Sociology Protestantism
by
Bradley Wright
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0102

Introduction

Christianity is the largest religion in the world, and Protestantism is one of its major traditions. It encompasses Western Christians who are not members of the Catholic or Eastern Christian church. Protestantism got its start in the 16th century with the work of Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers, and since then it has experienced many splits over doctrinal differences, resulting in a wide range of Protestant denominations. Protestants account for about 37 percent of all Christians and about 12 percent of all people in the world. Although Protestantism played a key role in the development of modern Europe, its adherents are now spread widely throughout the world. For example, today more Protestants live in sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe. The study of Protestantism touches on many issues of interest to sociologists. Obviously it fits into the sociology of religion, but the study of Protestantism has also advanced sociological knowledge regarding social class, civic and political engagement, adolescent development, gender, race and ethnicity, and many other substantive and methodological issues. By and large, studies of Protestantism are published in sociological outlets devoted either to religion, in particular, or to sociology, in general; in other words, these studies are not limited only to Protestant journals or publications. Furthermore, some studies of Protestantism focus exclusively on it, but many others nest their analyses of Protestantism into a broader focus of Christianity or religion as a whole. Because about half of Americans are Protestants, some measure of Protestantism shows up in many studies conducted in the United States. As a result, it is easy to underestimate the amount of attention given to the study of Protestantism. This bibliography points to some of the best-known works that explicitly focus on, or at least touch on, Protestantism, but this topic appears in a remarkably wide array of sociological works.

General Overviews

Protestantism, being spread throughout the world, can be studied at the global level or within specific countries. General overviews of Protestantism tend to focus on specific countries, quite frequently the United States, but useful cross-national comparisons are also available.

Global

Although Protestantism has expanded worldwide, this does not mean that the religion is growing at the same rates, or even in the same direction, in all countries. Bruce 1995 discusses the decline of Protestantism in Europe, where the historical roots of Protestantism lie. In the Southern Hemisphere, however, the religion has grown rapidly, especially in the form of Pentecostalism, as discussed by Smilde 2007. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2011 and Barrett, et al. 2001 offer summary reports that document the dispersion of Protestantism across different countries, continents, and language groups, as well as how this has changed over the last century. Jenkins 2011 notes that if the observed trends continue, the nature and impact of Protestantism will change dramatically in coming decades, perhaps setting the stage for increased religious conflict.

  • Barrett, David B., George Thomas Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson. 2001. World Christian encyclopedia. 2d ed. 2 vols. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A comprehensive, statistical survey of Christianity worldwide. Describes the Christian composition of countries, cities, and people groups. Powerful for its descriptive nature alone, it is also frequently used in global studies of religion that link levels of religion included in this encyclopedia to other variables of interest.

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  • Bruce, Steve. 1995. The truth about religion in Britain. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34.4: 417–430.

    DOI: 10.2307/1387336Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article, Bruce describes changes in religion in Britain—mainly in mainline Protestant denominations—since the 1800s. He concludes that these changes best fit with a secularization model, rather than with rational-choice theories of religion. Documents the recent decline of religiosity in Britain. Available online by subscription.

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  • Jenkins, Philip. 2011. The next Christendom: The coming of global Christianity. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Christianity is spreading most rapidly in the Southern Hemisphere, and its form is changing—becoming more charismatic and Pentecostal. This book explores the implications of this growth and change in the nature of Christianity, for both the faith and the world as a whole. Among the implications, as Christianity and Islam grow in the same regions, a greater potential for sectarian conflict exists between the two religions.

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  • Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2011. Global Christianity: A report on the size and distribution of the world’s Christian population. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

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    A remarkably comprehensive report of the demographics of Christianity worldwide. Drawing on several thousand data sources, the report estimates the Christian population—Catholic and Protestant—in more than two hundred countries. It also summarizes changes in the distribution of Christianity over the last century and makes clear just how widely Christianity has spread since its historical concentration in Europe. The website also includes interactive maps, sortable data tables, and quizzes.

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  • Smilde, David. 2007. Reason to believe: Cultural agency in Latin American evangelicalism. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Evangelical Pentecostalism in Latin America is one of the world’s fastest-growing religions. This influential ethnographic account is based on in-depth interviews with men in Venezuela to determine their reasons for turning to Pentecostalism. Their answers emphasize the benefits that it provides, including giving communal ties and support in turning away from drugs and violence.

