Greeley - The Denominational Society

March 05, 2005

Andrew Greeley
The Denominational Society: A Sociological Approach to Religion in America
Glenview, Illinois, Scott, Foresman and Company, 1972

I read this a few years ago and wanted to go back over it for Greeley's definition of civil religion and of denominationalism itself.

Greeley is probably my favorite writer about modern American religion; I find his perceptions more useful than those of Noll, Marsden, and the Wheaton-Notre Dame alliance of critical evangelical historians. Greeley is a sociologist, a Catholic priest, and the author of a whole mess of popular murder mysteries. He thinks well, writes well, and writes from a perspective shaped more by a life within a religious bureaucracy than a life of religious ecstacy and Evangelical promise. That last is not quite right, but I do find that his quiet and questioning scepticism provokes me to more useful thoughts about religion and America than does the work of the other main group of religious writers.

The Denominational Society is a look at the face of religion in the United States at the beginning of the 1970s, an era when political religion meant the legacy of mainline Protestant reform in aiding the civil rights movement and the concurrent struggle against poverty and despair within America, an era when the Vietnam War was continuing to divide Americans, and the era when the debates about Civil Religion and the nature of the American Way of Life were raging in the academy. It is both dated in its surrounding assumptions and very smart in its attempt to explain the broader picture of American religion and American society.

I have read a lot of Greeley's other sociological work, and I recommend it all highly. I was never able to get into his mysteries and could not finish his autobiography, but no one writes for everyone.

Posted by Red Ted at March 5, 2005 10:28 AM
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