutionsthere is a plethora of resources including books, journals, and research monographs you can draw on. Unfortunately, however, securing copyright permissions for "course packets" has become increasingly complex and difficult. We hope that by constructing a reader that covers a broad range of topics we can meet our own needs as well as those of other instructors who teach in this area.
The focus of this reader is on the structure and culture of religion in the United States. Thus, many of the readings are about religion in the Christian tradition. Nonetheless, where it was feasible, we included readings about religion outside the American context (e.g., Poland, England, El Salvador, Nicaragua), and beyond the Christian tradition (e.g., Judaism, alternative religions, Hindu traditions). This reader is not intended to be a survey of religion, but rather an introduction to the social aspects of religion, particularly within the United States.
The readings are arranged by topic, and each topic has a brief introductory essay that outlines some key issues and orients students to the readings. Some of the essays focus on defining concepts related to the readings; others provide an overall framework students can use to understand how the readings fit together and what they contribute to our knowledge about the topic. We also include readings from popular sourcesnewspapers, magazines, and the liketo help students connect more abstract material with things that they see in their day-to-day lives. For instructors, we provide a cross-reference table that provides suggestions for other topics for which an article might be appropriate.
Following a brief introduction by Wade Clark Roof about what is most interesting and exciting in religion today, we present classical sociological definitions of religion by theorists including Emil Durkheim, Clifford Geertz, Karl Marx, and Peter Berger. In teaching the Sociology of Religion, we have been amazed at how much discussion these classical statements generate among students. We continue with sections that focus on the "stuff" of religionbelief, ritual, and religious experience. We then present several sections on how religion is related to various aspects of identity: race and ethnicity, gender, social class, and sexual identity. We put this material early in the volume because religious participation has a powerful ability to shape how we see ourselves-and how we interact with others.
Next, we move to structural concerns. We introduce students to the secularization debate that has raged recently in the sociology of religion: Is religion declining or is it thriving? We follow with sections on organizational aspects of official religionauthority, organizations, and institutionsand on alternative religions. Because religion does not exist in a vacuum, we also include sections examining the relationship between religion and different social institutions: media, politics, and science. We end with a section on the role of religion in social movements and social change.
Although this book covers a lot of topics, we certainly do not expect any one course to include all of the sections or readings. In other courses that we teach, we generally consider a reader to be useful if it can serve as the primary text for a course and if we can use at least one-half to two-thirds of the readings. Additionally, we have tried to organize sections according to common understandings of topics in Sociology of Religion, so that it can be used with a standard textbook or an existing syllabus of topics.
Our discussions about this book began when we were all participants in the Pew Charitable Trusts's Young Scholars of American Religion seminar series between 1997 and 1999. This seminar series was ably run by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. Conrad Cherry, Terry Grimm, and Bob Carpenter all had a hand in developing and implementing an intellectual endeavor that created lasting bondsboth professional and personalamong the participants.
By design, the Young Scholars seminars focused equally on the research and teaching endeavors of junior-level scholars of American religion. It was during our discussions of teaching that the idea of pulling together a reader for Sociology of Religion first emerged. Our colleagues in this seminar series contributed original essays to this volume, and we thank each of them: Lori Beamon, Patricia Chang, Eric Gormly, William MacDonald, Richard Wood, and Wendy Young. We also owe many thanks to Wade Clark Roof for providing expert, hands-off leadership in the seminar and an introduction to this volume. Conrad Kanagy, also a Young Scholar participant, was extremely helpful as we thought about whether to do this book and how to go about finding a publisher. His other responsibilities made it impossible for him to make a written contribution to the project, but his mark is nonetheless on our final product. Photos in this volume have been generously provided by Beth Quinn, Josie Virgin, and the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.
This volume was reviewed by a number of people at various stages of development: David Bromley, Virginia Commonwealth University; Helen M. Hacker, New School for Social Research; Anson Shupe, Indiana UniversityPurdue University; and Rhys H. Williams, Southern Illinois University. We thank them for their incisive and constructive feedback.
The staff at Prentice-HallJohn Chillingworth, Nancy Roberts, and Allison Westlakehave been very supportive of this project, and very patient about working with a large and sometimes unwieldy bunch of people. We thank them as well. Finally, we have personal debts to Joni Emerson, Jim LeGrand, Jennifer Norman, Mandy Rager, Anne Monahan, and Tom Horgan for their support and assistance as we worked on this project.
Read on! We hope that you will find the study of religion and society to be as engaging and exciting as we do.Susanne C. Monahan, Montana State University