Religion Book


Christian Smith 2017.  Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters

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 log jam 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.

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Christian Smith 2015. To Flourish or Destruct. The University of Chicago Press.

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.

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Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson 2014.  The Paradox of Generosity:  Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press.

Determining why, when, and to whom people feel compelled to be generous affords invaluable insight into positive and problematic ways of life. Organ donation, volunteering, and the funding of charities can all be illuminated by sociological and psychological perspectives on how American adults conceive of and demonstrate generosity. Focusing not only on financial giving but on the many diverse forms generosity can take, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson show the deep impact usually good, sometimes destructive that giving has on individuals. 

The Paradox of Generosity is the first study to make use of the cutting-edge empirical data collected in Smith's groundbreaking, multidisciplinary, five-year Science of Generosity Initiative. It draws on an extensive survey of 2,000 Americans, more than sixty in-depth interviews with individuals across twelve states, and analysis of over 1,000 photographs and other visual materials. This wealth of evidence reveals a consistent link between demonstrating generosity and leading a better life: more generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression. Smith and Davidson also show, however, that to achieve a better life a person must practice generosity regularly-random acts of kindness are not enough. 

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Christian Smith 2014.  The Sacred Project of American Sociology. Oxford University Press.

Counter to popular perceptions, contemporary American sociology is and promotes a profoundly sacred project at heart. Sociology today is in fact animated by sacred impulses, driven by sacred commitments, and serves a sacred project.
Sociology appears on the surface to be a secular, scientific enterprise--its founding fathers were mostly atheists. Its basic operating premises are secular and naturalistic. Sociologists today are disproportionately not religious, compared to all Americans, and often irreligious.

 The Sacred Project of American Sociology shows, counter-intuitively, that the secular enterprise that everyday sociology appears to be pursuing is actually not what is really going on at sociology's deepest level. Christian Smith conducts a self-reflexive, tables-turning, cultural and institutional sociology of the profession of American sociology itself, showing that this allegedly secular discipline ironically expresses Emile Durkheim's inescapable sacred, exemplifies its own versions of Marxist false consciousness, and generates a spirited reaction against Max Weber's melancholically observed disenchantment of the world.
American sociology does not escape the analytical net that it casts over the rest of the ordinary world. Sociology itself is a part of that very human, very social, often very sacred and spiritual world. And sociology's ironic mis-recognition of its own sacred project leads to a variety of arguably self-destructive and distorting tendencies. This book re-asserts a vision for what sociology is most important for, in contrast with its current commitments, and calls sociologists back to a more honest, fair, and healthy vision of its purpose.  

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Christian Smith with Kyle Longest, Jonathan Hill and Kari Christoffersen 2014.  Young Catholic America:  Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone From the Church. Oxford University Press.

This is the most recent book reporting results from the first three waves of the NSYR project.  Authors Christian Smith, Kyle Longest, Jonathan Hill, and Kari Christoffersen analyze a wealth of survey and interview data to construct a thorough and thought-provoking description of the state of the Catholic faith among today’s emerging adults. The authors find that most contemporary Catholic emerging adults have experienced either consistently low involvement with their Catholic faith and the church itself since adolescence, or a decline in faith and religious behavior.  While the reasons for this are numerous and complex, they suggest one primary culprit -- that changes within the Catholic church led to the weakening of the faith and involvement of the parents of current emerging adults, resulting in either the inability or unwillingness of those parents to model, teach and pass on the faith to their children.  

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Christian Smith, 2011. Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Oxford University Press.

Life for emerging adults is vastly different today than it was for their counterparts even a generation ago. Young people are waiting longer to marry, to have children, and to choose a career direction. As a result, they enjoy more freedom, opportunities, and personal growth than ever before. But the transition to adulthood is also more complex, disjointed, and confusing. In Lost in Transition, Christian Smith and his collaborators draw on 230 in-depth interviews with a broad cross-section of emerging adults (ages 18-23) to investigate the difficulties young people face today, the underlying causes of those difficulties, and the consequences both for individuals and for American society as a whole. Rampant consumer capitalism, ongoing failures in education, hyper-individualism, postmodernist moral relativism, and other aspects of American culture are all contributing to the chaotic terrain that emerging adults must cross. Smith identifies five major problems facing very many young people today: confused moral reasoning, routine intoxication, materialistic life goals, regrettable sexual experiences, and disengagement from civic and political life. The trouble does not lie only with the emerging adults or their poor individual decisions but has much deeper roots in mainstream American culture--a culture which emerging adults have largely inherited rather than created. Older adults, Smith argues, must recognize that much of the responsibility for the pain and confusion young people face lies with them. Rejecting both sky-is-falling alarmism on the one hand and complacent disregard on the other, Smith suggests the need for what he calls "realistic concern"--and a reconsideration of our cultural priorities and practices--that will help emerging adults more skillfully engage unique challenges they face. Even-handed, engagingly written, and based on comprehensive research, Lost in Transition brings much needed attention to the darker side of the transition to adulthood. Copyright © Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