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United States

Protestantism in the United States is extremely well documented. Chaves 2011, Kosmin and Keysar 2009, and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2008 provide summary studies that map out the distribution of specific denominations and traditions within Protestantism. Other studies describe and seek to explain significant changes over time, including Caplow 1982, Herberg 1960, and Mead 1954. Smith and Kim 2005 discusses the numerical decline of mainline Protestantism over the past century. Putnam and Campbell 2010 provides a wide-ranging overview of religion in America, much of which concerns Protestants.

  • Caplow, Theodore. 1982. Religion in Middletown. The Public Interest 68:78–87.

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    Robert and Helen Lynd’s classic “Middletown” study (see Robert S. Lynd and Helen M. Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture [New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1929]) in the 1920s and 1930s examined the predominately Protestant community of Muncie, IN. Fifty years later, Theodore Caplow revisits Muncie and, with a new wave of data collection, maps out the various ways in which religious affiliation, practices, and beliefs have, and have not, changed over the previous fifty years. This study offers a microcosm of religious change throughout the United States.

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  • Chaves, Mark. 2011. American religion: Contemporary trends. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    This book describes important religious trends in America since the 1970s. Many of the trends regard religion as a whole (e.g., whether Americans believe in God), but some are specific to Protestantism (e.g., the continued decline of mainline Protestantism). Analyses are mostly based on the General Social Survey, begun in 1972, and Chaves’s National Congregations Study.

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  • Herberg, Will. 1960. Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An essay in American religious sociology. Rev. ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

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    A classic book that explores the interaction of ethnic identity and religion. It argues that rather than being one large melting pot, the United States has three separate melting pots based on Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious traditions. As a result, people will marry outside of their ethnic group but stay within their religious tradition. Emphasizes the importance of religion in forming identity.

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  • Kosmin, Barry A., and Ariela Keysar. 2009. American religious identification survey (ARIS 2008). Hartford, CT: Trinity College.

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    Survey of 54,461 American adults centers on the question, “What is your religion, if any?” This open-ended question measures how Americans define their religious identification. It finds an increase in Protestants reporting being “generic” Christians rather than members of a specific denomination and compares the changes with those in the 1990 and 1998 ARIS surveys.

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  • Mead, Sidney E. 1954. Denominationalism: The shape of Protestantism in America. Church History 23.4: 291–320.

    DOI: 10.2307/3161713Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic essay about denominations in the United States. It traces their growth back to the colonial era, and it describes and explains why the denominational form of religion in America Protestantism evolved as it did. Available online by subscription.

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  • Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2008. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

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    Two-part report based on a survey of thirty-five thousand American adults regarding their religious affiliation, beliefs, practices, and characteristics. Numerous tables break down variables across Protestant denominations. An important overview of the basic characteristics of religions in America.

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  • Putnam, Robert D., and David E. Campbell. 2010. American grace: How religion divides and unites us. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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    An important overview of the major religion trends in America’s recent history. It provides the larger social context for American Protestantism and examines some specifically Protestant issues, such as the rise of the religious right.

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  • Smith, Tom W., and Seokho Kim. 2005. The vanishing Protestant majority. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44.2: 211–223.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2005.00277.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The percentage of Americans who overtly affiliate with Protestant denominations has steadily declined since the mid-1960s. This article explores data from several major data sets, especially the General Social Survey (cited under Data Sources), and concludes that it results from lower levels of intergenerational transmission of Protestantism as well as attrition in the youngest cohorts. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Handbooks

The sociology of religion is blessed with a wide array of summary handbooks. These sources make it easy for students and scholars to review quickly the work done in a given area within the sociology of religion. Although these have their differences, each is worth regularly consulting. Each has some chapters devoted exclusively to Protestantism, but most weave in studies and data about Protestantism while discussing other substantive issues. Clarke 2008 is the most recent and comprehensive of the four listed here, although its topics can be highly specialized. Ebaugh 2005 is organized around the institutions most often studied by sociologists, making it particularly useful. Beckford and Demerath 2007 and Dillon 2003 provide alternative ways of defining and summarizing the sociology of religion.

  • Beckford, James A., and N. J. Demerath III, eds. 2007. The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    Chapters contributed by leading authorities on the sociology of religion. The topics include broad theories, methods, various substantive issues, and individual case studies. Some chapters focus explicitly on Protestants, and most make some reference to, or present data about, Protestants.

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  • Clarke, Peter B., ed. 2008. The Oxford handbook of the sociology of religion. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199279791.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive, up-to-date collection of review essays from leading scholars. Although it consciously covers non-Western and non-Christian forms of religion, it also contains a great deal about Christianity and Protestantism.

