Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters” by Christian Smith— A Groundbreaking New Theory of Religion

Smith, Christian. “Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters”,  Princeton University Press reprint, 2019.

A Groundbreaking New Theory of Religion

 Amos Lassen

Religion remains an important influence in the world today, yet the social sciences are still not adequately equipped to understand and explain it. Building on recent developments in science, theory, and philosophy to advance an innovative theory of religion that goes beyond the problematic theoretical paradigms of the past is writer Christian Smith’s purpose here.

Using the philosophy of critical realism and personalist social theory, Christian Smith answers key questions about the nature, powers, workings, appeal, and future of religion. He defines religion in a way that resolves myriad problems and ambiguities in past accounts, explains the kinds of causal influences religion exerts in the world, and examines the key cognitive process that makes religion possible. He further explores why humans are religious in the first place (uniquely so as a species)  and offers an account of secularization and religious innovation and persistence.

 “Religion” includes a wealth of illustrations and examples that help to make its concepts accessible to readers. Writer Smith brings sound theoretical thinking to a perennially difficult subject, and a new vitality and focus to its study.

Smith analyses what religion is, how it works and why it matters, using an approach combining critical theory with personalist social theory. It is  articulate, accessible, and engaging. Smith ignores the postmodern claims that religion is merely a discursive category and provides a critical realist account of what it means to speak of the causal power of a set of religious practices. The result is a social scientific theory that explains why religions continue to be powerful entities operating in the world

 Smith’s goal in this book is to not deal with amateur biases and media-centered discussions surrounding religion, but to provide an empirically and theoretically well-grounded discussion of “what religion is?” “how it works?” “why are humans religious?” etc.

This book is for those interested in understanding religion in all of its various manifestations, as well as the influence it can exert across communities, institutions, and individual lives. It is filled with examples from a wide variety of religious contexts and is accessible to all who have a genuine curiosity into the subject matter.


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