Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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


(SISR/ISSR) The International Society for the Sociology of Religion—as it has been called since the twentieth conference of the society in 1989 Helsinki, Finland—was founded in 1948 in Leuven, Belgium, on the initiative of Jacques Leclercq as the Conférence Internationale de Sociologie Religieuse (CISR)/International Conference of Religious Sociology. Initially, it was an international gathering of university professors and researchers who compared the results of their sociological studies and aimed at improving their research methods. The name "religious sociology" clearly expressed their commitments; sociology was to be understood as a study of empirical facts, and religious referred both to its function of providing insights into the social conditions of belief and practices (specifically to inform those in charge of evangelization) and to the modes of analysis to be used. This approach was enlightened by the faith of the researchers and their religious commitment.

At the third conference, in Breda, Holland, clerics who lacked any sociological background also attended. This brought a pastoral and Catholic "flavor" to the conference. The denominational character was institutionalized by a change of statutes against the will of its founder, who defended its original nondenominational character. At the fourth conference, in La Tourette, France, in 1953, Gabriel Le Bras came to the conclusion that CISR had become "a pastoral and confessional, i.e., Catholic, organization." From then on, clerics and researchers had divergent expectations of the CISR: the former being interested only in the results of the studies and their pastoral implications, whereas the latter focused their attention on methodological and theoretical issues. This uneasy cohabitation continued for five further conferences.

At the tenth conference in Rome (1969), the General Assembly decided to eliminate all confessional references from the statutes of the society. To mark this openness, the next conference was to take place in Yugoslavia (1971) with the central theme, "Religion and Religiosity, Atheism and Non-belief in Industrial and Urban Society." In the new statutes, which were proposed by Jacques Verscheure and adopted in Opatija, article 4 stated the purely scientific purpose of CISR: "to advance sociology and related sciences in the analysis and interpretation of religions and related phenomena." To fulfill this purpose, the society has promoted international contacts and has organized biennial conferences in different European and North American countries.

The Executive Committee, which comprises university professors of sociology from all over the world, invites speakers to address a central theme in plenary sessions at each conference. These sessions are augmented by thematic sessions, linguistic discussion groups, free papers, and reports of working groups initiated by members. English and French are the official languages of the conference, and plenary sessions are simultaneously translated. From the ninth conference to the nineteenth in 1987, the General Secretariat published the conference proceedings. Since the twentieth conference, a selection of free papers in addition to papers delivered in plenary sessions have been published in subsequent issues of Social Compass .

See also Jean Labbens, Jacques Leclercq, Jacques Verscheure

Karel Dobbelaere


K. Dobbelaere, "CISR: An Alternative Approach to Sociology of Religion in Europe," Sociological Analysis 50(1989): 377-387

Social Compass 37, 1(1990).

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