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  • Dillon, Michele, ed. 2003. Handbook of the sociology of religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511807961Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Essays from leading lights in the sociology of religion. The topics range from classical issues to more contemporary ones. Provides a useful conceptual background for the study of Protestants. Although a bit dated, it tends to be less expensive than the other handbooks so it might be more suitable for use in class.

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  • Ebaugh, Helen Rose, ed. 2005. Handbook of religion and social institutions. New York: Springer.

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    A collection of twenty-one chapters reviewing research on religion and social institutions. Includes politics, education, families, various forms of inequalities, social control, culture, and religion as a social institution. A good starting point for discussing religion in these areas because the topics tend to overlap standard topics studied by sociologists.

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Data Sources

The sociological study of Protestantism has many data sources available for researchers. About half of respondents in any national survey of Americans generally are Protestants; therefore, the issue becomes which of these surveys collect religious measures of interest to the researcher. The General Social Survey is probably the most frequently used data set in the study of Protestantism, because it includes a wide variety of religious affiliation measures as well as measures of various other religious constructs. Several other resources exist for finding other, more specialized data sets. The Association of Religion Data Archives catalogues data sets collected by both scholars and church officials. The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research provides the widest array of sociological data sets, many of which have some measure of religion. The iPoll Databank enables researchers to review survey questions from predominately public opinion polls. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life offers data sets and research reports that it has created about many facets of religion in the world.

Journals

Although articles about Protestantism appear in journals throughout sociology, the majority appear in these specialty journals. These journals occupy different niches. The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion is arguably the most well-known and influential journal in the social scientific study of religion. Although interdisciplinary in nature, it receives the most contributions from sociologists. The Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on Religion, out of Baylor University, is also interdisciplinary, but the status in the field of this online journal is still undetermined. Sociology of Religion is housed within sociology, and it has the reputation for being most welcoming to interdisciplinary articles. Review of Religious Research is aimed at religious professionals as well as academics. Social Compass is the most international of the specialty journals.

Protestant Traditions

Protestantism takes many different forms—from high-church, liturgical Episcopalians to storefront Pentecostal churches. Perhaps this is one reason it is such an interesting topic to study. Most descriptions of Protestants distinguish between theologically liberal, and often socially progressive, mainline Protestants versus theologically conservative, and often socially traditional, conservative Protestants.

Mainline Protestants

Mainline churches mostly represent the Protestant denominations imported from Europe during the founding of the United States. As Baltzell 1987 and Davidson, et al. 1995 discuss, mainline Protestants were at one time the most numerous and influential religious group in America; however, this has changed over the last one hundred years as their membership dropped dramatically. Chaves and Sutton 2004 as well as Evans 2009 develop various reasons for this decline. In general, as Roof and McKinney 1987 identifies, explanations for this decline point to structural and cultural changes in the United States. Hadden 1969 points out the political and theological disconnection between mainline Protestant clergy and their congregants.

  • Baltzell, E. Digby. 1987. The Protestant establishment: Aristocracy and caste in America. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Upper-class Americans have traditionally been WASPs—white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. This classic book reviews the WASP (a term coined by Baltzell) subculture from the late 19th century past the mid-20th century. Explores the political and social aspects of the Protestant establishment and what happens when this group has to share power and status with outsiders. Originally published in 1964.

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  • Chaves, Mark, and John R. Sutton. 2004. Organizational consolidation in American Protestant denominations, 1890–1990. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43.1: 51–66.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2004.00217.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the ongoing changes in American mainline Protestantism has been denominational mergers; however, sociologists have not given it much attention. This article tests the antecedents of these mergers and finds that they are influenced by denominational identity and organizational characteristics. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Davidson, James D., Ralph E. Pyle, and David V. Reyes. 1995. Persistence and change in the Protestant establishment, 1930–1992. Social Forces 74.1: 157–175.

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    Throughout American history, the “power elite” have been disproportionately mainline Protestant, but has this changed in recent times? This article examines data from Who’s Who in America, which shows that, even though the overall percentage of mainline Protestants among the elite has declined, this group is still overrepresented. It finds that Jews and Unitarians are also overrepresented, but Catholics and evangelicals are underrepresented. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Evans, John H. 2009. Where is the counterweight? Explorations of the decline in mainline Protestant participation in public debates over values. In Evangelicals and democracy in America. Vol. 1, Religion and society. Edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel, 221–247. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    Mainline Protestants participate in public debates about values less often than in the past for various reasons, including the numerical decline of mainline Protestantism, the media’s tepid reaction to them (compared to the more controversial conservative Protestants), and the nature of mainline values. This chapter provides a concise summary of some of the major strands of recent research conducted about mainline Protestants.

