Posts Tagged ‘sociology’

January 12th, 2017

Writing religion for the IPSP

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1510623_1375984419369773_2230796617787010338_nCan we hope for a better society? That is the animating question behind an ambitious project, the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP). It exists to “harness the competence of hundreds of experts about social issues” and to “deliver a report addressed to all social actors, movements, organizations, politicians, and decision-makers, in order to provide them with the best expertise on questions that bear on social change.”

Also modeled on the IPCC, drafts of the chapter reports are available for public comment. These are the collected responses to Chapter 16- Religions and Social Progress: Critical Assessments and Creative Partnerships, gathered from readers of The Immanent Frame.

To read the original call for comments, written by coordinating lead authors Nancy Ammerman and Grace Davie, click here.

October 2nd, 2013

CFP: Working with A Secular Age

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On March 6-8, 2014, the University of Bern will host an international conference entitled “Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Reflections on Charles Taylor’s Conception of the Secular.”

July 22nd, 2013

Contesting Secularism: Comparative Perspectives

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In Contesting Secularism: Comparative Perspectives, editor Anders Berg-Sørensen compiles works from leading scholars to provide an interdisciplinary, comparative approach to the debate of religion and secularism in the public sphere.

July 11th, 2013

CFP: Gender & Society

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The Committee for the Study of Religion at the CUNY Graduate Center has announced a call for papers for its Special Issue of Gender & Society.

June 25th, 2013

Ways of Knowing: Graduate Conference on Religion

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Harvard Divinity School is hosting its annual Ways of Knowing conference for graduate students and young scholars who are studying religion in all different programs and disciplines. The conference will be held at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, MA on October 25-26, 2013 (more details here). The deadline to submit papers is July 1, 2013.

November 10th, 2012

Religion on the Edge

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A new book, Religion on the Edge: De-centering and Re-centering the Sociology of Religion, edited by TIF contributors Courtney BenderWendy CadgePeggy Levitt and David Smilde, has been published.

July 24th, 2012

Paul Froese featured in New Voices

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The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) recently featured Paul Froese in their New Voices section, which recognizes leading scholars in the social sciences for outstanding and original research.

June 28th, 2012

American civil religion in the age of Obama: An interview with Philip S. Gorski

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Philip S. Gorski is Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Research at Yale University. His work as a comparative historical sociologist has been influential in recovering Max Weber and asserting the strong influence of Calvinism on state formation in early modern Europe. In his recent book, The Protestant Ethic Revisited (Temple, 2011), he challenges Charles Tilly’s thesis that the technologies of war drove the creation of stable nation-states and argues that post-Reformation religious conflicts were the primary impetus of European state formation. In addition to co-editing The Post-Secular in Question earlier this year as part the SSRC’s series with NYU Press, Gorski is editor of another volume coming out early next year entitled Bourdieu and Historical Analysis (Duke, 2012). He and I sat down in Theodore Roosevelt Park in New York City, where we discussed the book he’s writing on civil religion, joked about Obama’s messianic burden, and considered what present-day America might learn from Émile Durkheim.

April 20th, 2012

In defense of the sociology of religion

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In a recent contribution to ASA Footnotes, Christian Smith explains why it is crucial  for sociologists to take religion seriously, arguing that it is imperative for sociologists to overcome ignorance and bias when it comes to religion.

April 19th, 2012

Good news from the grand narrative

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To be asked to contribute a commentary on Professor Robert Bellah’s magnum opus is a great honor and a privilege that, in the virtual company of intellectuals of the highest caliber, manages to concentrate the mind and at the same time to fill you with despair; not least because Religion in Human Evolution stands as a measure of the distance that lies between routine, or ordinary, intellectual activity, and genuine, indeed extraordinary, intellectual achievement.

April 11th, 2012

The power of pluralist thinking

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It is hard to remember, but religious pluralism meant something quite different fifty years ago. We have, I would argue, so shifted our collective understanding of religious pluralism, and this transformation has been so naturalized, that we have little common conception that this shift even happened and much less sense of its consequences.

