Academic Programs 

Religion as a Social Phenomenon: The Sociology of Religion   (RS-536)
  Fall 2005

All religion is a social phenomenon. Although faith has a private dimension, human beings experience religion in groups or through forms created by social organizations. Much can be learned about religion from a sociological perspective, from reading classical sociological theories of religious organization and practice including those of Weber, Durkheim, and Marx. However, be forewarned, "It is the conviction of many thoughtful persons that the objective study of religion is at best impossible, and at worst dangerous." Milton Yinger, Religion, Society and the Individual


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Tuesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:50 p.m., beginning September 20 

Grace Davie
Adjunct Professor of Religion and Society and Professor of Sociology at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom  

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500



Course Syllabus

Course aim

The aim of this course is to understand more fully, and from a sociological perspective, the place of religion in human societies.  The empirical material will be drawn from many different examples, both Christian and other, and from many different parts of the modern world. 

From a conceptual point of view, the course will challenge the notion that modernization necessarily implies secularization.  In so doing it will raise important theoretical issues best expressed as a question:  are the theoretical frameworks currently in use in the sociology of religion up to the task?  If not, what can be done about this given the increasing salience of religion in the modern world order.

Learning outcomes

Subject-specific skills.  The acquisition of knowledge in the field, i.e. an understanding of the place of religion in the modern world which takes into account appropriate historical and theoretical perspectives.

Core academic skills.  The ability to relate a body of knowledge to a specific historical context. Competence in thinking clearly and arguing logically about contemporary – as  well as historical – material. The ability to articulate complex ideas both orally and in writing .

Personal and key skills. Independent study and group work. The ability to select appropriately from a wide range of material and to present key arguments clearly. The capacity to empathize with religious positions and to appreciate that the familiar is not necessarily the norm.

Course requirements

During the course:

Each student will:

(a) complete a 500 word review of a book relevant to the course content.  Careful instruction about writing such a review will be given in class.

This assignment is worth 15% of the final mark.

(b) complete a project involving empirical work of some kind.  The choice of these projects will be determined individually and will reflect the student’s own interests.  A short report  (1500 - 2000 words) must be made on the project.  Careful preparation for this assignment will be built into the course outline.

This assignment is worth 25% of the final mark

On completion of the course:

Each student is required to write a 3-3500 word essay on a topic related to the course.  The topic can be selected from a list or chosen by the student, but the title (together with a one paragraph description of the paper and a short bibliography), must be agreed with the course leader before the end of the course. 

This assignment is worth 50% of the final mark

Due date:  16 December 2005

The final 10% of the mark reflects the student’s participation in and contributions to class discussion.

Assessment criteria

See “Grading Guidelines” and “General Guidelines for a Research Paper” (to be distributed).

Course content

The early parts of this course are relatively prescriptive and will be directed by the course leader.  They deal mostly with theoretical approached to the subject.  The latter parts of the course will be increasingly student driven and their precise content will depend on the experience, interests and expertise of the group.  Here the emphasis lies on empirical cases.

Each class will involve a lecture and participatory work.

List of dates and topics   Please regard these as indicative.  The final sessions will be put in place following a class discussion – they are intended to reflect the interests of the people present.  Topical events will be included as they occur.

20 September                  Introduction and planning

27 September                  Definitions of religion

4 October                        The Classics (Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim)

11 October                      Methodologies/ written assignments/ projects

18 October                      Secularization

25 October                      Rational Choice Theory

1 November                     Religion and Modernity 1

8 November                     Case study 1: Patterns of religion in modern Europe

15 November                   Case study 2: Patterns of religion in modern America

22 November                   Reading week (a good time to complete the book review and the research project)

29 November                   Case study 3:  To be decided

6 December                     Case study 4:  To be decided

13 December                   Religion and Modernity 2;  Conclusion to the course

Each student will have additional time (either individually or in groups) to discuss their  personal assignments (the book review, the project, and the final essay).           

Outline reading

Please note items marked with an ** (required reading), * (useful resources for the course as a whole).


For the course as a whole

** P. Berger  The Desecularization of the World.  Resurgent Religion and World Politics.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans 1999

** G. Davie  Europe:  the Exceptional Case.  London:  Darton, Longman and Todd, 2002

* R. Wuthnow (ed.)  The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion.  London:  Routledge 1998

* W. Swatos (ed)  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Society.  Walnut Creek, CA:  Alta Mira Press, 1998 (available online through http://www.

* M. McGuire  Religion and the Social Context.  Florence KY:  Wadsworth Publishing 2001

* K. Christiano, W. Swatos and P. Kivisto  The Sociology of Religion:  Contemporary Developments.  Walnut Creek CA: Alta Mira Press 2001

* R. Fenn  Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion.  Oxford:  OUP 2002

* M. Dillon  Handbook of the Sociology of Religion.  Cambridge:  CUP 2003

*  P. Jenkins  The Next Christendom:  the Coming of Global Christianity.  Oxford: OUP 2002

*  D. Martin  A General Theory of Secularization. Oxford:  Blackwell, 1978

P. Heelas et al (ed.)  Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity.  Oxford: Blackwell 1998

L. Woodhead et al.  Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations, London:  Routledge 2002

S. Bruce  God is Dead:  Secularization in the West.  Oxford:  Blackwell, 2001

S. Bruce  Politics and Religion.  Cambridge:  Polity Press 2003

J. Beckford   Social Theory and Religion.  Cambridge: CUP 2003


Material on Europe

European Values Study (

* G Davie  Religion in Britain since 1945:  Believing without Belonging.  Oxford: Blackwell 1994

* G. Davie  Religion in Modern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000

R. Rémond   Religion and Society in Modern Europe.  Oxford: Blackwell 1999

A. Greeley  A Sociological Profile of Religion in Europe at the End of the Second Millennium.  Somerset NJ:  Transaction Books 

H. McLeod and W. Ustorf (eds)  The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe.  Cambridge: CUP 2003


Material on the United States

American Religion Data Archive (

T. Caplow  'Contrasting trends in European and American Religion', Sociological Analysis (2) 1985

K. Hadaway., P. Marler and M. Chaves (1993) ‘What the polls don’t show: a closer look at church attendance’, ASR  (58) 1993.  See also the follow up discussion in ASR  (63) 1998.

N. Ammerman  Congregation and Community.  New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press 1997

N. Ammerman  Pillars of Faith:  American Congregations and their Partners.  Berkeley: University of California Press 2005.

W.C. Roof  A Generation of Seekers. San Francisco: Harper Collins 1993

W.C. Roof  The Spiritual Marketplace.  Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press

A. Wolfe  The Transformation of American Religion.  New York: Free Press  2003

R. Wuthnow  The Restructuring of American Religion,  Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press 1989

R. Wuthnow  After Heaven.  Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press 1999.


Please note

The first two texts on this list are required reading.  The remainder have been chosen to indicate the range of resources available to the student.  A more detailed list will be supplied on the first day of the course, suggesting readings for each session.   Each student will be assigned a particular reading to bring to class.  Supplementary material will be provided depending upon the case studies selected.

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