Although it may be argued that all the sciences can trace their roots in some measure or other to religion inasmuch as religion dominated institutional scholarship well into the nineteenth century, sociology is unique in that its formal origin was actually cast in the context of a new putatively religious movement. The term sociology was coined by Auguste Comte in his Cours de philosophie positive (1830842); for Comte la sociologie was nothing less than the capstone of the new religion of positivism, replacing older theological or philosophical principles for social organization with those of science. Sociologists were to be nothing less than the "high priests" of this new moral order. The coining of a term does not a science make, however, and the fact that "sociology" received relatively quick and widespread acceptance among diverse constituencies suggests that Comte created an acceptable label for an intellectual movement that was already in process in the nineteenth centuryamely, the two-fold premise that human social behavior could be studied with the same investigative canons that are applied to other "natural" phenomena and that human social behavior was irreducible to psychological or biophysical explanations.
Although the explicitly religious expression given to sociology went with Comte to his grave, virtually all of the leading lights of early sociology devoted considerable attention to aspects of religious lifehat religion is, how it works, how it came into being, why it persists or recedes. These questions were among the most burning that early sociologists confronted. Karl Marx, ile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Herbert Spencer, and others whose work spanned the transition from the nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries tried to comprehend the role of religion within the larger sociocultural setting that makes human existence possible. Each realized that religion was a uniquely human experience, without any analog in the animal world, that, in the past at least, seemed to have had a controlling effect on the way people lived.
These early sociologists provided different images of religion, raising different kinds of questions. Through these images, however, runs a single themeeligion and social change. Marx throughout his work saw religion as a significant part of structural systems of oppression. Durkheim in his crucial work The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, published in 1912 at the culmination of his career, saw religion maintaining social order or equilibrium. Weber, in a brilliant series of essays known as The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (originally published serially in German from 1904 to 1905, and issued in English as a single volume in 1930), saw religion as a vehicle for enabling social change.
Sociology in America: the early years
Although the roots of sociology are certainly European, the discipline came to fullest flower in the United States. Its course was by no means singular. The first book to use the word in its title was the Treatise on Sociology (1854) by the apologist for slavery Henry Hughes, who with George Fitzhugh and Stephen Pearl Andrews attempted to formulate an American sociology according to a peculiar reading of Comte that would hardly be recognizable by anyone in the field today. The Confederate loss of the American Civil War and Hughes's death in it largely ended this line of development. Of much more sustained influence were the writings of Herbert Spencer, and it was William Graham Sumner, a Spencerian, who taught the first course in sociology ever offered in the United States at Yale in 1876. Sumner, who was ordained within the Episcopal Church (though he apparently did not officiate once at Yale), was an enormously popular professor: "no one was supposed to have 'done' Yale as a gentleman should," Albion Small recorded in 1916, "without having taken at least one course with 'Billy' Sumner" (p. 732).
A further influence was that of Christian sociology, an American variant of British Christian socialism. Explicitly introduced by J. H. W. Stuckenberg's Christian Sociology (1880), the Christian sociology movement experienced a groundswell of interest in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, particularly through the Chautauqua movement and "summer schools" at Oberlin College in Ohio and Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. Christian sociology might well have become the dominant mode in America society had it not been for a series of circumstances, ironically arising out of this very movement, that led to Albion Small establishing the first free-standing department of sociology in the United States at the University of Chicago in 1893.
Brought to Chicago by Chautauqua-inspired, Rockefeller-funded William Rainey Harper, Small walked a series of tightropes to shape a distinctive American sociology. First, he courted Lester Frank Ward, termed by Samuel Chugerman in his 1939 biography "the American Aristotle," in many ways the first American sociologist in his own right, who only late in his life received a university connection (at Brown University in Rhode Island). Ward was important to Small because Ward offered a Comtean alternative to the proslavery apologists that at the same time moved away from Sumner's exposition of Spencer's evolutionismlthough there were, in fact, connections between Ward and Spencer through the Unitarian theologian M. J. Savage. Second, in what may well have been his most important single institutional step, Small founded the American Journal of Sociology in 1895, which became his personal implement for the operational definition of sociology in America and the invention of its history. Third, Small simultaneously courted and distanced himself from Christian sociology by enlisting the liberal University of Chicago theologian Shailer Matthews to write a series of articles in the first issues of this new journal, which effectively redefined Christian sociology to exclude the positions of the most ardent advocates of Christian sociology. Fourth, he built an empirical sociological style that came to define American sociology for the first half of the twentieth century: sociology of the Chicago School.
In addition to a large collection of volumes dealing with a variety of issues generated by the burgeoning urban life of Chicago, the Chicago School also initiated a distinct American theoretical approach, most generally known as symbolic interactionism, through the work particularly of George Herbert Mead, William Isaac Thomas, and Charles Horton Cooley. Although symbolic interactionism has become a diversified cluster of approaches, associated with universities where its different proponents have settled, the perspective continues to find its roots in the work of these scholars and has been revivified in social constructionist or situationalist theories among contemporary sociologists.