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Christian Smith, 2011. What Is A Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up. The University of Chicago Press.

What is a person? This fundamental question is a perennial concern of philosophers and theologians. But, Christian Smith here argues, it also lies at the center of the social scientist’s quest to interpret and explain social life. In this ambitious book, Smith presents a new model for social theory that does justice to the best of our humanistic visions of people, life, and society. 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. Copyright © Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

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Christian Smith with Patricia Snell. 2009. Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. Oxford University Press.

How important is religion for young people in America today? What are the major influences on their developing spiritual lives? How do their religious beliefs and practices change as young people enter into adulthood? Christian Smith's Souls in Transition explores these questions and many others as it tells the definitive story of the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, ages 18 to 24, in the U.S. today. This is the much-anticipated follow-up study to the landmark book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Based on candid interviews with thousands of young people tracked over a five-year period, Souls in Transition reveals how the religious practices of the teenagers portrayed in Soul Searching have been strengthened, challenged, and often changed as they have moved into adulthood. The book vividly describes as well the broader cultural world of today's emerging adults, how that culture shapes their religious outlooks, and what the consequences are for religious faith and practice in America more generally. Some of Smith's findings are surprising. Parents turn out to be the single most important influence on the religious outcomes in the lives of young adults. On the other hand, teenage participation in evangelization missions and youth groups does not predict a high level of religiosity just a few years later. Moreover, the common wisdom that religiosity declines sharply during the young adult years is shown to be greatly exaggerated. Painstakingly researched and filled with remarkable findings, Souls in Transition will be essential reading for youth ministers, pastors, parents, teachers and students at church-related schools, and anyone who wishes to know how religious practice is affected by the transition into adulthood in America today. Copyright © Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith and Micheal O. Emerson with Patricia Snell. 2008. Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money.Oxford University Press.

From Publishers Weekly: "Why is it that Christians in the world's most affluent nation give so little of their income to charity? This sociological study, based on extensive survey data and building on prior studies of Christian philanthropy, shows that American Christian groups typically give away only 1.5% to 2% of their income. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the reality is probably even less. Catholics are the worst, with many Protestant groups in the middle and Mormons (whom this study regards as "non-Christian religious believers") at the top. The first two chapters lay out the problem of Americans' ungenerous behavior, while the third ventures explanations: it's not that Americans don't have the money, but that they spend it on luxuries and fail to perceive needs outside their own circles; also, churches are vague about expectations for giving. A fourth chapter delves into parishioners' and pastors' complex feelings about giving, while a stirring conclusion lays down the gauntlet for change. Although the primary audience will be academic, any pastor who has ever had to preach a stewardship sermon should also read this book." Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith. Soul Searching: A Movie About Teenagers and God. Revelation Studios.

From Whitehorse Inn: "In 2005, Oxford University Press released a very important book. Sociologists from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had just released their findings of a comprehensive study of the religious views of American teenagers. And what they found was nothing less than shocking. According to Christian Smith, the primary author of the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American teenagers, the actual professed religion of most young adults, whether they're being raised in Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, or Jewish homes, is what he called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. What this means is that although many teens believe in God and go to church regularly, they end up defining belief in very vague and subjective terms, such as, God exists, He's there when we need him, He wants us to be happy, The purpose of life is to feel good, Good people go to heaven, and so forth. Now, in 2007, a documentary film version of Soul Searching was just released by Revelation Studios. Based on a seven year study of the religious views of American teens, this film presents some troubling findings about the content and quality of the faith being passed on to the next generation. " Copyright © All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith, with Melinda Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers. Oxford  University Press.

