Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1910-) Giddings Professor of Sociology and University Professor Emeritus, Columbia University; Ph.D., Harvard University under Talcott Parsons. President, American Sociological Association, 1957.

Merton made his direct impact on the sociology of religion with the publication of his doctoral dissertation on the coincidence of science and Protestant religion, Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England (Harper 1970 [1938]). Modeled on Max Weber's Protestant ethic thesis, Merton's work suggests a similar value-based dynamic for the rise of British science and the "scientific attitude" in Britain and Anglo-America, hence known (and debated) as the "Merton thesis."

As one of the giants in American sociology, many of Merton's concepts frame not only sociological research but everyday language regarding the social world; examples include the self-fulfilling prophecy, role models, the focused interview, unintended consequences of social action, social structure, role set, middle-range theory. In his best-known exposition of his theories, Social Theory and Social Structure (Free Press 1968 [1949]), he established himself as one of the founders of structural-functional analysis. Although he did not continue to write explicitly on religion, throughout his works he recognized religion as one of the influential institutions in society and was the first major functionalist to take issue with the naive neo-Durkheimian view that religion must always and every-where be socially eufunctional.

See also Functionalism, Talcott Parsons, Protestant Ethic Thesis, Max Weber

Helen Rose Ebaugh

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