Religion remains an important influence in the world today, yet the social sciences are still not adequately equipped to understand and explain it. This book builds on recent developments in science, theory, and philosophy to advance an innovative theory of religion that goes beyond the problematic theoretical paradigms of the past.
Drawing on the philosophy of critical realism and personalist social theory, Christian Smith answers key questions about the nature, powers, workings, appeal, and future of religion. He defines religion in a way that resolves myriad problems and ambiguities in past accounts, explains the kinds of causal influences religion exerts in the world, and examines the key cognitive process that makes religion possible. Smith explores why humans are religious in the first place—uniquely so as a species—and offers an account of secularization and religious innovation and persistence that breaks the logjam in which so many religion scholars have been stuck for so long.
Certain to stimulate debate and inspire promising new avenues of scholarship, Religion features a wealth of illustrations and examples that help to make its concepts accessible to readers. This superbly written book brings sound theoretical thinking to a perennially thorny subject, and a new vitality and focus to its study.
Based on a national telephone survey and more than three hundred personal interviews with evangelicals and other churchgoing Protestants, this study provides a detailed analysis of the commitments, beliefs, concerns, and practices of this thriving group. Examining how evangelicals interact with and attempt to influence secular society, this book argues that traditional, orthodox evangelicalism endures not despite, but precisely because of, the challenges and structures of our modern pluralistic environment. This work also looks beyond evangelicalism to explore more broadly the problems of traditional religious belief and practice in the modern world.
With its impressive empirical evidence, innovative theory, and substantive conclusions, American Evangelicalism will provoke lively debate over the state of religious practice in contemporary America.
This important book has generated lively discussion and debate. The paperback edition adds a new chapter responding to the conversation that the cloth edition has sparked.
In his 2010 book What Is a Person?, Christian Smith argued that sociology had for too long neglected this fundamental question. Prevailing social theories, he wrote, do not adequately “capture our deep subjective experience as persons, crucial dimensions of the richness of our own lived lives, what thinkers in previous ages might have called our ‘souls’ or ‘hearts.’” Building on Smith’s previous work, To Flourish or Destruct examines the motivations intrinsic to this subjective experience: Why do people do what they do? How can we explain the activity that gives rise to all human social life and social structures?
Smith argues that our actions stem from a motivation to realize what he calls natural human goods: ends that are, by nature, constitutionally good for all human beings. He goes on to explore the ways we can and do fail to realize these ends—a failure that can result in varying gradations of evil. Rooted in critical realism and informed by work in philosophy, psychology, and other fields, Smith’s ambitious book situates the idea of personhood at the center of our attempts to understand how we might shape good human lives and societies.
Finding much current thinking on personhood to be confusing or misleading, Smith finds inspiration in critical realism and personalism. Drawing on these ideas, he constructs a theory of personhood that forges a middle path between the extremes of positivist science and relativism. Smith then builds on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and William Sewell to demonstrate the importance of personhood to our understanding of social structures. From there he broadens his scope to consider how we can know what is good in personal and social life and what sociology can tell us about human rights and dignity.
Innovative, critical, and constructive, What Is a Person? offers an inspiring vision of a social science committed to pursuing causal explanations, interpretive understanding, and general knowledge in the service of truth and the moral good.
Based on data from a three-year national study, including more than 200 in-depth interviews of evangelicals around the country, Christian America? assesses the common stereotype of evangelicals as intolerant, right-wing, religious zealots seeking to impose a Christian moral order through political force. What Smith finds instead are people vastly more diverse and ambivalent than this stereotype suggests. On issues such as religion in education, "family values," Christian political activism, and tolerance of other religions and moralities, evangelicals are highly disparate and conflicted. As the voices of interviewees make clear, the labels "conservative" and "liberal" are too simplistic for understanding their approaches to public life and political action.
Focusing on the movement's three most important national campaigns—Witness for Peace, Sanctuary, and the Pledge of Resistance—this book demonstrates the centrality of morality as a political motivator, highlights the importance of political opportunities in movement outcomes, and examines the social structuring of insurgent consciousness. Based on extensive surveys, interviews, and research, Resisting Reagan makes significant contributions to our understanding of the formation of individual activist identities, of national movement dynamics, and of religious resources for political activism.