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  • Hadden, Jeffrey K. 1969. The gathering storm in the churches. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

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    This classic study of religion in America warns of an impending crisis in mainline Protestant churches due to differences between the clergy and the laity. Specifically, many of the clergy in these churches are more socially and theoretically liberal than their congregants, setting the stage for conflict about the meaning of church, theological beliefs, and the authority of the clergy.

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  • Roof, Wade Clark, and William McKinney. 1987. American mainline religion: Its changing shape and future. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    The authors posit that a “new voluntarism” is eroding traditional social and economic boundaries in the United States. This, in turn, affects the major religions in America. This provides the context and rationale for the decline of mainline Protestantism as well as the resurgence and cultural influence of more conservative forms of Christianity.

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Evangelicals

As Woodberry and Smith 1998 indicates, theologically conservative Protestants take various forms, including evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and charismatics. “Evangelical” refers to a movement that adheres to the need for personal conversion, the authority of the Bible, the teaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the need for evangelism. Sometimes it is used as an umbrella term for all theologically conservative Christians. Fundamentalism originated in the early 1900s as a counter to the spread of liberalism and secularization. Charismatic and Pentecostalism are movements that emphasize the need for Christians to be filled with, or baptized with, the Holy Spirit as a second experience after conversion. As described by Smith 1998, evangelicals tend to engage modern culture, both to change the culture and to define their own boundaries. Wilkins 2008 points out that evangelicals also distinguish themselves from others along various other dimensions, including emotions. Sargeant 2000 identifies a recent development in this engagement—the development of outsider-friendly seeker churches. Although evangelicals are typically lumped into one category, they still have significant disagreement and conflict among them, a case made by Ammerman 1990, as well as wide variation in their approaches to modern social issues, according to Smith 2000. Rosson and Fields 2008 observes that evangelical Christianity is spreading worldwide, particularly in countries with specific sets of values.

  • Ammerman, Nancy T. 1990. Baptist battles: Social change and religious conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    A classic study of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Remarkably evenhanded and fair, Ammerman gives voice to each side of the conflict and provides both the organizational and theological context for this milestone even in one of America’s largest religious denominations. Highlights processes at work throughout American Protestantism.

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  • Rosson, Thomas, and Dail Fields. 2008. Cultural influences on the growth in evangelical Christianity: A longitudinal study of 49 countries. Review of Religious Research 49.3: 269–289.

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    Those countries in which evangelical Christianity is growing most quickly tend to favor collectivism over individualism and those that value conformity and authority based on tradition. Other explanations for this growth focus on attributes of evangelical Christianity. This article extends this literature by describing variations in reception to evangelical Christianity. Available online by subscription.

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  • Sargeant, Kimon Howland. 2000. Seeker churches: Promoting traditional religion in a nontraditional way. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Evangelical seeker churches make their Sunday services as welcoming as possible to the unchurched visitor. Sargeant explores this strategy by analyzing the Willow Creek Association that is at the forefront of the seeker movement. Covers the messages given, the music played, and the overall strategy, as well as providing insight into this recent innovation.

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  • Smith, Christian. 1998. American evangelicalism: Embattled and thriving. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    In contrast to the expectations of secularization theory, evangelical Christianity is rapidly growing in America. This book offers an intriguing explanation that this growth in evangelicalism is occurring because of modern pluralism. Using survey data and in-depth interviews, Smith analyzes how evangelicals both engage modern culture and use it to define and strengthen their religious outlook. Recasts the relationship between pluralism and religion.

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  • Smith, Christian. 2000. Christian America? What evangelicals really want. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Considerable misinformation and negative stereotypes exist about American evangelicals. This book counteracts these by reporting data from a nationwide study of evangelicals. It describes their beliefs, values, and actions on a range of topics, and the resulting image is one of greater within-group variation and tolerance than is normally accorded to this group. Allows evangelicals to speak for themselves.

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  • Wilkins, Amy C. 2008. “Happier than non-Christians”: Collective emotions and symbolic boundaries among evangelical Christians. Social Psychology Quarterly 71.3: 281–301.

