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The Sociology of Religion

The Sociology of Religion
A Substantive and Transdisciplinary Approach

June 2008 | 464 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Using a lively narrative, The Sociology of Religion is an insightful text that investigates the facts of religion in all its great diversity, including its practices and beliefs, and then analyzes actual examples of religious developments using relevant conceptual frameworks. As a result, students actively engage in the discovery, learning, and analytical processes as they progress through the text.

Organized around essential topics and real-life issues, this unique text examines religion both as an object of sociological analysis as well as a device for seeking personal meaning in life. The book provides sociological perspectives on religion while introducing students to relevant research from interdisciplinary scholarship. Sidebar features and photographs of religious figures bring the text to life for readers.

Key Features

  • Uses substantive and truly contemporary real-life religious issues of current interest to engage the reader in a way few other texts do
  • Combines theory with empirical examples drawn from the United States and around the world, emphasizing a critical and analytical perspective that encourages better understanding of the material presented
  • Features discussions of emergent religions, consumerism, and the link between religion, sports, and other forms of popular culture
  • Draws upon interdisciplinary literature, helping students appreciate the contributions of other disciplines while primarily developing an understanding of the sociology of religion

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Instructor Resources on CD contain chapter outlines, summaries, multiple-choice questions, essay questions, and short answer questions as well as illustrations from the book. Contact Customer Care at 1-800-818-SAGE (7243) to request a copy (6:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., PST).

Intended Audience
This core text is designed for upper-level undergraduate students of Sociology of Religion or Religion and Politics.

Chapter 1 Theory
Sociological Theory and Religion  
Death and the Meaning of Life  
Classical Theory  
Emile Durkheim  
Karl Marx  
Max Weber  
The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism  
Of Priests and Prophets—Establishment versus Charisma  
Middle Sociology—World War II and its Aftermath  
Race: The Great Religious Divider in the United States  
The Evil Enemy  
Women as Other  
Religion after World War II  
Theory and Religion Today  
References and Further Reading  
Chapter 2—A Sociological History of Religion
Section i ?Premodern Religion
The Dawn of Religion  
Social Change and two Great Shifts  
Inclusive Monotheism (Henotheism)  
Exclusive Monotheism  
Transition from Paganism to Christianity  
What Happened to Paganism?  
The Role of Class  
The Role of Culture  
The Engines of Religious Change  
The Medieval Period  
Schism and Crusades  
Early Modern Period  
The Witch Craze  
Rise and Transformation of the Work Ethic  
Section ii. Religion in Modern Times
Modern Times  
Vital Religious Experience and Personal Volition: The First and Second Great Awakenings  
Religion and Race: Slavery and Its Aftermath  
American Evangelicalism  
The Rise of Progressivism and Fundamentalism  
Religion and the Rise of Modern Manhood  
American Innovation: The Democratization of Religion  
The Twentieth Century  
Civil Rights and the Vietnam War  
Fundamentalist Resurgence  
Religion after the Cold War  
Religion Today and in the Near Future  
Chapter 3 Superstition and the Supernatural
Sparta and Athens  
The Virgin Mary in a Small German Village  
Witches and the Devil in Salem  
Chapter 4 Alternative Religion
Analytical Concepts  
On the Ambiguity, Ambivalence, and Vacancy of the Self in Modern Life  
Conformity—The Case of the Latter-day Churches  
Innovation—The Case of Unitarian Universalism  
Ritualism—The Case of Roman Catholic Traditionalism  
Retreatism—Voudou in the New World  
Caribbean Variations  
Revolution—The Case of Native-American Resistance  
References and Further Reading  
Chapter 5 Religious Intolerance and Violence
Exclusive Monotheism  
Icons—Intolerance of Religious Imagery  
The Cathars—Intolerance of Heresy  
Violence and Intolerance in Modern Times  
Women’s Fundamentalism in the Middle East  
Fundamentalism in the US—The Christian Right  
Christian Violence  
Chapter 6 Evil
Sociological Relevance  
Evil Around the World  
China and Japan  
Native America  
The Persians  
Co-Discussion—“Gods and Devils” by Mark P. Worrell  
References and Further Reading  
Chapter 7 Cults
Branch Davidians—From Alternative Religion to Cult  
Charles Manson and the Family  
Degradation Rituals—The Process of Cult Initiation  
The Leader and the Message  
Heaven’s Gate  
Discussion—What Cults Really Are  
References and Further Reading  
Chapter 8 Emergent Religion
Revival and Emergence  
Beliefs and History  
Margot Adler  
Ethnographic Testimonies—Original Research  
New Evangelicalism  
The Differences  
References and Further Reading  
Chapter 9 Globalization
Haré Krishna—Indian Religion Arrives in the US  
Roman Catholicism  
Global Clashes—Russia  
Co-Discussion—Catholic Fundamentalism in Poland by Agnieszka Koscianska  
Co-Discussion—"I’m Muslim by God’s Grace; I’m Gay by God’s Grace”: Reconciling a Queer Muslim Identity in America by Mahruq Khan  
Types of Religious Experience  
References and Further Reading  
Chapter 10 Religion Beyond Religion
Heavy Metal Hierophany  
On the Road—A Journey of Discovery  
Metal and Goths—Contrasts  
Jesus, CEO  
Co-Discussion—God the Economist? Economics and Religion in an Inter-Faith Business Organization by Sadie Pendaz  
References and Further Reading  

Good overview, would be slightly difficult for students who are not only studying sociology.

Mr Lewis Simpson
Department of Health & Social Studies, Grimsby Institute of HE & FE
March 13, 2015

This text is far more insightful than texts that just go into various religions and describe the practices and rituals associated with them.

Linda Scola
Sociology, Bethune Cookman College
September 13, 2013

Excellent book which gives a detailed over view of religion. Easy too read with interesting facts.

Miss Sharron Stillyards
health and social care, northlindsey college
July 30, 2013

A very readable text, students felt it was easy to understand and clearly indexed.

Mrs Sunray Heap
General Education , Cardiff and Vale College
March 14, 2013

Nice overview, good body of general theory and balance with substantive discussion of religion.

Professor Ryan J LeCount
Sociology Anthropology Dept, Purdue University
January 28, 2010
Key features

The goal of this book is to engage students with interesting material, and not just convey accurate information or discipline-defining concepts. 


The inductive and substantive approach takes actual examples, constructed using scholarship from sociology and related disciplines, and presents them chapter by chapter, much as a field researcher pursues empirical knowledge about real-life developments in religion.


Actively engages students in a learning process, in the same way a scholar actively pursues knowledge in the field and then interprets findings through conceptual frameworks.


Each chapter presents relevant concepts to interpret religious developments, much as a researcher interprets their findings.


This book will teach students how to interpret established empirical knowledge.


This book is interdisciplinary while maintaining a focus on sociology, teaching students sociological perspectives on religion while drawing on relevant scholarship in other disciplines.


This focused yet interdisciplinary perspective helps students contextualize religious experience across different cultures and disciplines, making the book pedagogically interesting and relevant to their daily lives.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1 - Theory

Chapter 5 - Religious Intolerance and Aggression

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