From Publishers Weekly: "Encyclopedic in scope and exhaustive in detail, this study offers an impressive array of data, statistics and concluding hypotheses about American teenage religious identity, with appendixes explaining methodology and extensive endnotes. Sociologists of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Smith and Denton cover a range of topics: e.g., 'mapping' religious affiliations, creating new categories to describe teenage spirituality, exploring why Catholic teens are largely apathetic. All the book's findings derive from interviews conducted with teenagers for the National Study of Youth and Religion. Interestingly and against popular belief, Smith and Denton conclude that the 'spiritual but not religious' affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among Americans under 18, and that the greatest influence shaping teens' religious beliefs is their parents. Despite the personal tone adopted in the first chapter and the topic's wide appeal, readers should be prepared to wade through lengthy presentations of research findings. Most helpful are summaries appearing in bullet form within several chapters, providing accessible and succinct overviews of the raw information and statistics. Regardless of whether this research will be 'a catalyst for many soul-searching conversations in various communities and organizations" among parents and pastors, scholars will surely agree that this study advances the conversation about contemporary adolescent spirituality.'" (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith. 2003.  Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

What kind of animals are human beings? And how do our visions of the human shape our theories of social action and institutions? This book advances a theory of human persons and culture that offers innovative, challenging answers to these and other fundamental questions in sociological, cultural, and religious theory. Smith suggests that human beings have a peculiar set of capacities and proclivities that distinguishes them significantly from other animals on this planet. Despite the vast differences in humanity between cultures and across history, no matter how differently people narrate their lives and histories, there remains an underlying structure of human personhood that helps to order human culture, history, and narration. Drawing on important recent insights in moral philosophy, epistemology, and narrative studies, the book argues that humans are animals who have an inescapable moral and spiritual dimension. They cannot avoid a fundamental moral orientation in life and this has profound consequences for how sociology must study human beings. Copyright © Oxford Unviersity Press. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith (ed.). 2003.  The Secular Revolution : Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Sociologists, historians, and other social observers have long considered the secularization of American public life over the past hundred and thirty years to be an inevitable and natural outcome of modernization. This groundbreaking work rejects this view and fundamentally rethinks the historical and theoretical causes of the secularization of American public life between 1870 and 1930. The authors boldly argue that the declining authority of religion was not the by-product of modernization, but rather the intentional achievement of cultural and intellectual elites, including scientists, academics, and literary intellectuals, seeking to gain control of social institutions and increase their own cultural authority. Writing with broad intellectual grasp, the contributors examine power struggles and ideological shifts in various social sectors where the public authority of religion has diminished, in particular education, science, law, and journalism. Together the essays depict a cultural and institutional revolution that is best understood in terms of individual agency, conflicts of interest, resource mobilization, and struggles for authority. Engaging both sociological and historical literature, The Secular Revolution offers a new theoretical framework and original empirical research that will inform our understanding of American society from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Copyright © Unviersity of California Press. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith. 2000.  Christian America?  What Evangelicals Really Want.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

In recent decades Protestant evangelicalism has become a conspicuous- and to many Americans, a worrisome- part of this country's cultural and political landscape.  But just how unified is the supposed constituency of the Christian Coalition?  And who exactly are the people the Christian Right claims to represent?  In the most extensive study of American evangelicals ever conducted, Christian Smith explores the beliefs, values, commitments, and goals of the ordinary men and women who make up this often misunderstood religious group.  The result is a much-needed contribution to the discussion of issues surrounding fundamental American freedoms and the basic identity of the United States as a pluralistic nation. 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 right-wing, intolerant 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. Smith also finds many more differences between evangelicals than might be expected from the common image portrayed in the media.  Not only do evangelical leaders range across the political and ideological map, but their constituents don't necessarily follow them lock-step on every issue. Moving beyond the characterizations of evangelicals as seen from the outside, Smith gets inside their world and listens attentively to its multitude of conflicted voices.  What he presents is a carefully assembled cultural analysis that does much to explain who evangelicals are, what they want for America, and how they hope to get it. Copyright © Unviersity of California Press. All rights reserved. 