    DOI: 10.1177/019027250807100308Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    What does it mean to be a Christian? Most people answer this in terms of beliefs, actions, and identities. Wilkins, however, adds emotions. In a case study of a campus evangelical group, she finds that this group values feeling and demonstrating happiness as a key component of their faith. The linkage is so strong that feeling happy takes on moral dimensions. Useful for pointing out the potentially all-encompassing nature of Christianity.

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  • Woodberry, Robert D., and Christian S. Smith. 1998. Fundamentalism et al.: Conservative Protestants in America. Annual Review of Sociology 24:25–56.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.25Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A useful overview of the distinctions among American white conservative Protestants, that is, fundamentalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and charismatics. This review article describes the history of these groups as well as measurement issues, regional variation, and various substantive issues. A good starting point in understanding conservative Protestants. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics

Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and charismatic forms of conservative Protestantism have fascinated researchers through the years. As Emerson and Hartman 2006 details, fundamentalist Christianity has grown rapidly both in the United States and worldwide. This form of Christianity is studied by itself and also in comparison with forms of fundamentalism in other religions, as summarized by Antoun 2008. The expansion of fundamentalism has various implications. For example, Freston 2007 links it to political values, and Marty and Appleby 1992 claims that it challenges the assumptions of modernity. Chestnut 2010 points out that Pentecostal and charismatic Protestantism have likewise grown rapidly. Studies, such as those by Perrin and Mauss 1991 and Poloma and Green 2010, have documented the processes of this growth in specific denominations.

  • Antoun, Richard T. 2008. Understanding fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish movements. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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    Explores fundamentalism on a global scale, examining Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists as well as Christian. Comparing these three forms of fundamentalism makes it possible to identify what is unique about Christian fundamentalism as well as what is shared with the other religions. Focuses on how fundamentalists negotiate the relationship of religion with modern culture.

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  • Chestnut, R. Andrew. 2010. Conservative Christian competitors: Pentecostals and charismatic Catholics in Latin America’s new religious economy. SAIS Review 30.1: 91–103.

    DOI: 10.1353/sais.0.0082Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pentecostalism has boomed in Latin American in recent decades. This essay reviews this rapid expansion, comparing it with concurrent growth among Catholic charismatics, and provides reasons for this growth. One of the chief reasons is the utilitarian nature of Pentecostalism, which appeals to the impoverished, as well as skilled marketing. Available online by subscription.

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  • Emerson, Michael O., and David Hartman. 2006. The rise of religious fundamentalism. Annual Review of Sociology 32:127–144.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.32.061604.123141Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although the word “fundamentalism” was first used to describe a strain of conservative Protestants in the United States, it is now applied to religions worldwide. This review article examines basic issues that arise in the study of fundamentalism, including definitions, measurements, and correlates of fundamentalism. Although the focus of the article is worldwide fundamentalism, it is useful in providing a broader context for the study of American Christian fundamentalism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Freston, Paul. 2007. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism: The politics of global popular Protestantism. In The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Edited by James A. Beckford and N. J. Demerath III, 205–226. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    This chapter reviews the global spread of Pentecostalism, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. In particular, it explores the political implications of this spread by examining the linkage between Pentecostalism and democracy as well as violence. A useful introduction to the spread of Pentecostalism.

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  • Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby. 1992. The glory and the power: The fundamentalist challenge to the modern world. Boston: Beacon.

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    An evenhanded portrayal of fundamentalists in religions worldwide, including Christian fundamentalists in the United States. Importantly, it elaborates the need for Pentecostals to have an enemy against whom they can rally and develop cohesion. In this sense, this book precedes the logic of Christian Smith’s studies of evangelicals (cited under Evangelicals). This book is the companion volume to a fine PBS series on fundamentalism titled The Glory and the Power: Fundamentalisms Observed (1992).

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  • Perrin, Robin D., and Armand L. Mauss. 1991. Saints and seekers: Sources of recruitment to the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Review of Religious Research 33.2: 97–111.

    DOI: 10.2307/3511907Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article finds that contrary to the “circulation of the saints” hypothesis, most of the joiners to the Vineyard came from Catholic and mainline Protestant backgrounds. Furthermore, they were seeking a more demanding, rewarding religious experience—consistent with Dean Kelley’s theory that strictness is the reason that conservative Protestant churches grow (published in his book Why Conservative Churches Are Growing [New York: Harper & Row, 1972]). Provides an empirical test for class theories of church growth. Available online by subscription.

