Sociology of Religion Here’s an old syllabus: spring 2012 will be somewhat similar but with some different readings. Updated syllabus will be posted later

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Fall 2009 Paul Lichterman

Religion 468 Office hours:

University of Southern California Mondays 10:00-11:30, or

by appointment

KAP 356,

Sociology of Religion

Course Description
Are religious differences tearing Americans apart over issues such as abortion and gay marriage? Can religious groups offer better social welfare services than government agencies? Hasn’t religious belief been dying in the U.S.? Why even talk about "religion" when everyone has her or his own spirituality anyway? These are just a few of the questions we ask as sociologists of religion. This course introduces you to sociological concepts and findings that you can use to study religion's social effects, and also to understand better what you read everyday in the newspaper about religion in society.

This is a course in how to think about what religion does in society, and what people do with religion. It is not an introduction to all the religions practiced in the U.S. The bulk of our studies will treat a variety of Christian and Jewish practices in the United States since the 1960s. The course assumes that you are interested in learning sociological concepts that we can apply to religion. The course does not presume any particular religious faith on your part.

Our specific goals in this course are to:

•learn different sociological concepts for understanding religion in a modern society

•learn about enormous transformations in the U.S. religious landscape in the past forty years

•learn about different forms of public religious expression in the post-1960s U.S.

Prerequisites: A sociology course is recommended before taking this course, but not required. If you are taking this course without any sociology background, you will need to take the initiative to learn unfamiliar concepts, and ask questions whenever necessary.
Expectations: A discussion-intensive course with small research projects is familiar to some students, but not to others. We will not have midterms or a final. We will have take-home essays and two, small, independent research projects. We will have a lot of discussion. Participation in class discussions is crucial. Participation means more than active listening—it means talking, asking questions, pursuing ideas out loud, being willing to agree or disagree with classmates out loud. Good attendance is crucial.
By enrolling in the course, you are agreeing to read assigned materials thoughtfully, in time for class discussion. You are agreeing to take yourself and others seriously in class discussions. If I cannot tell whether or not students have done the reading conscientiously, I may ask you to answer questions in writing, in class, and grade these on-the-spot quizzes.
Our readings include selections from these books, available from the bookstore:
Wade Clark Roof. 1999. Spiritual Marketplace. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

Lynn Davidman. 1991. Tradition in a Rootless World. Berkeley: University of California

Christian Smith. 1998. American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Chicago:

Univ. of Chicago Press.

Robert Wuthnow. 2005. America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.

Paul Lichterman. 2005. Elusive Togetherness. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Some of our readings are photocopied articles and chapters; these will be available in a course reader.

Course Requirements


Participation in class, and any quizzes =15%
Two essay assignments (see schedule),

#1 worth 20% + #2 worth 25% = 45%

Two projects (see schedule), each worth 20% = 40%
Participation and presentations may sway your grade up or down, especially if the grade is near a borderline.
One of our main goals for class time is to have engaging discussions that welcome different contributions from people with different levels of experience with social science. It’s a tricky art. We need to bring to it our good will and openness to learning from everyone.
Description of requirements
ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: Regular attendance and participation are required. We sometimes will discuss concepts that are not available in readings. Some of the required materials for this course—newspaper articles, research documents, for instance—are available only in class. Some of the learning in this course will emerge through discussion rather than through lecture alone. I will take attendance on occasion. Please be polite, turn off and don’t use cell phones or other communication devices during our course. We’re here to talk and listen; you’ll like it a lot more without interruptions.
BRIEF PRESENTATIONS: We will have “kick-starts” roughly once a week. The point of these is to offer comments (3-5 minutes, no more) on one or two things you found interesting, difficult, or troubling about the reading, things that can kick-start discussions that will move toward broader points. The goal is to start with your interests, concerns and confusions, instead of just mine. Please do not make these into summaries of the readings. Your kick-start comments and our ensuing discussion will give me a good idea of which parts of the readings, if any, may have been unclear or confusing, and then I will intercede if necessary to make sure we all share a basic grasp of the reading before continuing our discussion. Your comments might:

-apply the reading to some current social issue

-draw out an idea or concept that you found particularly interesting, or particularly hard to understand

-offer criticisms (with good will) of the reading from some intellectual or moral standpoint of your own

ESSAYS: There will be two take-home essay assignments during the semester. Each assignment will ask you to write two essays of roughly 4-5 pages (or one essay of roughly 9-10 pages) in response to questions given out in class. Essays will need to analyze readings in the context of lecture and class discussion.

•Essay due dates are on the schedule below.

•Late essays are counted down a grade for every class day they are late.

•If your essay is not handed in at the start of class on the day it is due, it counts as late.

Lateness: You have one chance to turn in an essay assignment late without penalty. This will be the only chance to turn in an essay late without penalty, and no more than two class days beyond its due date. This is intended to help you manage your schedule with other classes. Please don’t ask for other extensions due to ordinary illness, broken printers, or scheduling snafus. There will not be extensions other than the one extension that each student gets once for an essay, unless you have an extraordinary circumstance that can be verified by third parties who are in an official position to tell. It is very unlikely you will have such a circumstance.

PROJECTS: Everyone will do two projects. Each consists of writing a paper (roughly 7-8 pages), based on brief research experiences. An assigned book will be your guide to each research project. The class offers three project options; you need to choose TWO of the three during the semester. The research will involve carefully observing, participant-observing, or interviewing people in religious congregations or religiously based volunteer or activist groups, or people who follow religious or spiritual practices. Handouts in class will describe each project further and we will discuss these so that everyone knows what to do.