March 9th, 2012

Back to his roots

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When writing about other people, we all should follow Pierre Bourdieu’s advice to not be too fascinated by our human subjects. This is necessary in order to escape the “biographical fallacy,” the temptation to narrate lives as if they were historically continuous and logically consistent wholes. Bourdieu is right. Our lives are a mess of disparate events, novelties and routines, strategic decisions and lapses of reason, chances and regrets, with little, if any, overall meaning. At the same time, as Robert N. Bellah writes at the beginning of his magisterial tour de force, we are narrative animals. We cannot avoid telling stories, and every story has to have a hero, a quest, and a finale. In this brief essay I recount a couple of stories about Religion in Human Evolution, reading through the lines of this fascinating work to find and highlight some of the many threads which connect it to its author’s past.

December 19th, 2011

Public sociology: rigor and relevance

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Any authors would be pleased by an array of laudatory and thoughtful comments on their work, especially by a group of critics as distinguished and diverse as this. We are grateful for the care and attention our commentators have taken with American Grace, especially given that they are outside of our own discipline of political science. In writing this book, our hope was to speak beyond disciplinary boundaries. It is thus particularly gratifying to read John Torpey describe American Grace as “public sociology.” This is precisely what we hoped to achieve. We believe that more social science should be directed toward informing our public discourse, and that rigor versus relevance is a false choice.

November 23rd, 2011

Dangerous evolutions?

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Religion in Human Evolution is an immensely ambitious book on a topic only a scholar of Robert Bellah’s stature could dare to tackle. It attempts no less than to explain human biological as well as cultural evolution in one sweep, beginning with early hominids and ending with the “axial age.” Bellah engages evolutionary biology as well as cognitive psychology for the framing of his argument. This is a courageous move of transcending conventional disciplinary boundaries, for which he should be applauded. At the same time, it draws Bellah into positions he might actually not always be comfortable with.

November 18th, 2011

Where religion comes from and leads us

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In seeking to make sense of modernity in the classical tradition of sociology as a field, the body of Robert Bellah’s work spans the social sciences and comparative cultural inquiry to embrace the global diversity and coherence of religion as the key to culture across civilizations and epochs within the framework of human evolution. Formally trained as a student of tribal cultures, East Asian civilization, and Islam, Bellah engages the West, and America in particular, as problematic cases that can only be understood in the broadest comparative perspective on human cultural development. This global perspective informs Bellah’s conceptions of religion and human evolution as they have deepened and grown over a half century.

November 16th, 2011

What should we now do differently?

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No one reading this seven hundred page book can fail to be impressed with the sweep of its argument or with the range and depth of its scholarship. There is, indeed, nothing like it currently extant and it will take its place as a major landmark study. That range and depth of scholarship may perhaps explain why from time to time I felt as though I were drowning in multiple cross-references and superimposed typologies. Indeed, I was not entirely clear how tight the superimpositions were, or whether they were roughly parallel. For example, I found myself unsure what the relation was between the familiar sequence from hunter/gatherer to tribal societies and from archaic civilisations to the axial age, and the Merlin Donald sequence from the mimetic to the theoretic, and I was equally unsure about how these two sequences related to the sequence of childhood development based in Piaget, Bruner and others.

November 9th, 2011

Weber for the 21st century

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For almost one hundred years, all sociologists of religion have taken Max Weber’s great work on comparative religions as a primary point of departure. Whole libraries of scholarship have been produced to explicate Weber, expand on Weber, disagree with Weber, revise Weber. In the next hundred years, I think, the point of departure will be Robert Bellah rather than Weber. Bellah’s new masterpiece, Religion in Human Evolution is comparable in scope, breadth of scholarship, and depth of erudition to Weber’s study of world religions, but it is grounded in all of the advances of historical, linguistic, and archeological scholarship that have taken place since Weber, as well as theoretical advances in evolutionary biology and cognitive science.

November 2nd, 2011

Where did religion come from?

