Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1942-) Professor and sometime Chair of Sociology, North Carolina State University. President, Rural Sociological Society, 1991-1992.

The principal contribution of Ronald Wimberley to the sociology of religion was a series of quantitative empirical studies from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, about half of which were done in collaboration with James Christenson, seeking to measure and evaluate the nature of the concept of "civil religion" revived by Robert Bellah from the French school, dating to Rousseau. He also has collaborated on research on Billy Graham crusades, studied clergy career mobility patterns, and written generally on the nature of "commitment."

Wimberley's research was designed to test Bellah's model of a transcendent universal American "civil religion" at the level of the individual believer. Wimberley's findings, using factor and cluster analysis, demonstrated the existence of a "civil religion" variable separate from either denominational religious belief, on the one hand, or political commitment, on the other. A study focused on the 1972 U.S. presidential election (Richard Nixon), for example, found that civil religion was a better predictor of political choice than such more standard variables as denomination, general political orientation, or socioeconomic status. A further study showed higher intercorrelation between civil religiosity and religio-political conservatism but also broad support for civil religious tenets among a majority of Americans. Wimberley's measurement items are tabulated most succinctly in Gail Gehrig's monograph American Civil Religion (1979:88).

In more recent years, Wimberley has distinguished himself as a sociologist of the southern "Black Belt." In 1997, Wimberley was awarded a William Neal Reynolds Professorship, the first of such professorships awarded to a social scientist at NCSU since 1961.

William H. Swatos, Jr .


J. A. Christenson and R. C. Wimberley, "Who Is Civil Religious?" Sociological Analysis 39(1978):77-83

G. Gehrig, American Civil Religion (Storrs, Conn.: Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1979)

R. C. Wimberley, "Testing the Civil Religion Hypothesis," Sociological Analysis 37 (1976):341-352

R. C. Wimberley, "Dimensions of Commitment," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17(1978):225-240

R. C. Wimberley, "Civil Religion and the Choice for Nixon in 1972," Social Forces 59(1980):44-61

R. C. Wimberley and J. A. Christenson, "Civil Religion and Other Religious Identities," Sociological Analysis 42(1981): 91-100

R. C. Wimberley et al., "The Civil Religious Dimension," Social Forces 54(1976):890-900.


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