American sociology: tradition and transitions
By the end of World War II, American sociology dominated the profession throughout the world. In many respects, American sociology was sociology. World War I wreaked havoc among European sociologists. A number of the most promising young French sociologists were killed in the war, and Durkheim, Simmel, and Weber died of natural causes within three years of each other at the end of the war. The Great Depression, followed by the next war and the Nazi pogroms of the Jews, largely devastated the European intellectual currents most sympathetic to sociological scholarship. Some of those scholars managed to escape to the United States from the ravages of fascism and became part of the movement toward American dominance of the field.
During this period, American sociology sought to distance itself further not merely from religion, but from applied concerns in general. The social conditions of the depression followed by the exigencies of war made glib social pronouncements vacuous, while increasing the demand for "hard data" upon which to devise and implement programs for change. The depression and World War II served to underwrite empiricism, as various funding agencies poured money into research. Though not necessarily in agreement themselves, figures such as Harry Elmer Barnes, Luther L. Bernard, F. Stuart Chapin, William Fielding Ogburn, and especially George Lundberg, who answered his rhetorical soteriological query Can Science Save Us? (1947) with unfettered assurance, nevertheless produced a more rigorously empirical discipline, with little use for higher-order analyses. Under Samuel Stouffer, a multivolume American Soldier series beginning in 1949 was produced, innovations were made in content analysis through captured enemy documents, and Paul Lazarsfeld led studies at Columbia, a historic center of sociological empiricism, on the effects on public opinion of radio propaganda.
Small died in 1926, and his mantle at Chicago fell to Robert E. Park. Although Park is arguably more distinguished than Small in his lasting intellectual contributions, times had changed sufficientlyn part a testimony to the success of Small's enterpriseo that a single institution could not expect to exercise the kind of disciplinary hegemony that Small had managed to effect at the turn of the century. The final sign of the dehegemonization of the Chicago School was the establishment of the American Sociological Review as the "official journal" of the American Sociological Society (now the American Sociological Association, hence ASA) in 1935. The American Journal of Sociology continues to be published, and vies with the American Sociological Review in various ranking systems for the "most important" in the profession.
The Chicago School was by no means out of touch with the profession, however, and in the 1930s brought a young, European-educated Harvard professor named Talcott Parsons to discuss the role of theory in research. Later, Chicago would bring Parsons's sometime coauthor Edward Shils to its faculty. Revisioning the field and in so doing founding Harvard's Department of Social Relations, Parsons's functionalism, a unique attempt to merge Durkheim and Weber, came to dominate American sociology for the larger part of two decades, reaching its quintessence in Kingsley Davis's triumphalist presidential address to the ASA in 1959: "The Myth of Functional Analysis as a Special Method in Sociology and Anthropology." Moreover, a friendship that grew between Parsons's former student Robert K. Merton and Paul Lazarsfeld as they both served on the Columbia faculty (1954) did much to heal the rift between empirical and theoretical sociological styles.
In that process, Talcott Parsonsarticularly, but certainly not only, as the translator of the Protestant ethic essayslso "brought religion back in" as a field for sociological inquiry. But because he did it in the context of an attempt to synthesize Durkheim and Weber, who had far more differences than commonalities, he created an odd construction of religion that focused on a particular historical mode of religious organization that delegitimated religion as an independent variable. The outcome came to be articulated under the rubric of secularization theory, though as this ideology was recrafted it turned from something largely positive in Parsons's specific use to something negative, particularly at the hands of popular essayist Will Herberg.
Although Parsonian functionalism remained the primary mode of sociological analysis into the early 1960s, it was increasingly challenged by neo-Marxist sociologies. Columbia sociologist C. Wright Millsho, ironically, was the other major American importer of Webernd German sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf became two exemplars of the new styles of analysis. Mills was strident and politically active; Dahrendorf was a more dispassionate exemplar of leftist theory. The succeeding decades brought diverse elaborations of alternative themes in the work of such figures as Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and Immanuel Wallerstein. Because the reaction against Parsons's functionalism had Marxist leanings, sociology again distanced itself from religion. This breach was to some extent restored by the emergence of Latin American liberation theologies, which used Marxist categories for Christian ends.
Far more significant to the field as a whole, however, was the collapse of the Soviet system beginning in 1989 and the role of religious actors on the global sociopolitical scene as early as 1979. It could be argued that sociology at the beginning of the twenty-first century is in a state of theoretical fragmentation and fermentation, as no single paradigm exercises disciplinary hegemony, and critiques of "grand narratives" based on postmodernist understandings make disciplinary consensus difficult to achieve. As an alternative to postmodernist nihilism, however, globalization theory, as evidenced, for example, in the work of Roland Robertson, offers itself as a viable construct for integrating diverse social phenomena and expressions. Considering the world (or globe) as the unit of analysis, globalization theory takes some of its cues from Parsons in its differentiation between the universal and the particular as a major axis for understanding social action, but it draws toward conflict theory inasmuch as it recognizes the importance of particularistic universalisms and universalistic particularities as dynamics of destabilization and reintegration of social systems. By recognizing that in the high-technology multinational capitalism that characterizes late-modern society all social and cultural forms are potentially interrelated to all others, globalization theory allows for the full interplay of all institutional sectors, including religion, within the explanatory structure of social action. Reaching back, then, into the early American sociology of W. I. Thomas, which Parsons himself intimated in an essay in his 1977 Social Systems and the Evolution of Action Theory (p. 48), is the basis of Parson's own "pattern variables" approach within social theory; globalization reinvigorates the study of religion as a category of human action precisely because of its effects within the global systemeligion is real because it is real in its effects. As a macro form of Thomas's situationalism, globalization theory achieves what Durkheim attempted to do in removing truth questions from the study of social phenomena (including religion), but could not accomplish using a functionalist definition of social institutions.
