Sociology 603: Contemporary Sociological Theories About Religion

University of Alberta
Department of Sociology
Instructor: Dr. Stephen A. Kent

Sociology 603: Contemporary Sociological Theories About Religion

Required Book:

William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style. (any edition). New York: Macmillian, 1979 (or more recent).

Academic Skills Centre, Notes on the Preparation of Essays in the Arts and Sciences. 4th ed. Peterborough: Trent University, 1993 (including the 2000 insert by Karen Taylor, Documenting Electronic Sources) [Note: With my permission, you can substitute this book with another manual of style that you own.]

Required Articles: Please see the attached list, all of which will be available as a course pack.

Course Purpose and Objectives: This reading course intends to introduce and critically analyze numerous newer sociological theories related to religion. It will trace their origins, locate them within broader intellectual traditions, show their contemporary applications, and offer contemporary critiques. Depending upon student interest, meetings will combine lectures with class presentations and audio-visual material that will illustrate key theoretical issues. Students will write a research paper of about twenty pages, and make class presentations on various theoretical issues. The professor will determine meeting times that are convenient for interested students.

PLEASE NOTE: If a situation arises that will affect your performance in the course, then I expect to be informed immediately. Either speak with me directly or leave a note or phone message with instructions as to how I can contact you. Only approved absences from presentations, according to a strict interpretation of university rules, will be allowed. I require a WRITTEN note of explanation, clearly signed (with an accompanying phone number) from an `official’ of some sort (i.e., a doctor’s slip, a tow truck or mechanic’s bill, a police report, etc.).

Grading: Each student will have to make two major class presentations on aspects of the theoretical premises and legacies of specific intellectual currents within the sociology of religion. In addition, students will write an original research paper of at least twenty pages on some aspect of sociological theory as applied to religion in relation to issues that we discuss in class. During the final class, each person will present their term papers to the class in presentations that will run NO MORE THAN fifteen minutes. Together the presentations will be worth 60% of the grade, and the paper will be worth 40%. You are to type me a note that contains your proposed research topic, along with a tentative line of argument that you plan to pursue and an initial bibliography. If I approve of your topic and idea, then I will return the note to you, signed and with comments. You must assume responsibility, however, for ensuring that sufficient library material exists for you to complete your paper successfully. Each person must meet either with me and show me your major sources, your manual of style, several pages of text, and several bibliography entries. During the class close to or on November 3rd, each person will bring to class at least 5 typed pages of his or her term paper and exchange it with the other students, who will offer helpful comments about writing, style, coherence of argument, etc. Feedback about style, grammar, etc., will depend heavily on advice found in The Elements of Style, as will my own assessment of the final product. Students who do not show up at this class with at least 5 typed pages for peer review will be penalized one numeric mark on the term paper. I will provide examples of typical writing problems that will help facilitate the peer feedback process.

I will record the grades for each aspect of the course as a letter grade, which then translates into the four-point scale for the final grade according to the following scale:

Descriptor Letter Grade Point Value
A+ 4.0
A- 3.7

B+ 3.3
GOOD B 3.0
B- 2.7

C+ 2.3
C- 1.7

Poor D+ 1.3
Minimal Pass D 1.0
Failure F 0

The following is a list of theories whose developments people can choose to trace, discuss, and critic in class. Please realize, however, that I am open to other theories and research topics:

1. The transformation from relative deprivation theory to resource mobilization theory to new social movements theory

Reading: Singh, Rajendra.2001. Social Movements, Old and New. New Delhi: Sage; Chapter 4: “The Theory of Social Movements: Old and New,” pp. 87-131.

2. Stark and Bainbridge’s rational choice theory


3. Church/sect theory and the ‘cult/new religious movement’ debate

Reading: Stark, Rodney; and William Sims Bainbridge. 1985. The Future of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press. Chapter 2: “Of Churches, Sects, and Cults,” pp. 19-37.

4. Secularization theory

Reading: Wallis, Roy; and Steve Bruce. 1992. “Secularization: The Orthodox Model;” in Steve Bruce (ed.) Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis. Chapter 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press: 8-30; also in Steve Bruce (ed.) The Sociology of Religion , Volume 1. Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Company (1995): 693-715.

5. A comparative study of sociology or religion and/or religious studies texts

6. Identity and fundamentalisms in cultural representations of religion

7. Orientalism and Occidentalism

Reading: Clarke, J.J. 1997. Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian ans Western Thought. London: Routledge; Chapter 11: “Reflections and Reorientations,” pp. 181-209; notes on 236-238.

8. Nationalism and religion

Reading: Jurgensmeyer, Mark. 1993. The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State. Berkeley: University of California Press; Introduction: The Rise of Religious Nationalism,” pp. 1-8; and Chapter One: “The Loss of Faith in Secular Nationalism,” pp 11-25. (Endnotes on pp, 302-208.

9. Ethnicity and religion

Readings: Smith, Anthony D. “Chosen Peoples.” From “chosen Peoples : why Ethnic Groups Survive.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 15 No. 3 (1992): 440-449; reproduced in John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (eds.) Ethnicity. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1996): 189-197.

Enloe, Cynthia. “Religion and Ethnicity.” In P. Sugar (Ed.). Ethnic Diversity and Conflict in Eastern Europe. ABC-Clio 1980b: 350-360; reproduced in John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (eds.) Ethnicity. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1996): 197-202.

10. Brainwashing

Reading: Zablocki, Benjamin. 1997. “The Blacklisting of a Concept: The Strange History of the Brainwashing Conjecture in the Sociology of Religion.” Nova Religio 1 No. 1 (October): 98-121.

11. Globalization and religion

Reading: Casanova, José. 2001. “Religion, the New Millennium, and Globalization.” Sociology of Religion 62 No.4 (Winter): 415-441.

12. Civil religion(s)

Reading: Bellah, Robert N. 1967. “Civil Religion in America.” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Winter); Reprinted in Patrick H. McNamara (ed.), Religion: North American Style. Second Edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth (1984): 39-52.