The Air We Breathe: Sociology of Religion

Author(s): George Sanders, Josh Packard

Edition: 1

Copyright: 2016

Pages: 284 - no change for LSI printing


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Religion plays a vital role in geopolitics and in the course of student’s lives – even if they are not religious. 

Yet, students often lack a framework for understanding how current arrangements and situations came to be or for understanding why religion operates as such an important force.

Featuring a unique approach, The Air We Breathe: A Sociology of Religion helps students learn sociology by studying religion. The book is situated around themes that apply across the field, not just to religion, and includes theories and ideas from outside of the subfield when appropriate (e.g., gender, organizational theory, group theory, etc.).

The Air We Breathe: A Sociology of Religion by George Sanders and Josh Packard:

  • Gets readers to apply the sociological perspective by drawing on the available research and theories in the sociology of religion and the larger discipline of sociology to answer overriding questions about how religion shapes and is shaped by larger social forces.
  • Incorporates more recent empirical and theoretical developments that have taken place outside of the sociology of religion.
  • Is organized around central, interesting questions that students find accessible. These questions are answered with current research that has been applied in order to highlight the pragmatism of sociology of religion research.
  • Features an international, pragmatic, comparative approach that illustrates the unique role of religion in the modern world and highlights how it shapes and is shaped by other social forces and institutions.

CHAPTER 1 Religious Universes and Spiritual Lives 
Key Terms 
What is Sociology? 
Types of Sociological Analysis 
Levels of Analysis 
What does Religion Do? 
Abrahamic Religions 
Buddhism and Hinduism 
Religious “Nones” 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 2 Becoming Religious: Navigating Beliefs, Negotiating Expressions 
Key Terms 
Social Construction 
Is Religion in Decline? 
Religious Socialization 
The Religious Economy 
Church and Sects 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 3 Religion and Economics and the Worlds between Them 
Key Terms 
Social Stratification 
Weber’s Thesis 
Consumerism and “Liquid Religion” 
Liquid Religion and Commitment 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 4 Religion and Equality for All: African American Activism 
Key Terms 
Agency and Structure 
Racial Equality 
After Slavery 
Institutionalized Racism 
The 1950s and Beyond 
Black Power 
The Social Gospel 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 5 The Religious Right 
Key Terms 
Christian Evangelicalism and Christian Fundamentalism: Some Basics 
Historical Background on Fundamentalism 
Fundamentalism in the 20th Century 
Fundamentalism as it is Lived Today 
The Rise of Televangelism 
TV Becomes Political 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 6 Sexed and Sexual Souls 
Key terms 
Women in the World 
Religion and Women 
Gender and Sex 
Religion and Gender 
Separate Spheres 
Women at the Forefront 
Sexual Expression 
What Is Normal? 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 7 The End of Religion As We Know It, or Just a New Beginning? 
Key Terms 
Society Divinized 
Civil Religion 
Privatization of Religion 
Therapeutic Religions 
What Are We Celebrating Now? 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 8 From Chapels to Arenas 
Key Terms 
The Theory of McDonaldization 
The “Business” of the Megachurch 
Another Perspective 
The Key Difference 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 9 Past Religion but Post-Secular 
Key Terms 
The Radical Lack 
Postmodern Religion 
Heaven’s Gate 
Edge Religions 
Discussion Questions 

CHAPTER 10 Trends in Religious Affiliation 
Key Terms 
Where Are We Now? 
How Did We Get Here? 
So, Where Are We Going? 
Stepping Boldly Into the Future 
Discussion Questions 




George Sanders

George Sanders, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University, 2008

Like many undergraduate students, I did not enter college with a clear goal. So I found myself exploring many different classes across the university curriculum. The problem wasn’t that I was dissatisfied with a particular topic, discipline, or major. It was the opposite. Just about everything I studied held some attraction or fascination for me. The more I ventured across different academic terrains, the more I became curious about what else there was to know. The first couple of years I probably declared a new major every single semester.

College, in some ways, is a real-life adventure. There we can take responsible risks and allow ourselves to be challenged, setting aside what we think we know and what we take for granted as being “real” or “true.” This is what I like most about the sociology and specifically the sociology of religion. For those whose religion occupies a central place in their lives - who are guided by their religious principles and practices - their truth is incontrovertible and their reality is well structured. And yet we recognize that in an increasingly diverse society, people’s truths and realities vary significantly. To me the sociology of religion makes space for that fact. Sociology provides the empirics, the tools, and the scientific bona fides for making sense out of multiple realities and multiple truths. In doing so, sociology delicately balances the relative with the absolute.

These presuppositions guide all of my research, which to this point has examined the role of the sacred in a consumer-driven, postmodern context. For me personally, the highlight of my scholarly explorations has been the manner in which we as a society have proven quite capable of realizing transcendence and a sense of enchantment in spite of an environment saturated by rationalizing mechanisms.

Oakland University has been a welcome and welcoming setting for my work. Situated outside the city of Detroit, the region is, in spite of reasonable expectations, undergoing a kind of miraculous resurrection. It is nothing short of inspiring, something keenly reflected in my students; they are committed to realizing transformation and they refuse to abandon their wide-eyed wonder. Indeed, I’d have to say that those students are pretty darn awesome.

Josh Packard

Josh Packard, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University, 2008

When I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to visit a synagogue, a church and a mosque in the same semester for one of my courses. I remember being struck by their remarkable similarity. I found myself coming back, time and again, to the ways that people managed to organize their religious expressions in remarkably consistent ways even if those expressions were directed at unique expressions of God. This, to me, suggested something about the universality of religion. I did not know it at the time, but I was taking my first steps toward a sociological understanding of religion.

I remember, distinctly, my early conversations with friends, parents and pastors about the connections I saw between the role of ritual, the construction of belief and the common distinctions that religious systems made between the sacred and the everyday. I struggled to explain what I was thinking and they, as often as not, struggled to understand. Indeed, it is difficult to explain the sociological perspective of religion to others. It is, perhaps, too intimate for most religious people to be able to think abstractly about and too unfamiliar for the non-religious to fully grasp.

When George and I sat down to think about how we could remedy this gap for our own students, we hit on the idea of a textbook that would deal with real questions and issues in the study of religion. For me, this textbook is a natural fit with the kind of research and scholarship I already do. I began my formal research into religion with my dissertation, which was later turned into a book, The Emerging Church: Religion at the Margins. More recently, I wrote, with a student of mine, Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why People are DONE with Church but not their Faith. Both of these books, and the articles and presentations that make up the rest of my research take a pragmatic approach. I had a question that I wanted to answer.

It helps that I work at The University of Northern Colorado where the sociology department has an explicitly applied focus. We take the approach that a sociological understanding of the world helps our students to do their jobs better and create a more critical, well-informed citizenry. I believe those values represented in my own scholarship and department are present in this textbook as well. As I wrote, outlined chapters and tracked down references, I often found myself returning to those early conversations I had as an undergraduate. I wanted this textbook to be a helpful way to frame conversations about religion from a sociological perspective. With all of that in mind, I hope you find this book to be, above all else, useful. I know that writing it has been immensely valuable for me and the conversations I continue to have with my students, colleagues, friends and family.

Related ISBN's: 9781465287519, 9781524910341




ISBN 9781465287519

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