Sociology of religion
Because of the intimate relationship between the founding of sociology and its concern with investigating questions of religion, the sociology of religion was among the earliest of the field's subdisciplines, yet, in the United States especially, was among the last to be institutionalized formally in the sectional substructure of the ASAhough it is now among the largest. In most respects, the course of development of the sociology of religion reflects issues and strategies of the larger discipline on the one hand, and general social issues on the other. Especially after the 1950s, leadership from general sociology permeated the sociology of religion and vice versa. For example, J. Milton Yinger wrote crucial texts for the field in the 1960s and 1970s, and was subsequently elected president of the ASA. Similarly, Talcott Parsons was among the founders and one of the first presidents of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (as well as a president of the ASA). In other cases, sociologists of religion were among the first to challenge the diffident scientism of the late 1930s and 1940s. Catholic sociologist Paul Hanly Furfey's critique of Lundberg's Can Science Save Us? remains a classic in general theory. And it is in the Catholic sociology movement of the late 1930s that the Association for the Sociology of Religion finds its roots.
The 1980s began to see an important shift in sociology of religion approaches in the United States, characterized by what R. Stephen Warner has termed a "new paradigm." The new paradigm particularly shifted away from the secularization model that had dominated sociology from its earliest days and came to emphasize religion as more than either epiphenomenon or residue. In his presidential address to the Southern Sociological Society in 1987, Jeffrey K. Hadden led a direct assault on the core principles of the secularization model. Currently, the new paradigm is most actively pursued through the "supply side" or "rational choice" modeling of a group of scholars whose perspective and conclusions are most fully articulated in Rodney Stark and Roger Finke's Acts of Faith (2001), but that rest upon the premise that religious decisions and action patterns are undertaken by people using the same kinds of processes, social or psychological, as characterize all other forms of decision making and action pattern formation view that draws heavily upon the work of contemporary Chicago economics professor Gary Becker.
Sociology of knowledge
The sociology of science has usually been treated as a major theme within the sociology of knowledge, which has had close ties with the sociology of religion. Max Weber, for example, tends to use the terms secularization and intellectualization interchangeably. Secularization refers primarily to a change in epistemological frames; in other words, theological or religious categories no longer provide the major frame of analysis through which everyday life experiences are understood. To the larger debate on the nature of science, Weber also contributed the widely cited essay "Science as a Vocation" ("Wissenschaft als Beruf," perhaps more accurately translated "Scholarship as a Calling," delivered in 1917, published in 1919, and translated into English in 1946). This essay specifically identified detached academic investigation with the Lutheran concept of vocation or calling, ending (as does the Protestant ethic series) with a biblical quote and a prophetic call.
Weber also indirectly influenced the sociology of science through the work of Robert K. Merton, whose Ph.D. thesis, published as Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-Century England (1938) used the style of Weber's Protestant ethic thesis to argue for a relationship between Protestantism and the rise of modern science (now known as the Merton thesis). Other major contributions within the sociology of knowledge include Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia (1936) and Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks (written between 1926 and 1937), which is particularly important for Gramsci's treatment of hegemony. Although not strictly sociology, Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) must be considered a crucial work for any subsequent sociology of knowledge. In addition to these theoretical contributions, there has also been an enormous volume of empirical work on the demographic, educational, sociocultural, and other background characteristics of people who become scientists, and to a lesser extent to the processes by which scientific communication takes place.
See also LIBERATION THEOLOGY
Bannister, Robert C. Sociology and Scientism: The American Quest for Objectivity, 1880-1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
Lazarsfeld, Paul F., and Merton, Robert K. "Friendship as a Social Process: A Substantive and Methodological Analysis." In Freedom and Control in Modern Society, ed. Monroe Berger, Theodore Abel, and Charles Hunt Page. New York: Van Nostrand, 1954.
Martindale, Don. The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.
Parsons, Talcott. Social Systems and the Evolution of Action Theory. New York: Free Press, 1977.
Small, Albion W. "Fifty Years of Sociology in the United States." American Journal of Sociology 21 (1916): 72164.
Swatos, William H., Jr. Faith of the Fathers: Science, Religion, and Reform in the Development of Early American Sociology. Bristol, Ind.: Wyndham Hall Press, 1984.
Vidich, Arthur J., and Lyman, Stanford M. American Sociology: Worldly Rejections of Religion and their Directions. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985.
WILLIAM H. SWATOS, JR.
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