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Rediscovering the Sacred: Perspectives on Religion in Contemporary Society by Robert Wuthnow

Robert Wuthnow is a Century editor at large and a member of the faculty at Princeton University. This volume was published by William E. Eerdmans Publishing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1992. This material was prepared for Religion on Line by William E. Chapman.

Wuthnow proposes that the term "rediscovery" rather than "revival" clarifies what is happening in religion today. He provides some personal background which informs this choice, then outlines his case using insights from other sociologists as well as social commentators.

Chapter 1: Sacredness and Everyday Life
An introduction to Peter Berger’s approach to religion. Wuthnow provides a careful and understandable explanation of Berger’s approach. At the end, three concepts are raised in a critical evaluation suggesting both strengths and weaknesses in Berger ‘s approach.

Chapter 2: The Cultural Dimension
Wuthnow surveys the work of major sociologists of religion, offering how these contributors relate to one another. This discussion demonstrates the development of this area of study. The argument offers his perspective on where sociology of religion is headed as a field, and what the results of those steps may be.

Chapter 3: Religious Discourse as Public Rhetoric
After noting how religious discourse has been neglected by sociologists, Wuthnow considers why it is important to work in this area, and how this deficit might be remedied. He turns to books by Northrop Frye and Susan Rubin Suleiman as sources which complement each other, offering critical insight for careful reflection on how persons from different perspectives can begin to understand one another.

Chapter 4: Perspectives on Religious Evolution
Do religions evolve? In this chapter we find a discussion of where the theoretical discussion of this question with attention to three contributors to the field. How does one make a case one way or the other? This question provides the foil for analysis of how the theoretical constructs function. Wuthnow’s conclusion is that, "American religion has become more complex, more internally differentiated, and thus more adaptable to a complex, differentiated society."

Chapter 5: Weberian Themes
Max Weber created sociology of religion. Wuthnow turns to an fresh analysis of Weber’s contribution by examining recent studies of Puritanism by five scholars. The chapter ends with a careful evaluation of how Weber’s theory interacts with these contemporary studies in a way which suggests next steps in the field.

Chapter 6: The Shifting Location of Public Religion
Wuthnow presents four sociological theories relevant to his topic: modernization, world-system, structural contingency, and lifeworld colonization. When he turns to evaluation, he identifies how each of these theories clarify assumptions and suggest fresh ways of approaching careful analysis of religious change.

Chapter 7: International Realities
Wuthnow suggests how awareness of international social dynamics can strengthen sociological analysis. He suggests that three foci offer fresh possibilities for understanding: on generalizable patterns, on deeper changes, and on alternative interpretations. His careful suggestions open up fresh understandings for the religious practitioner as well as the sociologist.

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