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Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith.  2000.  Divided by Faith:  Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

In recent years, the leaders of the American evangelical movement have brought their characteristic passion to the problem of race, notably in the Promise Keepers movement and in reconciliation theology.  But the authors of this provocative new study reveal that, despite their good intentions, evangelicals may actually be preserving America's racial chasm. In Divided by Faith, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probe the grassroots of white evangelical America, through a nationwide telephone survey of 2,000 people, along with 200 face-to-face interviews.  The results of their research are surprising.  They learned that most white evangelicals see no systematic discrimination against blacks; indeed, they deny the existence of any ongoing racial problem in the United States.  Many of their subjects blamed the continuing talk of racial conflict on the media, unscrupulous black leaders, and the inability of African Americans to forget the past.  What lies behind this perception?  Evangelicals, Emerson and Smith write, are not so much actively racist as committed to a theological view of the world.  Therefore, it is difficult for them to see systematic injustice.  The evangelical emphasis on individualism, free will, and personal relationships makes invisible the pervasive injustice that perpetuates inequality between the races.  Most racial problems, they told the authors, can be solved by the repentance and conversion of the sinful individuals at fault. Combining a substantial body of evidence with sophisticated analysis and interpretation, Emerson and Smith throw sharp light on the oldest American dilemma.  Despite the best intentions of evangelical leaders and some positive trends, the authors conclude that real racial reconciliation remains far over the horizon. Copyright © Oxford Unviersity Press. All rights reserved.

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Christian Smith with Michael Emerson, Sally Gallagher, Paul Kennedy, and David Sikkink. 1998.  American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Based on a national survey and hundreds of 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 and prospects for traditional religious belief and practice in the modern world.  Copyright © Unviersity of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith and Joshua Prokopy (eds.). 1999.  Latin American Religion In Motion.  New York: Routledge. 

Latin America is experiencing a genuine pluralization of faith.  This interdisciplinary volume tracks those changes, from the perspective of such diverse fields as sociology, anthropology, religious studies, political science, and Latin American studies.  The contributors tackle such issues as creolization, esoterica, and Afro-Brazilian religion in a highly accessible way.  Latin American Religion in Motion provides not only a clear sense of the extent of the transformations now under way, but also provides insight into some of the most pressing issues surrounding these momentous changes. Copyright © Routledge Press. All rights reserved.

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Christian Smith. 1996.  Resisting Reagan: The U.S. Central America Peace Movement.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

A comprehensive analysis of the U.S. Central America peace movement, Resisting Reagan explains why more than one hundred thousand U.S. citizens marched in the streets, illegally housed refugees, traveled to Central American war zones, committed civil disobedience, and hounded their political representatives to contest the Reagan administration's policy of sponsoring wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. 

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 document research, Resisting Reagan makes significant contributions to our understanding of the formation of individual activist identities, of media discourse, and of religious resources for political activism. Copyright © Unviersity of California Press. All rights reserved.

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Christian Smith (ed.). 1996.  Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social Movement Activism.  New York: Routledge. 

Religion has long played a central role in many social and political movements.  Solidarity in Poland, anti-apartheid in South Africa, Operation Rescue in the United States - each of these movements is driven by the energy and sustained by the commitment of many individuals and organizations whose ideologies are shaped and powered by religious faith.  In many cases, religious resources and motives serve as crucial variables explaining the emergence of entire social movements. 

Despite the crucial role of religion in most societies, this religious activism remains largely uninvestigated.  Disruptive Religion fills this void by analyzing contemporary social movements which are driven by people and organizations of faith.  Upon a firm base of empirical evidence, these essays also address many theoretical issues arising in the study of social movements and disruptive politics. Copyright © Routledge Press. All rights reserved. 

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Christian Smith. 1991.  The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Liberation theology is a school of Roman Catholic thought that emerged in the late 1960s in Latin America.  Teaching that a primary duty of the church must be to promote social and economic justice, liberation theologians have committed the institutional church to the poor and created a radically new model of church pastoral work.  The movement has produced progressive and revolutionary laity and clergy who have fostered active opposition to political regimes in numerous Latin American nations, resulting in the arrests, exile, torture, and murder of thousands of lay leaders, clergy, and bishops.  The liberation theology movement has also provoked a restructuring of the church institution itself, a change which continues to spread worldwide. In this book, Christian Smith explains how and why the liberation theology movement emerged and succeeded when and where it did.  He uses interviews, texts, historical documents, and statistics, culled from research conducted in North America, England, Central, and South America, to create the first comprehensive social history of the movement from 1930 to the present.  Using the political process model- a theory explaining the emergence of social movements- Smith analyzes the complex of social, political, organizational, and ideological forces and events which generated and sustain liberation theology.  Copyright © Unviersity of California Press. All rights reserved. 

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