Notes on the Sociology of Religion (20)

John C. Rankin

Warner, Stephen, “Work in Progress toward a New Paradigm for the Sociological Study of Religion in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology 98:1044-93)


  1. Background: a) Ph.D. University of California at Berkeley, 1972; professor emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago; b) New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church (1989); Gatherings in Diaspora: Religions Communities and New Immigration (1998, co-editor); Korean Americans and their Religions: Pilgrims and Missionaries from a Different Shore (2001); A Church of our Own: Disestablishment and Diversity in American Religion (2005).
  2. Thesis:a) “Organized religion thrives in the United States in an open market system, an observation anomalous to the older paradigm’s monopoly concept” (p.1044); b) Six sections of analysis − 1. Survey of the paradigm crisis, 2. development of the concept of an open market in historiography and sociology of religion, 3. U.S. religions institutions are constitutively pluralistic, 4. U.S. religions institutions are structurally adaptable, 5. U.S. religions institutions are empowering, 6. recent religious individualism (“new volunteerism”).
  3. Details: a) European establishment monopolistic model versus American model of open market; b) conventional wisdom that religion operates like politics, as a property of the whole (Talcott Parsons and early Peter Berger [“Sacred Canopy”]); c) disestablishment of religion in the United States − 1. fruit of the Reformation and the First Great Awakening, 2. heterodox and orthodox alike embracing it; further embodiment in the Second Great Awakening, 3. winning of members apart from tax support: “sink or swim” (p. 1051), 4. Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge: “religious economy”; d) Table 1 listing of contrasts (p. 1052) − 1. competition v. monopoly. 2. Second Great Awakening v. medieval Catholicism, 3. contested v. taken for granted, 4. Stark, Finke and Greeley v. Berger, Lechner and Hunter, 5. de facto entrepreneurial v. guaranteed income/statist, 6. Etc.; e) demographic factors of region, social class, immigration and urbanization − 1. Religion in the United States = a “free social space” (p. 1060); f) centripetal forces of bureaucratization v. centrifugal forces of “de facto congregationalism” (p. 1066); g) privatized and invisible religion in old paradigm v. public and visible in new − 1. latter a direct outgrowth of Second Great Awakening; h) pluralism in American religion gives power to chosen group solidarity, positive and negative.
  4. Critique: a) many think it is hard to do − 1. new paradigm needs time of historical perspective, 2. had greater historical perspective to begin with; b) historical observation: The settling of the American continent was principally by religious, political and economic refugees from European states and state religion(s). Whereas the plurality of state religions was an improvement over Roman Catholichegemony prior to Martin Luther, it was still monopolistic within each state, and resistant to forces pushing for further reformation, forces pursuing a genuine human freedom that is a universal (imago dei) aspiration. These old monopolies had to die for the birth of freedom to happen, and such a birth was afforded best in North America, as uneven as it originally was, yet ultimately the most successful on the planet. For a parallel birth of genuine religious, political and economic liberty in Europe, the death of monopolistic instincts in state and religion must first occur, and that is a much harder death, but apart from which resurrection is not possible (back to biblical origins). Thus, only a remnant in the churches there, who grasp and pursue the imago dei accordingly, have the power to overcome such an obstacle.