Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell’s American Grace follows up on these Tocquevillean themes, exploring the contemporary American religious landscape to understand, in the words of the subtitle, “how religion divides and unites us.” As in Putnam’s earlier work, the book mobilizes the full array of methods available to the social scientist—survey research, interviews, participant observation in relevant settings, historical comparisons. Vignettes drawn from qualitative research are interspersed with discussions of the quantitative data accessible to the uninitiated. The authors draw frequently on other pertinent studies to buttress their own findings, helping reassure us that the results of their research are reliable.Read the rest of American Grace and public sociology.
John Torpey is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author or editor of six books, including Intellectuals, Socialism, and Dissent: The East German Opposition and its Legacy (University of Minnesota Press, 1995); The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State (Cambridge University Press, 2000); Old Europe, New Europe, Core Europe: Transatlantic Relations after the Iraq War (edited with Daniel Levy and Max Pensky; Verso, 2005), and Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics (Harvard University Press, 2006). His articles have appeared in Theory and Society, Journal of Modern History, Genèses: Sciences sociales et histoire, Journal of Human Rights, Dissent, Contexts, openDemocracy, Frankfurter Rundschau, The Nation, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Read John Torpey's contribution to Reflections on summer reading.
Posts by John Torpey:
David Smilde and Matthew May’s finding that there is an “emerging strong program” in the sociology of religion is a matter for some celebration. One has to wonder how religion could have fallen into such a state of inattention in a field that regards Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life as among its foundational texts. Until recently, it has been as if biologists agreed that Darwin had gotten right the central idea of their field and then proceeded to ignore that idea in everything else they did. With the return of religion as a crucial matter of public concern, such an outlook will no longer do. We, as scholars, must take other people’s religious lives more seriously, whether we take our own seriously or not.
The fruitfulness of the emerging sociology of religion will hinge on the extent to which it re-connects us with the questions that those foundational texts address. For present purposes, these are chiefly two.Read the rest of New answers to old questions.
Normally, when one sits down to read a book hailed by a figure such as Robert Bellah as “one of the most important books to be written in [his] lifetime,” one expects a methodical survey of an intellectual terrain. One of the most striking things about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is thus its colloquial, almost chatty character. Instead of being forced to sit through a dry lecture, it’s as if one had the good fortune to share drinks at a bar with an exceptionally erudite friend who took the opportunity to tell you what he’s been thinking about lately. We should be so lucky as to have such drinking buddies. [...]Read the rest of Secularization ain’t dead yet.