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When an interviewer for the Atlantic Monthly blog asked me “What prompted you to write this book?” I apparently replied, “Deep desire to know everything: what the universe is and where we are in it.” I don’t deny that I said it—it’s just that I would have thought I would have given a more pedestrian reply, because I am a sociologist, with a Ph.D. in my discipline and some 40 years experience as a professor at Harvard and Berkeley. And I am quite aware that early in the last century Max Weber, in a famous 1918 talk called “Science as a Vocation,” warned that “science has entered a phase of specialization previously unknown and this will forever remain the case.”

October 11th, 2011

RFP: New Directions in the Study of Prayer

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The Social Science Research Council recently announced the launch of a new project and grants program entitled “New Directions in the Study of Prayer.”

October 3rd, 2011

American Grace and public sociology

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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.

September 14th, 2011

Nothing is ever lost: An interview with Robert Bellah

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Both an influential scholar and a public intellectual, Robert Bellah is one of the foremost sociologists of his generation. His books and articles have set in motion lasting conversations about the role of religion in public life, both in the United States and around the world. Since retiring from thirty years of teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Bellah has been at work on his most ambitious book yet, the recently released Religion in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press).

September 12th, 2011

American religion in the era of Fosdick’s revenge

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Is bland beautiful? Almost never, most of us would say. But when it comes to religion in a diverse society, the answer may be yes. This is the chief, if probably unintended implication of American Grace, which I take to be the most successfully argued, comprehensive sociological study of American religion in more than half a century. Robert Putnam and David Campbell harvest a generation of research and mature reflection about how religious affiliations of all kinds divide and unite Americans of different generations, regions, sexes, educational levels, and ethno-racial groups.

August 20th, 2011

The Help, ethnography, and ickiness

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This is a post about the politics of representation, postcolonial theory, and the Hollywood movie, The Help. And it begins with my Mom.

March 15th, 2011

What we talk about when we talk about the postsecular

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The term “postsecular” is quickly becoming a keyword for scholars of religion and public life. So what is it all about? An overview of its uses and meanings.

October 18th, 2010

José Casanova’s Beijing lectures on the sociology of religion

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Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs has made available the lecture notes from José Casanova‘s talks on the sociology of religion from the seventh Summer Institute for the Scientific Study of Religion in Beijing, which will eventually be published as a book.

October 1st, 2010

An empirical perspective on religious and secular reasons

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This “religion in the public sphere” thread has featured debates about whether citizens of liberal democratic societies can offer religious reasons for public laws that will be coercive on all citizens, or whether they must use, in John Rawls’s terms, “public reason.” . . . This normative debate is about what people should do in public debates, but knowing what people actually do would allow theorists to develop greater nuance in their analyses. When we see what people actually do, we can further inquire as to whether there are social structures that are pushing people toward good or bad behavior. For example, it is possible that the normative structure of the contemporary public sphere works so strongly against certain normative proposals that they should just be abandoned as utopian. Moreover, it is possible that we may gain normative wisdom from the collective practices of citizens. In any event, given the many hundreds of normative analyses, some empirical examinations may usefully agitate the debate.

September 27th, 2010

Alberto Toscano on fanaticism

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Alberto Toscano, author of the recently published Fanaticism: The Uses of an Idea, will be speaking at New York University tomorrow, 5–7pm, on the fifth floor of 20 Cooper Square East. The book has been reviewed in the UK, and Toscano has also appeared in a video interview with The Guardian to speak about his book. Keep your eyes peeled for a review on The Immanent Frame soon.

August 23rd, 2010

‘Legitimate’ Laicite

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Margarita Mooney review’s Raphael Liogier’s ‘Legitimate’ Laicite: France and its State Religions (Entrelacs, 2006) in Contemporary Sociology (sub. required).

