Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1910-1989) Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. Homans is best known for his The Human Group (Harcourt 1950), although he himself preferred Social Behavior (Harcourt 1961) because it was "a work of deduction." Homans (1964, 1967) criticized functionalist theory for its failure both to meet scientific aims and to explain human behavior. To make the structure of society comprehensible, social scientists, according to Homans, had up to now put forward concepts concerning the characteristics of societies, such as norms and roles, that could not explain anything but were in need of explanation themselves. Instead, they should have put forward propositions based on the presupposition that human nature is universal, and that individuals act purposively in seeking social approval.

Homans's impact on sociology has been considerable: In the work of the sociologists Stark and Bainbridge (e.g., 1987) on religion, his influence is clear, although other rational choice theorists criticize him for the psychological basis of his theory. There can be no doubt, however, that his work has given direction and impetus to the development of the rational choice paradigm.

See also Rational Choice Theory, Rodney Stark

Durk H. Hak


G. C. Homans, "Bringing Men Back In," American Sociological Review 29(1964):809-818

G. C. Homans, The Nature of Social Science (New York: Harcourt, 1967)

G. C. Homans, Coming to My Senses (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1984)

R. R. Lee, "Religious Practice as Social Exchange," Sociological Analysis 53(1992):1-35

R. Stark and W. S. Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York: Lang, 1987).

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