Religious Sociology: Interfaces and Boundaries

By William H. Swatos Jr. | Go to book overview

1. Faith, Facts, and Values in the Sociology of Religion

Benton Johnson

Robert W. Friedrichs has spoken of the past two or three generations as a time of detente between social science and religion. 1 Although he has little to say about the contributions sociologists made to this state, it seems clear that two of their claims were essential to bringing it about. The first was the assertion that empirical science can say nothing definitive about the truth or falsity of religious beliefs. The second was the assertion that science is incompetent to make value judgments concerning religious practices and their effects. These two assertions formed the basis for a non- antagonistic division of labor between social scientists on the one hand and religionists on the other. The latter were to have sole jurisdiction over theological and moral judgments. The former claimed to be able to make only non-evaluative explanations of religious behavior.

Friedrichs has also observed that this detente is now in jeopardy. He has pointed to a few trends in sociology and related fields that have helped put it in jeopardy, but he has not seen that the intellectual basis for the accommodation between sociology and religion has been shaky from the very beginning. From varying perspectives and with varying degrees of clarity, an increasing number of sociologists are realizing just how shaky it is. 2 Their reactions to this insight have already begun to shatter the consensus that existed for so long in the field at the level of general theory. With the benefit of hindsight it is now possible to give a concise account of the intellectual problems to which these sociologists are responding.

First, there is a contradiction between the claim that sociology

-3-

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