July 23rd, 2010

Cosmic war on a global scale: An interview with Mark Juergensmeyer

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As director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Mark Juergensmeyer brings the sociology of religion to bear on the analysis of violent conflict in the contemporary world. His recent books include Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State and Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, both published by University of California Press, and he is currently working on God and War, based on his 2006 Stafford Little Lectures at Princeton University. Together with the SSRC’s Craig Calhoun and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, he is a co-editor of the forthcoming volume Rethinking Secularism. We spoke at his home office at UCSB, perched atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

July 12th, 2010

Power spots

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“Shoveling fog” is Courtney Bender’s acute phrase for the work of “studying spirituality,” an amorphous term that has suffered much scorn and derision at the hands of both scholars and skeptics, nonplussed as they are by its conceptual vagueness and lack of clear social boundaries. While The New Metaphysicals does not tidy up the concepts or borders of spirituality, it goes a long way toward providing a new way of seeing its contours in the twenty-first-century United States, by zooming in on the present and past of metaphysical adepts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Carefully attending to a network of metaphysical practices, which include past life regression, yoga, Reiki, out-of-body experiences, and a “mystical discussion group,” Bender finds that though these practices have a long and storied past in the salons, woods, and lecture halls of Cambridge, their contemporary practitioners are not really that interested in claiming, or even knowing about, such lineages.

July 9th, 2010

When strong is weak

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It is a testament to the power of the “strong program” image that most commentators on our working paper read Matt May and me to be optimistically praising its emergence in the sociology of religion, despite our statements to the contrary. Of course, a writer criticizing readers is bad form, and truth be told, we deeply appreciate the commentators’ willingness to discuss a working paper whose positions and prose are not yet entirely solidified. Our original title had “a critical engagement” as its subtitle; leaving it out probably didn’t help communicate our intent. If we add to this the positive connotations of the term “emerging,” we can certainly understand how commentators saw us as identifying a wave we were preparing to surf.

July 1st, 2010

Institutions, discourses, practices… and life-in-the-world

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The portraits social scientists create get appropriated by their subjects, used, and fed back to social scientists. Like a Cherokee Indian wearing a headdress to fulfill tourists’ stereotypes, respondents can make etic meanings emic when these meanings fit their purposes. This is precisely the “entanglement” that Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals masterfully addresses. Few books so adroitly and so fruitfully work through the interplay of emic and etic, not merely as a methodological obstacle, but as a substantive issue. Bender’s study of the social structure of American mysticism reveals a sort of collusion between academics and metaphysicals to occlude the fact that mysticism has a social structure and a history, and that it has been and still is an important part of the American religious experience.

May 5th, 2010

“Love Thy Neighbor? Not If He’s Different”

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At Miller-McCune, David Villano reports on a new study that finds that religious adherents in the U.S. are more inclined toward ethnocentric attitudes than agnostics.

February 22nd, 2010

Getting out of crisis-mode

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Although the sociology of religion is in a relatively good state, it still seems that there is continuing intellectual insecurity and uncertainty among sociologists who study religion. … American sociologists embrace, to varying degrees, the scientific status of sociology, and our professional training, associations (e.g., ASA, SSSR), and allegiances (with NSF, NIMH, NIJ, etc.) reinforce commitment to a scientific methodology. Yet, within this framework, the prevalence of positive socio-evaluative findings in sociological studies of religion is seen as suggestive of a pro-religion bias in the research program, rather than a “true” finding.  Does any other sociological sub-field produce meta-narratives about their area’s findings, or engage in the crisis-assessment conversations that sociologists of religion seem compelled to have?

February 22nd, 2010

A trifecta of problems

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Three of Insider Higher Ed’s most recent dispatches focus on a trifecta of problems in the academic study of religion.

February 15th, 2010

Toward a new sociology of religion

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Many sociologists of religion have voiced the concern that the sub-discipline is “in crisis.” Others bemoan what they view as the increasing irrelevance of internecine squabbles with respect to broader sociological conversations, much less the increasing prominence of interdisciplinary social science conversations about religion’s place in the modern world. We argue, instead, that the sociological study of religion is in fact not in crisis, but in the midst of recentering itself in new and exciting ways.

