Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


A form of rule based on the authority of the Bishop of Rome as head on earth of the (Roman) Catholic Church. Its history is one of succession, decay, and reform in a lineage traced to the apostles. The authority of the pope ranges from the infallible to the advisory and is expressed in and through councils, letters, and encyclicals. The role of the pope exemplifies a tension between charisma and bureaucracy, although it is little mentioned in Weber's writings. The current pope, John Paul II, has made notable efforts to engage with the social sciences in their dealings with culture. His pilgrimages, approaches to liberation theology, and encyclicals have attracted a notable sociological literature in France and the United States especially. (The term pope is also used in some small ancient churches, such as the Coptic, for their supreme human authority.)

See also Encyclicals, Vatican II

Kieran Flanagan


F. Houtart, "In Favour of a Sociology of the Papacy," Social Compass 37(1990):195-197

G. Zizola, "A Bibliography on the Sociology of the Papacy," Social Compass 36(1989):355-373.

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