Fall 2002

Professor Christian Smith, Hamilton 209;      Class Meeting: R 2:00-4:30

Office Hours: R 1:00-1:45 or by appointment                                                                 Place: Peabody 204

Phone: 962-4524 (office)                        TA: Tim Cupery (Hamilton 254) Office Hours: Fri 12:30-1:30


Course Description

Religion exists in a social context, and always is shaped by and shapes its social context. Furthermore, religion itself is always (at least in part) a socially constituted reality—that is, its content and structure are always formed, at least partially, out of the “stuff” of the socio-cultural world (language, symbols, groups, norms, interactions, resources, organizations, etc.). The sociology of religion is interested in understanding both the “social-ness'” of religion itself and the mutually influencing interactions between religion and its social environment. In this class, we will analyze religious beliefs, practices, and organizations from a sociological perspective, with a primary focus on religion in the contemporary U.S. We will begin by examining the distinctively sociological approach to studying religion. We will then explore processes by which individuals acquire religious beliefs and identities, and the functions religion serves for its adherents and for society. We will also examine changes in the organizational structure of religion, the mutual influence between religion and other specific social institutions and practices (such as family, work, politics), the capacities of religion to inhibit and facilitate social change, and the dynamics of religious decline and persistence in modern societies.


Course Goals

This course is designed to:


1. Cultivate in students an understanding of the distinctively sociological approach to studying religion. There are many approaches to studying religion—historical, psychological, theological, sociological, anthropological, etc. Since in this class we take a distinctively sociological approach, our most basic goal is to develop an understanding of and appreciation for the kinds of questions sociologists ask and the kind of explanations they offer when they analyze religion.


2. Familiarize students with some of the major issues, problems, and findings in the sociology of religion. Students will have the opportunity to learn some of the theoretical and substantive content of the sociology of religion, to deepen their sociological knowledge of such things as religious conversion, shifting church attendance rates, religiously inspired political activism, the emergence of new religions, and secularization.


3. Introduce students to basic skills of field research. Sociology is an empirical discipline that constructs theories and draws conclusions based on evidence that can be observed. Students in this class will go beyond merely reading about religion, to actually doing simple participant-observation through field trips at local religious groups, involving first-hand observation, analysis, and brief written reports.


4. Introduce students to the basics of quantitative sociological analysis. Sociologists often employ statistical analyses of quantified data to understand the social world, including religion. Students will do readings to get a taste of this kind of analysis.


5. Improve cognitive & communication skills. Finally, this course aims generally, through its exercises and requirements, to enhance students’ abilities to read, analyze, discuss, and write skillfully.


To summarize in performance-oriented terms, students who have successfully completed this course ought to be able to: (1) know how to go about analyzing religious beliefs, experiences, practices, and organizations sociologically (as distinct from, say, theologically); (2) carry on an informed and informing conversation with others about the religious issues and problems we will study in this class; (3) have a basic idea about how to go about conducting field research on a religious group or institution; (4) have a basic idea about how to read quantitative analyses in the sociology of religion; and (5) read, think, discuss, and write more skillfully than when they entered the course.

Required Reading    Five books and one coursepack:


         Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Anchor, 1967.

         Lynn Davidman, Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism, California, 1991.

         Stephen Monsma & Christopher Soper, The Challenge of Pluralism, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.

         Christian Smith et al., American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Chicago, 1998.

         Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Exploring the Human Side of Religion, California, 2000.


The books are available in UNC Student Stores, but if you don’t want to wait in line, you can order all of these from The coursepack must be purchased at UNC Student Stores and is not returnable.


Course Requirements


1. Participation: I expect students to attend class regularly and to participate in class discussions, exercises, and group projects, as required or appropriate. I presume students can and will attend all or almost all classes, but may occasionally have a legitimate reason to miss one class in the semester (extremely sick, family funeral, etc.). However, I am not interested in adjudicating doctors’ notes and other excuses. Just come to class, and don’t miss more than one, if any. An unreasonable number of absences from class will definitely hurt one’s final grade. Entirely faithful class attendance is notable and could make a positive difference in final grades in borderline cases.


