"Morality, Culture, and the Power of Religious Faith: Explaining the Effect of Religion in Social Life"

Team Leader:

Christian Smith
Professor of Sociology
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Click here for a list of the team members.


In the last decade, it has become increasingly clear to abroad segment of social scientist, public leaders, and intellectuals that, for understanding the social world, religion still very much "matters." Much of the old secularization theory, predicting that religion would lose its significance and power in modern society, has been revised or abandoned, as more scholars have found that religion still significantly influences many aspect of social life--from politics to personal health to family life to crime and deviance. What remains less clear, however, is not only that religion matters, but more precisely how and why religion matters. Exactly what is it abut religion per se that maintains such a motivating and shaping influence in human social life? This pressing, unanswered question represents an important opportunity for creative scholarship that might influence many fields in sociology. The natural tendency in traditional social science in addressing this question will be to rely on reductionistic explanations for religious effects--that is, assuming that religion is reducible to things like resources, social networks, and organizational structures that have nothing distinctively religious, spiritual, or moral about them. This project will bring to the question distinctively non-reductionistic understandings of the human condition and religious faith, whose comparatively richer and more complex approaches should help to provide a more fruitful, satisfying, and insightful account of religion's power. To that end, this project will seek to unite rigorous empirical analyses of religious effects--with a mix of original primary data gathered for the project and secondary data--with creative theoretical inquiry in a variety of relevant fields and literatures. The goal will be to bring to the broader scholarly enterprise cogent alternative perspectives better explaining the continued influence of religion, and , more broadly, further exploring the spiritual and moral depths of the human condition and their implications for understanding human action and society.