Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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

(1896-1992) Roman Catholic priest-scholar; received a Ph.D. in sociology from Catholic University of America and in 1922 joined its Department of Sociology, where he spent the rest of his academic life until his retirement in 1967. President, American Catholic Sociological Society, 1944.

He published 17 books and many articles; his last book, Love and the Urban Ghetto (Orbis 1978), was written at the age of 82. As late as 1987, he still firmly believed and wrote that sociology could be "Catholic." He maintained that sociologists not only could make value judgments in their work but frequently did—even as they proclaimed their value-neutrality. As basic a move as conceptualizing a "social problem" required that one had to decide that something is bad for society: clearly, a value judgment. In broader sociological circles, Furfey is noted for a debate on this question with the American positivist George Lundberg; he is also recognized for his conceptual innovation of metatheory .

Adequately defined, "social problems" were in fact "social evils," and Furfey confronted them in his published works: slavery, the Holocaust, the slow but inexorable "murder" of the American population locked below the poverty level, the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. His writings, inspiration, and support helped some returning World War II conscientious objectors become sociologists.

Furfey's conception of culture was both broad and deep, embracing not only the material preconditions for human association but also those moral and spiritual, artistic and ethical qualities and activities that make for human progress. Considered by many an outstanding methodologist, Furfey believed in using empirical evidence as the fulcrum on which religion could apply leverage to culture. In consequence, many of his books, beginning with Fire on the Earth (Macmillan 1936), strongly advocated cultural engagement. He urged his students to become involved in social action as part of their understanding of what it meant to be a sociologist and a Christian. In keeping with this philosophy, with two CUA colleagues he cofounded Fides Neighborhood House and El Poverello House. The Association for the Sociology of Religion has honored him by maintaining an annual lecture in his name.

Loretta M. Morris


P. H. Furfey, Social Problems of Childhood (New York: Macmillan, 1929)

P. H. Furfey, The Scope and Method of Sociology (New York: Harper, 1953)

G. A. Lundberg and P. H. Furfey, "Letters and Rejoinders," American Catholic Sociological Review 7(1946):203-205, 8(1947):47-48

G. Ritzer, "Sociological Metatheory," Sociological Theory 6(1988):187-200.

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500