The Sociology of Religion: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives

The Sociology of Religion: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives

The Sociology of Religion: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives

The Sociology of Religion: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives


This clear introduction to the sociology of religion combines a discussion of key theorists with a modern emphasis on the diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Malcolm Hamilton's expanded second edition brings the discussion fully up-to-date, and extends its material on secularization and religious sects, giving a broad comparative view. Drawing on the insights of history, anthropology and sociology, he surveys classic and contemporary theory to give a full picture of the variety and scope of theoretical perspectives.


Despite the often bemoaned fact among sociologists of religion that their subdiscipline tends to be treated as peripheral, a remarkable amount of work has been carried out and published since the first edition of this book appeared. Debates have also been noticeably intense and animated and there appears to be no sign at all of the sub-discipline fading away as some had once feared.

This second edition has been extensively revised and expanded to bring it up to date with current debates and research findings. The debate concerning secularisation, for example, has been particularly vigorous and the chapter on this topic has been extended accordingly. Alongside secularisation, the emergence of the new religious sects and movements has for long been a prominent, perhaps even more prominent, issue in the sociology of religion, but although the former has in the last few years perhaps taken over the position of the latter as the topic that has attracted most attention, religious sects and movements have far from lost the fascination they have always held. This second edition allows a fuller discussion of earlier work on the nature of sectarianism and studies of new religious sects and movements as well as consideration of new work and material which have appeared in the last few years, including the addition of a new section on conversion.

Both the secularisation debate and work on the new religious movements have received close attention from rational choice theorists and this edition includes more detailed consideration of the recent contribution that this theoretical perspective has made and of its critics, and in particular of questions such as the relationship between religious pluralism, on the one hand, and the conditions that prevail in the religious ‘market place’, on the other.

The fact that it is the topics of sectarianism and secularisation that have required the most extensive updating would seem to reinforce the accusation that has sometimes been made that the sociology of religion has been largely preoccupied with this narrow range of subject matter and, even then, largely in a Christian context. While this continues to ring true, developments in other areas, most notably within the sphere of anthropology, have been significant. In accordance with one of the key aims of the book, namely to cut across disciplinary frontiers, the chapter on ritual which makes extensive use of anthropological work has, in consequence, been substantially filled out.

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