Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version  | Topic Suggestion?

Introduction by William H. Swatos, Jr.
The social scientific study of religion began in earnest a scant century ago. Although precedents for a "scientific attitude" toward religion may be found at least as far back as the pre-Socratics of ancient Greece, it is principally with the works of Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Sigmund Freud that we can begin to chart something of the development of today's insights into the "phenomenon" of religion.

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society marks a unique venture in that it attempts to bring together in a single-volume compendium a state-of-the-art summary of the insights gained by the principal social sciences of religion: anthropology, psychology, and sociology. To do so is to take, admittedly, a "one-sided" approach to the religion-and-society nexus. One could perhaps consider an alternative posture, more ethical in nature-namely, one that considers what religions think about society. This would really be an encyclopedia of religious social ethics, and it is not within the scope of this project.

We have tried to assemble entries, both lengthy and brief, that survey as broadly as possible the different theoretical traditions and research styles that have emerged over the century. Although more heavily oriented toward North America, the scope is global, and an effort has been made to address the major traditions of world religious experience.

We also have attempted to provide a historical reference tool particularly with regard to the major professional societies in the social scientific study of religion: the Association for the Sociology of Religion, the Religious Research Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Société Internationale de Sociologie des Religions-and as much as possible the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry and Research Committee 22 (sociology of religion) of the International Sociological Association. Entries are also provided for the sections of the major professional organizations, the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. This resource is intended to aid each of these organizations in historical retrieval, and we hope that subsequent editions of this work may increase the detail that can be provided.

The encyclopedia began its course initially in the spring of 1993, more in earnest from 1994 to the present. Charting new ground called for a number of decisions to be made about inclusion and exclusion; some of the decisions were purely practical, but for most at least an attempt was made at rationality. The work began with an extensive citation study of various journal indexes, texts, and bibliographies in the field. These generated a quantitative measure from which decisions about initial subject inclusion and the length of subsequent entries were determined. To these were added the names of those persons who had been elected president of any one of the major societies mentioned above, even if the individual did not qualify by the quantitative index. Subsequently, the publisher and editors consulted about modifications based upon more subjective criteria.

We have not taken up the philosophical background to the social sciences. There are no entries for Plato or Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas or Ibn Khaldun* , or Hobbes, Locke, Hume, or Kant. We pick up with brief entries for Rousseau in the French tradition and Hegel in the German. One could say the American tradition actually begins with the Frenchman Tocqueville, but more so H. Richard Niebuhr, on the one hand, and H. Paul Douglass, on the other.

Similarly, we have not taken up religion "in itself." Neither the great religious founders nor subsequent generations of theologians are to be found here. When an exception is made to this rule, it is because of a unique encounter with the social sciences, as in the case of Paul Tillich or Gayraud Wilmore. There are certainly great encyclopedias of both philosophy and theology for those who wish to pursue these lines. The index to this volume will provide the names of those figures in both philosophy and theology of whose work the social scientific study of religion has taken account.

A word on usage: The actual commissioning of entries had to depend on the persons with time available and how things could be conceived by them. In some cases, topics are taken up under biographical entries; in others, there are separate entries for both a topic and an individual closely associated with that topic. In general, topics associated with a single individual are taken up in his or her biography only. For example, the "dilemmas of institutionalization" are almost uniquely associated with Thomas O'Dea, hence they are discussed there; "civil religion," by contrast, although certainly given new birth by Robert Bellah, has also taken on a life quite its own-a separate entry is called for.

Also with regard to usage, the word religious normally should be presumed as a modifier. With the exception of the professions of religious education and religious studies, there are no entries under "religious." Readers interested in religious roles, for example, should refer to the entry on "roles"; those interested in religious evolution should refer to evolution ; and so on. There is also no entry on "religion." Depending on one's interest, this topic will be treated either in the "definition of religion" entry or that for "religious studies." There is similarly no entry for "society"; the reader should consult that aspect of the social structure that is of interest-for example, attitudes, status, stratification, values.

This encyclopedia owes much to the goodwill of the contributors, none of whom was paid for his or her work. All have contributed from a sense of professional responsibility and dedication. Those of us who have worked closely over the years with the men and women who keep the social scientific study of religion alive and vital recognize a great esprit de corps among them, and this project has certainly benefitted from that. A total of 109 authors have contributed. These individuals range from some exceptionally talented students to world-renowned senior and emeritus professors. Most of the members of the editorial board also have contributed entries; all have worked enormously hard to bring out the best in the entries they have reviewed. For myself, mindful that Samuel Johnson ended the entry on "lexicographer" in his pioneering Dictionary (1755) with the words "a harmless drudge," I hope I have been perhaps a helpful drudge in bringing it all together.

It is the case, nevertheless, that in breaking new ground as we are, there is a moment of trial and error. And that is about to come upon us. So we share with you our hope that what you find here is readable, meets your needs, and is also a bit inspirational, that you might join with us in a vocation that challenges humanity's highest hopes and greatest dreams.

To that end, finally, we also invite you to become a participant in this project. If there are entries you think should be included in a future edition, entries you would like to see expanded, or entries you found particularly helpful, contact us at  bill4329@hotmail.com  through the end of 1999.


* Didn't find any information about a specific topic?*

If you would like to see the topic covered in the next edition of the Encyclopedia, send an email with your suggestion to the editor William H. Swatos, Jr. and he will consider it. 

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