2. Reading Quizzes: There may be a short quiz covering the week’s readings given at the beginning of class, to provide an incentive to complete the readings fully and on time. The quizzes will cover basic materials that anyone carefully reading and comprehending the assigned readings should understand and retain. Altogether, the quizzes are worth 20% of the final grade.


3. Midterm Exams: There will be one midterm exam given during class time on October 3rd, covering the reading and lecture materials of Weeks 1-6. The exam questions may be a combination of true-false, multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay questions. The midterm exam is worth 30% of the final course grade.


4. Self-Guided Field Trips: Students must choose three unfamiliar religious groups or organizations to visit and observe on self-guided field trips, and write 2-page reports for each. Typically this will involve attending religious services or gatherings and taking field notes. Students may not choose to do the religious tradition(s) within which they were raised or with which they are quite familiar. The three trips/reports are together worth 15% of the final course grade. Details are provided in a separate handout.


5. Final Exam: There will be a final exam given on Thursday, December 12 at 2:00PM, covering the reading and lecture materials of Weeks 7-13 only (it is not cumulative). The exam questions may be a combination of true-false, multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay questions, and may also include a take-home question component. Worth 35% of the final course grade.


Grades for the semester will be calculated and assigned based on the following distribution and scale:


              30% = Midterm Exam                                                             90-100%  = A-, A
              15% = Field Trips/Reports                                                     80-89%   = B-, B, B+
              35% = Final Exam                                                                   70-79%   = C-, C, C+
              20% = Reading Quizzes                                                           60-69%   = D-, D, D+
                                                                                                                <60%    = F

Honor Code

All provisions of the University Honor Code—which prohibits giving or receiving unauthorized assistance on graded course work—will be in effect for all requirements. If you have questions about the Code, talk to Professor Smith. Please study the web site:


Course Schedule


WEEK 1 (AUG 22): Introduction & Organization


WEEK 2 (AUG 29): Human & Social Dimensions of Religion       

              * Berger (Chs. 1-5)


WEEK 3 (SEPT 5): Theorizing Religion

              * Smith, “Moral, Believing Animals” (coursepack)


WEEK 4 (SEPT 12): Secularization, Religious Persistence, & the Status of Religious Belief            

              * Berger (Chs. 6, Appendix II)

              * Berger, “Secularism in Retreat” (coursepack)   

              * Stark and Finke (Introduction, Ch. 3)

              * Bellah, “Civil Religion in America” (coursepack)


WEEK 5 (SEPT 19): Rational Choice Theory                                                    Field Trip Report #1 Due Sept 19

              * Stark & Finke (Chs. 1, 2, 4-6, 8)


WEEK 6 (SEPT 26): Explaining Variance in Religious Strength

              * Smith (American Evangelicalism, Pp. 1-220)




WEEK 8 (OCT 10): Religious Conversion            

              * Davidman (Pp. 1-217)


Fall Break OCT 17

                                                                                                                                  Field Trip Report #2 Due Oct 24

WEEK 9 (OCT 24): Calculating Religious Effects: the Conservative Protestant Subculture             

              * Regnerus, Smith, & Sikkink, “Who Gives to the Poor?” (coursepack)

              * Hamil-Luker and Smith, “Religious Authority and Public Opinion on the Right to Die” (coursepack)

              * Wilcox, “Conservative Protestant Childrearing” (coursepack)

              * Emerson, Smith, Sikkink, “Equal in Christ, But Not in the World” (coursepack)


WEEK 10 (OCT 31): Calculating Religious Effects: Network and Context Effects

              * Stark, “Religion as Context: Hellfire and Delinquency” (coursepack)

              * Smith, Sikkink, & Bailey, “Devotion in Dixie and Beyond” (coursepack)