February 10th, 2010

Religion’s reputation

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Percentage of Americans identifying with a religion (as opposed to "no religion") | ARIS/Wikimedia In 2008, roughly 15 percent of Americans told telephone surveyors with the American Religious Identification Survey that they had no religious preference, were atheist, agnostic, secular, or humanist….Whether or not we want to feed these findings back into a very long-running debate about sociology’s secularization thesis, many of us will feel compelled to ask what this trend means for American public life.  We are trained to ask the question because we are so used to thinking in Tocquevillian terms about religion’s relation to democracy. For that reason alone, it is worth taking a little time to clarify what the oft-quoted French traveler, diarist and social thinker Alexis de Tocqueville actually did say about American religion and its public consequences, so we can better decide what, if anything, in the Tocquevillian heritage helps us grapple with these findings.

February 8th, 2010

The emerging strong program in the sociology of religion

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Most sociologists of religion seem to agree on two things. First, that the growth of interest in religion—in academia, the media, and society at large—has been accompanied by an increasingly vigorous research agenda in the sub-discipline. And second, that the sociology of religion is currently in a period of paradigmatic reflection. While the “new paradigm” put forward by Stephan Warner in 1993 helped awaken the field from the “dogmatic slumber” into which it was lulled by secularization theory, scholars continue to reflect on the basic conceptualization of religion and religious practice, as well as on the nature of the relationship between religious practice, institutions, and the sociology of religion itself.

January 8th, 2010

A Neo-Weberian theory of American civil religion

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The American civil religion, Robert Bellah argued, was derived from two sources, one religious and the other secular: the covenant theology of the Puritans and the classical republicanism of the Founders. Writing amidst the collective funk of the mid-1970s, Bellah famously concluded that the American civil religion was an empty and broken shell. Though I agree with Bellah about the sources of this tradition, I disagree with his assessment of its vitality. Nor do I believe that civil religion is the only version of the American tradition. I argue that there were at least two others. To wit: religious nationalism and radical secularism.

December 23rd, 2008

Akbar Ganji in conversation with Charles Taylor

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<br />Charles Taylor: If the human relation to religion and to God is not as shallow as the mainstream theory thinks, then what would happen in many cases is religion would be recomposed in new forms that meet the new situation. And that is in fact what I would argue has happened in the West. So this is a much more adequate theory to understand this historical and sociological reality, but what it required is a deep understanding of the place of religion in human life. So I would claim that there’s a single discourse and it’s made up of elements that look as though they are drawn from three disciplines, but in fact they cohere together as a single discourse. The three discourses would be philosophy, history and sociology. You can’t do sociology without history, history without sociology, and you can’t do either without a proper philosophical understanding of human motivation. So the whole thing hangs together from those three sources. […]

August 15th, 2008

Who’s afraid of sociology?

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Attempts to define “evangelical” often hover between theological definitions from those who self-identify as evangelicals and so-called sociological definitions from those who take themselves to be observers of the phenomenon. Though I don’t think we can make this distinction neat and tidy, let’s work with it as a heuristic starting point. In what follows, I want to make a theological claim for emphasizing a sociological definition. […]

April 30th, 2008

Varieties of anti-religious imagination

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The publication of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has fostered an exceptionally vibrant intellectual debate on secularism and on the conditions of belief under modernity, as the readers of this blog very well know. For the social sciences at least, this fundamental rethinking on secularism inspired by Taylor’s work could not be any timelier: the stand-off between classical secularization theorists and the proponents of the religious economies model, which has continued for about two decades is only recently giving way to new paths of investigation. Precisely because this debate offers such a crucial opportunity, I want to point out what I see as two important points of neglect in this burgeoning discussion.

April 20th, 2008

Obama’s reductionist moment

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In his ill-chosen remarks to an April 6, 2008 San Francisco fundraiser, Barack Obama showed the danger bad social science poses to progressive politics. Commenting on jobless communities in rural America, Obama argued that “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” As an Obama supporter and a sociologist, I was disappointed to see my candidate draw on an outdated and reductionist approach to religion and culture. […]