Sociology of Relgion

This course provides an introduction to the sociology of religion, an important field in the discipline of sociology. Religion is one of the most powerful forces of social cohesion, order, meaning, disruption, and change in human societies, both historically and today in the modern world. Sociology provides a particular disciplinary perspective and analytical tools and theories for describing, understanding, and explaining the nature and influence of religion.

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Critical Realism & Sociology

This advanced theory seminar will explore the philosophy of social science known as critical realism and consider how it might influence sociological research and scholarship. The first part of the course will read and discuss key works in crticial realism as an alternative approach to both positivist empiricism and hermeneutical interpretivism. The second part of the course will then consider the implications of a critical realist sociology for conceiving and designing research prjects, conducting data analysis, and writing publications. Along the way we will engage a vareity of sociological theories and basic theoretical issues from a critical realist perspective.

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Research Analysis in the National Survey of Youth & Religion

This 1-credit training seminar will orient students to the project, data, and analysis of the National (Longitudinal) Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). We will examine the goals and data collection methods of the project, explore the various types of survey and interview data collected to date, and launch students into specific analyses of data that fit their own substantive interests.  Course meetings will involve student presentations of their analyses and group feedback toward publication.  The seminar will meet in two-hour blocks for six meetings over the course of the semester.  (Permission of the instructor is required for enrollment: interested students should email a brief expression of interest and intended focus of analysis to; the NSYR survey and interview instruments can be studied by clicking the inks at (

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Sociological Perspectives on Social Life

How are our lives powerfully shaped by social and cultural structures, relationships, and institutions, and not simply by our individual personalities, motives, and goals? Many people commonly assume that autonomous individuals freely determine their own destinies. Sociology teaches us instead to see and understand our lives as profoundly influenced by social relations and forces, which are otherwise often invisible to us. This course introduces sociological perspectives on social life, showing students how to see and think sociologically about ourselves and the world. How and why do people influence each other? How is it that we come to be functioning humans in society in the first place? Why do we assume, believe, and think the things that we do? In what ways are individuals free from or determined by their social environments? Why are troubles in our lives shaped by patterns of social relations and inequality? How is life in modern society different from lives in the past? How are the religious faith and practices of believers shaped by the social worlds in which they live? Give the overall stability of human social life, how do we explain dramatic social and cultural changes that happen? Students who, having taken this course, learn to see and think sociologically will be much better able to understand and explain themselves, their own life experiences, and the larger world in which they live.

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Religion, Modernity, Secularization, Religious Persistence

What is the fate of religion in modern societies? Is there something about modernity that is particularly corrosive of religion? Does modernity secularize? What does secularization mean? Where, how, and why does religion survive or thrive in the modern world? What social forces and influences explain different religious outcomes in modernity? Are there "multiple modernities" that have different effects on religious traditions? This course examines the most important works on religion in modernity to explore these questions so as to better understand outcomes of religious belief and practice in the contemporary world.








Religion in American Public Life

This seminar will explore many of the central, underlying sociological, historical, legal, cultural, political, and philosophical issues concerning religion in American public life. Its primary purpose will be to provide students with a broad orientation to the major issues and complexities of religion in public life. As a result of taking the seminar, students should be able both to understand more clearly contemporary public debates, and to formulate more competently their own informed views on the matter.

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Sociological Theory

This course is an introduction to sociological theory. The course explores key issues in the philosophy of social science and the construction and evaluation of social theory—placing emphasis on the connection between sociological theory and underlying philosophical commitments, on the central intellectual and conceptual problems in social theorizing, and on the major traditions or schools of sociological theory that have developed as responses to those problems. We will pay particular attention to classic sociological works by Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, reading their original works, as well as some of their contemporary theoretical descendants.

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Sociology of Culture

This seminar will explore important literature in the sociology of culture, to consider how engaging in cultural analysis can enhance our empirical understanding of the social world. Key questions we will explore include: What exactly is “culture?” Of what does it consist? What is its analytical scope or domain? How does culture “work” in social life? And how does it relate to that which is not culture? How can culture be empirically accessed, measured, or interpreted? Etc. In general, we will try to approach culture as an explanatory factor, and not merely as a dependent variable to be explained by other more allegedly-fundamental “structural” or “material” variables; in other words, we will pursue a cultural sociology, and not merely a sociology of culture. The seminar will also recurrently seek to move beyond abstract theoretical debates—while incorporating their useful insights—always to consider issues of empirical and analytical utility, asking how any given approach informs or enhances our empirical inquiry and analysis. The seminar readings are designed to help prepare students to take the doctoral exam in Sociology of Culture. 

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Religion and Society

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.

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Religion, Politics, Economics, and Social Change

How does religion interact with political, economic, and other social spheres of human social life? How is religion related to exercises of power, the production and distribution of material goods, the structuring of human life in seemingly non-sacred social institutions? When, how, and why does religion serve as a force of social reproduction, maintaining existing social practices and structures? When, how, and why does religion cause or influence social transformation, through cultural, political, and economic change? This seminar examines key exemplars of literature in this area as a means to master sociological approaches to religion as it interacts with other aspects of social life. Readings will help students prepare for the doctoral exam in sociology of religion.


Method and Theory in Sociology of Religion

How do, might, or should sociologists study religion? What are the most important theoretical perspectives in the sociology of religion? How can different methodological approaches help us to evaluate and develop sociological theories of religion? What strengths and weaknesses, insights and limitations are built into different methodological approaches to understanding religion sociologically? What of theoretical and methodological importance is missing or neglected in contemporary sociology of religion? How can empirical research be designed to advance the field in interesting and important ways? This seminar examines exemplars of literature in the field to train students to think creatively and rigorously about theory and research design in the sociology of religion. Readings will help students prepare for the doctoral exam in sociology of religion.



Research & Analysis in Sociology of Religion

This one-credit workshop will engage students with key pieces of literature related to empirical research, measurement, and data analysis in the sociology of religion; teach some alternative approaches to basic data analysis strategies in the sociology of religion; and provide an informal seminar-based context for the collective reading, discussing, and critiquing of each others’ scholarly papers in sociology of religion. Workshop readings are drawn from the reading list for the ND doctoral exam in sociology of religion, to also help facilitate preparation for that exam.

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Sociology of Religion Comprehensive Exam

In addition to whatever specific readings graduate students engage for their own personal research interests, there is a core set of readings with which sociologists of religion should be familiar with in order to claim professional competence and as a background to eventually teaching in the sociology of religion. The purpose of doctoral exams is to provide occasions for students to master the essential literatures of their fields of interests and research. Scholars inevitably differ somewhat on exactly what literature belongs on such core lists of readings. Listed here, however, are the readings which Notre Dame graduate students will be expected to master for their comprehensive exams in the sociology of religion. In order to access the reading list with links to many of the journal articles and book chapters, you will need to provide your netid and password. If you are not yet a Notre Dame student, you may access the list without these links.

Click here to view the list with article attachments.

Click here to view the list for non-Notre Dame students.