Alternative Sociologies of Religion

Through Non-Western Eyes

336 pages

March, 2017

ISBN: 9781479826636



Add to Cart Available: 2/17/2017

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James V. Spickard is Professor of Sociology at the University of Redlands and current president of the ISA's Research Committee on the Sociology of Religion. He is the coauthor of Personal Knowledge and Beyond: Reshaping the Ethnography of Religion (NYU Press), among several other books.

All books by James V. Spickard

Alternative Sociologies of Religion explores what the sociology of religion would look like had it emerged in a Confucian, Muslim, or Native American culture rather than in a Christian one.   

Sociology has long used Western Christianity as a model for all religious life. As a result, the field has tended to highlight aspects of religion that Christians find important, such as religious beliefs and formal organizations, while paying less attention to other elements.   Rather than simply criticizing such limitations, James V. Spickard imagines what the sociology of religion would look like had it arisen in three non-Western societies.  What aspects of religion would scholars see more clearly if they had been raised in Confucian China?  What could they learn about religion from Ibn Khaldun, the famed 14th century Arab scholar?  What would they better understand, had they been born Navajo, whose traditional religion certainly does not revolve around beliefs and organizations?  

Through these thought experiments, Spickard shows how non-Western ideas understand some aspects of religions--even of Western religions--better than does standard sociology.  The volume shows how non-Western frameworks can shed new light on several different dimensions of religious life, including the question of who maintains religious communities, the relationships between religion and ethnicity as sources of social ties, and the role of embodied experience in religious rituals. These approaches reveal central aspects of contemporary religions that the dominant way of doing sociology fails to notice.  Each approach also provides investigators with new theoretical resources to guide them deeper into their subjects.  The volume makes a compelling case for adopting a global perspective in the social sciences. 


  • "In the last decade there have been a number of highly visible critiques of the Christian and Protestant base of US sociology of religion. James V. Spickard, with his many ties to European sociology of religion, breaks out of the insularity of US research.  His deep immersion in nonwestern thought also bears fruit in this text. It is a significant contribution to an ongoing conversation about how research on religion needs to change." 

    —Mary Jo Neitz, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Missouri

  • "This book demonstrates how sociological thinking can be colored by global contexts and helps to render the broad, global sociological realities visible. Such a revitalized sociological tool kit enables sociologists on both sides of the Atlantic to engage in intellectual engineering and build upon critical sociological theory relevant in their respective contexts and milieus." 

    —Afe Adogame, Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Christianity and Society, Princeton Theological Seminary

  •  "This engaging volume will appeal to a broad audience."


  • “Spickard’s book offers a challenge to traditional sociological epistemology. It will be of interest to anyone interested in contemporary sociological theory of the study of religion.”

    Reading Religion

  • “Spickard’s carefully written, groundbreaking text effectively engages the reader in many thoughtful experiments that offer an intriguing alternative to the state of the discipline as we know it. This book is appropriate for large general collections serving undergraduates, graduates, and faculty. It is also appropriate for collections focusing on sociology, anthropology, and comparative religion.”

    Catholic Library World

  • "Alternative Sociologies of Religion is beautifully written—clear, articulate, and frequently passionate and engaging. Spickard’s arguments all command considerable merit and attention. His alternative program for teaching and research will help to refashion more conventional sociologies of religion."

    Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • "I [University of Georgia Religion Professor David Smilde] strongly sympathize with [Spickard’s] efforts to use comparative research to enrich the sociology of religion."

    Sociology of Religion

  • “In praise of this analysis, Spickard does a good job of demonstrating how thinking can be stretched so that religion can be examined in those dimensions that past habitual frameworks have undervalued, missed, ignored, or not been able to see.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • “Spickard’s endeavor is a worthy one and his execution of it is well done.”

    Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion