Sociology of religion: A critical primer


"Dr. Walter Jensen’s Sociology of religion: A critical primer is not the traditional survey of various social theorists conceptions of the social substance, value, function, and telos of what is generically called “religion.” Rather, in this book the author presents an overview of the fundamental issues and questions that comprise one of the most important topics that is critically inherent to and addressed in the study of the sociology of religion; namely, that of historical divide if not antagonism between the religious and the secular, or as the author states it, between “secularization and de-secularization.” The field of Sociology, and thus the sub-field of the Sociology of Religion, was developed as an academic discipline in the 19th century. From very beginning of this sociological sub-field, modernity’s problematic with the social relationship between the religious and the secular was an inherent topic of study, which was quite differently addressed by such “classical” theorists as Karl Marx, Emil Durkheim, and Max Weber. Jensen gives expression to the arguments on religion by these theorists, and then addresses the substantive positions on religion in modernity by four 20th century sociologists, e.g., the phenomenologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, Rodney Stark and the school of Rational Choice Theory, and the “multiple modernities” British social theorist Grace Davie. The author ends his Primer by a substantive overview of the dialectical or Critical Theory of religion as developed by the leading first generation members of the Frankfurt School, focusing particularly on the work of Max Horkheimer, Th. W. Adorno, and Erich Fromm. For anyone – students and/or general readers – who want to better understand this fundamental modern antagonism between the religious and the secular and its continuing consequence within the context of contemporary global issues, I recommend Dr. Jensen’s book as an excellent place to start."
Michael R. Ott, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology, Emeritus
Grand Valley State University
Allendale, Michigan

"Dr. Jensen offers both students and scholars a succinct overview of a particular line of discourse within the field of comparative religion. Well-written works on social theory are in short supply. Rarer still are works on the critical sociology of religion. Jensen’s work on the subjects of religion, critical theory and sociology offers something for the student in each of these disciplines. Because it is clear and readable, I especially recommend this book for the new student of comparative religion. As a distillation of many years of scholarship, this text will make a valuable starting point for any who wish to enter into this socially relevant conversation."
Robert W. VanSumeren,
M.A. in Comparative Religion
Juris Doctor Candidate (2018)

"Sociology of religion: A critical primer is an excellent overview and succinct discussion of the definitions of religion and the theories of all the major players in the sociology of religion: Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Berger, Luckmann, Stark, and Davie. Dr. Jensen also illuminates and critically analyzes the secularization / desecularization debate. Finally, he presents a clear and accessible overview of Dr. Rudolf Siebert’s critical theory of religion. This is a gem that I wish existed when I was beginning my studies in the sociology of religion."
Michelle D. Fether-Samtouni, M.A.
Professor of Sociology
Oakland Community College

"Dr. Jensen's first book is a brilliant introduction to the critical sociology of religion. The Sociology of religion: A critical primer is written with great clarity and presents the latest research in the study of religion. With this book students and scholars will gain an excellent sociological understanding of religion."
Rudolf J. Siebert, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion and Society
Western Michigan University

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Abstract: Written with the aim of increasing public interest in the study of religion, this primer makes available, to both the student and layman alike, a substantial amount of practical information about the modern non-theological study of religion. Focusing on three key areas of interest -- (1) the difficulties in defining religion, (2) the secularization / desecularization debate, and (3) an overview of Prof. Rudolf J. Siebert's (b.1927) critical theory of religion -- the reader will easily gain a broad, but thorough, overview of the sociology of religion.

Book snippet 1: "The critical theory of religion, a phrase coined by Prof. Siebert in the late 1970s, is the collection of the Frankfurt School's critical theorist's analyses of religion - scattered throughout their works - to explain (1) how religion is being used to maintain our modern bourgeois 'civil society' and (2) how authoritarian religious traditions (Fromm 1978) hinder further human evolution. Since Horkheimer was the founder of the critical theory and the 1st, 2nd, and current generation of critical theorists relies on his work, I will only focus on Horkheimer's analysis of religion, since it is the bases for Adorno's, Walter Benjamin's (1892-1940), and Fromm's critical theories of religion. But before I begin this explanation, returning to our building analogy, we must construct the so-called 'walls' of the critical theory of religion, those being (1) the non-theological study of theodicy; (2) Horkheimer's definition of religion; (3) his assessment of religion; and (4) his answer to the question 'why so many modern humans maintain their religious faith?'"

Book snippet 2: Discussing Roger Finke and Rodney Stark’s The churching of America (2006), "Think of it this way, if in 1776, 17% of the U.S. population was “churched,” what was the other 83% of the population? Were they a combination of atheists, deists, and agnostics? In addition, how many of the 83% were religious but were not included into Finke’s and Stark’s statistical model? Or, is Finke and Stark rejecting the historical fact that a great majority of European immigrants — who fled their native lands to escape religious and/or secular persecution — came to the U.S. in order to form or join new religious communities? Due to the failure of Finke and Stark to address these concerns, one is forced to conclude that the ‘17% fact’ — and all that it implies — is religiously driven, not grounded in science, and devoid of truth. In addition to this glowing error of exclusion, there are Finke’s and Stark’s statistical problems. First, there is the problem of over 100 years worth of missing data. In order to ‘fill in the blanks,’ Finke and Stark “created an independent model of the increase in church membership rates from 1800 through 1926” by “converting an estimated membership of 8.5 percent to an adherence rate” (1986: 187). Talk about a ‘leap of faith!’ The second statistical problem, which is more an error than a problem, is high collinearity ... But Breault is not the only one who spotted Finke’s and Stark’s statistical error (Olson 1998; 1999; 2000). According to Voas, Crockett, and Olson (2002:212-230), writing on how the previous decade (1992-2002) of research concerning religious pluralism and religious commitment has been ‘wrong,’ religious “pluralism actually has little to no effect on participation” (227) and what little influence it has creates religious indifference. Due to these major structural errors, Finke and Stark’s evidence for desecularization must be rejected."

 1. What is religion? .........................001
 2. Secularization vs desecularization:
    The evidence ..............................035
 3. The critical theory of religion:
    The house that Siebert built ..............069
 Addendum .....................................101
 References ...................................103

Supplemental Materials:
* Theodicy Dilemma Flowchart
* Five Solas: A sociological review of the primary dogmas of Protestantism

Copyright 2015 Walter A. Jensen
U.S. Copyright Record #: TXu 1-987-151
Not available in any electronic or digital format on the World Wide Web.
ISBN-13: 978-0-9704919-2-3
ISBN-13: 9780970491923
Publisher: Printmill - Kalamazoo, MI
First published: August 24, 2015
BISAC Subject Code: SOC039000
Length: 8.5"
Width: 5.5"
Depth: 0.3"
Weight: 0.488 pounds
Library Call #: BL60.J46 2015
Publication Flyers for: Social Scientists, Grad Students, and the General Public.

Last Updated 08/26/2020

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