* Mott et al., “Determinants of First Sex” (coursepack)                 


WEEK 11 (NOV 7): Religion in American Public Life: The Question of Moral Knowledge

              * Byrne, MacIntyre, Tinder, Yancey (coursepack)


WEEK 12 (NOV 14): Religion in American Public Life: Church & State and Education     

              * Esbeck, Nord, Smith & Sikkink (coursepack)


WEEK 13 (NOV 21): Religion in American Public Life: Comparative Perspectives

              * Monsma and Soper (Chs. 1-3, 5)        Field Trip Report #3 Due Nov 21




FINAL EXAM: Thursday, December 12, 2:00PM


Course Rules


1. Please come to class on time; coming late holds up the class from starting or disrupts a class that has already begun.

2. Students must take the exams at the times scheduled (the only exceptions might be instances of severe illness or family tragedy, in which case the student must contact and make alternative arrangements with the professor before the scheduled exam; do not simply skip the exam, then come afterwards and announce that you could not make the exam, for you may not be allowed to make it up).

3. Late field trip reports will have their grades reduced by two-thirds of a letter grade for each late day (e.g., from B to C+ for 1 day late)—starting with the end of the class they are due. You know now—weeks and months ahead—when things are due. You simply need to exercise the self-discipline and do the planning between now and then—including building in extra time for potential delays and problems (e.g., computer failures)—to complete the assignments on time. (Preaching: In “the real world,” written reports, applications, presentations, and analyses are simply due when they are due, and turning things in late damages your reputation and career. It’s good to learn now the kind of planning skills and self-discipline that are necessary for future success.)


Suggestions for Success   I offer the following suggestions for success in this course. Apply them as needed:

1. There are at least two keys to success in any task-oriented activity, including academic work: planning and self-discipline (conversely, the two keys to failure are disorganization and laziness). Planning involves assessing your resources and goals for a given period of time and developing a realistic schedule and strategy for accomplishing your goals, given your resources. This means stepping back and organizing the big picture, rather than always and only focusing on whatever obligation confronts you next. Weekly academic planners, in which you record all of your assignments, appointments, and deadlines, are essential here. Self-discipline means exercising the willpower to overcome the laziness and inertia that would prevent us from carrying out what we have planned. We know that things don't just happen—we have to make them happen, and that requires that we discipline ourselves to work at it. Typically, however, those students who are good at planning and self-discipline not only get the best grades, but are also freest to enjoy their extra-curricular activities—they get their work done promptly, then go out to play with nothing hanging over their heads.

2. To prepare for exams, first, make sure that you understand the meaning and function of all of the terminological concepts covered in the unit that the exam tests. You should be able both to define each concept accurately and to demonstrate how it is related to the rest of the material in that unit and properly employed in sociological analysis. Second, you should be able to use the specific content of the unit the exam tests to illustrate or illuminate the general theories and themes developed in the course. Finally, you should be able to develop analytical arguments—with theses, evidence, and justifiable conclusions—that explain the social causes, dynamics, and consequences of the specific issues studied in the unit the exam covers. If you can do these things, you should do well on the exams.

3. When studying and note-taking, always distinguish the centrally important issue or argument in the reading or lecture from the less-important details, facts, and other data that are only meant to illustrate, support, or nuance the central issue or argument. The danger of not doing so is treating all material as equally important, becoming overwhelmed with information, and failing to see and grasp the major point. Details and illustrations are important, but should not be cognitively processed in a way that obscures the reading or lecture's main argument. A helpful exercise here is to try to summarize concisely the essential point of a reading or lecture in one or two sentences. If you can't, something's wrong, and you probably need to go back and work at it more, or talk to the TA.

4. If you develop any worries, confusion, frustrations, logistical difficulties, or other sorts of problems related to this course, please, come and let’s talk about it in time to take constructive action. Don’t wait until things have become hopelessly complicated or disastrous. It is much better when we are can say, “Why don’t you try X,” rather than, “You should have done X.”