Both projects need to be handed in on time. You will be glad that the class kept you to a schedule; projects are harder to complete without one.
Readings are from required books unless marked by R for course reader. Readings under each set of dates are the readings to have completed for those dates. When necessary, I’ll clarify which readings to do for which days.
August 24: Why study religion sociologically?
PART I: Large, long-term trends in U.S. religions, 1960-present

This part of the course introduces you to important findings and debates about religious change in American society.

Aug. 26, Aug. 31: Introduction to the modernist view of religion: secularization theory

and its social context
R Berger, Peter. 1963. short selection on institutions, from Invitation to Sociology

Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1963,

R Berger, Peter, and Thomas Luckmann. 1969. The Sacred Canopy (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1969, pp. 127-153, (Chap. 6) “Secularization and the Problem of Plausibility.”
Robert Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity,

pp. 1-36.

September 2: Did religion go silent? Why would anyone think that?

The argument about private religion
R Luckmann, Thomas. 1967. The Invisible Religion: The Problem of

Religion in Modern Society. New York: Macmillan. Pp. 107-114 only.
R Besecke, Kelly. 2005. “Seeing Invisible Religion: Religion as a

Societal Conversation about Transcendent Meaning. Sociological Theory

23(2): 179-196.
No class September 7
Sept. 9, 14: The move from “religion” to “spirituality” across U.S. religions
W.C. Roof, Spiritual Marketplace, pp. 3-110, 315-323.

Sept. 16, 21, 23: Growth of religious individualism, or, what’s wrong with Sheilaism?

R Robert Bellah et al.. 1985. Habits of the Heart. Berkeley: U of California Press,

Chapter 9 (pp. 219-249).

W.C. Roof, Spiritual Marketplace, pp. 145-179, 243-253, 305-314.
R George M. Thomas and Douglas Jardine. 1994. “Jesus and Self in

Everyday Life: Individual Spirituality through a Small Group in a Large

Church.” Pp. 275-299 in R. Wuthnow, ed., “I Come Away Stronger”: How Small Groups Are Shaping American Religion. Grand Rapids:


Project 1: Interview project on spirituality due Oct. 5, start of class
No class September 28
Sept. 30, October 5, 7: How can tradition thrive in modern society?:

The case of orthodox Jewish American women
Orthodox Jewish women and the problem of tradition in a modern society

Lynn Davidman, Tradition in a Rootless World, pp. 26-73.

Comparing two kinds of orthodoxy

Lynn Davidman, Tradition in a Rootless World, pp. 74-107, 136-173, 191-206

Oct. 12, 14: Are culture wars ripping the U.S. apart? The story about red and blue
R Hunter, James. 1991. Culture Wars. New York: Basic Books, pp. 31-64

(Chapter 1) only.

R Paul DiMaggio. 2003. “The Myth of Culture War.” Pp. 79-97 in J. Rieder, ed.,

A Fractious Nation? Berkeley: University of California Press.

FIRST ESSAY ASSIGNMENT DUE OCT. 16, at 352 Kaprielian, 4:00pm.

Oct. 19, 21, 26: The growth of conservative Protestantism in the modern U.S.

Introduction to evangelicalism in the U.S.

Christian Smith, American Evangelicalism, pp. 1-19 SKIM, pp. 20-66

A sociological explanation for evangelicalism’s strength

Christian Smith, American Evangelicalism, pp. 89-119, 120-153
Ironies in evangelicalism: strength and ineffectiveness

Christian Smith, American Evangelicalism, pp.178-220

Christ-centeredness and religious diversity

Robert Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity,

pp. 159-187.
Project 2: Observation project on evangelical church congregation due Nov. 2,

start of class
Oct. 28, November 2: Taking stock of modernist assumptions: two views
R Chaves, Mark. 1994. "Secularization as Declining Religious Authority."

Social Forces 72:749-775.

R Ammerman, Nancy. “Introduction: Observing Modern Religious Lives,”

in Everyday Religion. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, pp. 3-18.

PART II: Beyond modernist approaches: new and newly recognized realities of religion in the U.S.

This part of our course treats aspects of American religion that have been neglected in modernist theories.

Nov. 4, 9 11: Americans negotiating religious diversity

Introduction to religious diversity in the U.S. and debates about it

R. Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity, pp. 37-105

What are different ways Americans deal with religious diversity?

R. Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity, pp. 188-228 and

pp. 286-314

Nov. 16, 18, 23: Religion in public: mainline and evangelical Protestant volunteers in

community service projects
Religion and the debate about civic engagement: Is civic America dying?

Paul Lichterman, Elusive Togetherness, pp. 1-41

Religious volunteer groups trying to reach out: two styles

Paul Lichterman, Elusive Togetherness, pp. 60-98, 133-170

The quiet ways that religion matters

Paul Lichterman, Elusive Togetherness, pp. 171-246

Project 3: Participant-observation project on public religion due Nov. 30,

start of class.

Nov. 25, 30: Religion in social welfare: What do “faith-based” social services do?

R Mark Chaves. 2004. Congregations in America. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, pp. 44-93 only.
R Robert Wuthnow. 2004. Saving America? Faith-Based Services

and the Future of Civil Society. Princeton: Princeton U Press,

Pp. 138-175.

December 2: Course wrap-up: What new questions should we ask?

SECOND ESSAY ASSIGNMENT DUE ON FINAL EXAM DAY, by the end of the exam period, at 352 Kaprielian.

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