Appearing at the same time as a manifesto for expanding American sociologists’ approaches to religion, Smilde and May’s report is a call for a big conversation. How shall we speak, and with what conceptual tools shall we think, about religion at present and in the future?
The report assesses religion research with models of disciplinary growth. It implies that one sign of vitality in the field of sociological research on religion is the increasing proportion of studies that take religion as an independent variable. Borrowing language from the sociology of science, the report finds that religion research is developing a “strong program,” according to which religion is figured as the causal mover in a variety of social processes, rather than the effect of some other, more important factor(s). This too is good news for readers who have invested intellectual energies in the field, as it is likely to invite more sociological respect for religion as a research topic.
But how happy should we be?