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  • Poloma, Margaret M., and John C. Green. 2010. The Assemblies of God: Godly love and the revitalization of American Pentecostalism. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Rich description of the Assembly of God—the world’s largest denomination. Based on the study of twenty-three Assembly of God congregations in the United States. Perhaps the most interesting topic is about how the organizational and institutional aspects of being a denomination interplay, and potentially hinder, its emphasis on people’s charismatic experiences directly with God and how the denomination seeks to resolve these competing tensions.

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Black Protestants

Historically black Protestant churches provide a bit of a puzzle. On one hand, as described by Edwards 2009, these churches are theologically conservative and have expressive, spirit-filled services. On the other hand, as noted by Billingsley 1998 and Pattillo-McCoy 1998, they are socially progressive, playing a vital role in bringing about justice in the black community. Nonetheless, they are not a monolithic group because, as Ellison and Sherkat 1995 details, the strength and pressure to attend these churches vary widely across regions in the United States.

  • Billingsley, Andrew. 1998. Mighty like a river: The black church and social reform. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A defining feature of the black church in America is the important role that it plays in the black community. This relatively short book chronicles the black church’s drive for personal righteousness as well as social justice. Draws on historical documents to trace these themes back to the antebellum period and uses survey data and case studies to describe the efforts of the modern-day church.

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  • Edwards, Korie L. 2009. Race, religion, and worship: Are contemporary African-American worship practices distinct? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48.1: 30–52.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2009.01428.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the worship practices of African American churches using data from the National Congregations Study. Finds that spontaneous physical worship, but not verbal affirmation, is unique to African American congregations. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ellison, Christopher G., and Darren E. Sherkat. 1995. The “semi-involuntary institution” revisited: Regional variations in church participation among black Americans. Social Forces 73.4: 1415–1437.

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    Examines social cleavages in the black church. Specifically, it finds significant differences between the rural South and urban areas in other regions of the United States. It examines nationwide data and concludes that strong social norms exist in the rural South for blacks to attend church, but this is not the case in urban areas in other areas of the country. Available online by subscription.

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  • Pattillo-McCoy, Mary. 1998. Church culture as a strategy of action in the black community. American Sociological Review 63.6: 767–784.

    DOI: 10.2307/2657500Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The black church places a unique and fundamental role in the lives of African Americans. This article traces how the distinctive cultural practices of the black church, such as prayer and call-and-response interactions, play important roles in civic action in African American communities. The article contains a useful review of the functions of the black church. Available online by subscription.

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Measurement Issues

The study of Protestantism has created a wide range of measurement issues. No single approach has been accepted for dividing up Protestant denominations. With hundreds of denominations making it infeasible to examine them all separately, some consolidation is necessary. Hackett and Lindsay 2008 describes various approaches for defining and measuring families of Protestantism. Some approaches focus on denominational affiliation, but even this causes disagreement on how to combine the various Protestant denominations, as seen in Moberg 2008; Smith 1990; and Steensland, et al. 2000. Other approaches focus on people’s self-identification with Protestant traditions, including Mitchell and Tilley 2008. Ultimately, the most useful, although least parsimonious, approach might be to consider both denominational affiliation and self-identification (see Alwin, et al. 2006).

  • Alwin, Duane F., Jacob L. Felson, Edward T. Walker, and Paula A. Tufiş. 2006. Measuring religious identities in surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly 70.4: 530–564.

    DOI: 10.1093/poq/nfl024Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the usefulness of the two dominant approaches to measuring American Protestantism: denominational affiliation and self-identification. It finds considerable self-identification variability within denominations and concludes that the best measurement should take both into account. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hackett, Conrad, and D. Michael Lindsay. 2008. Measuring evangelicalism: Consequences of different operationalization strategies. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47.3: 499–514.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00423.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evangelicalism is given a variety of definitions and measurements. This article summarizes the most popular approaches, including those using self-reported identification, affiliation, and beliefs. It tests the correlations of each measurement with various beliefs and characteristics. A helpful overview of the various ways of measuring evangelicalism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Mitchell, Claire, and James Tilley. 2008. Disaggregating conservative Protestant groups in Northern Ireland: Overlapping categories and the importance of a born-again self-identification. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47.4: 738–752.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00438.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Various strategies are used for classifying and measuring conservative Protestants. This article makes the case for using self-identified measures of fundamentalist, evangelical, charismatic, Pentecostal, and born-again Protestantism. Using data collected in Northern Ireland, the authors find that the born-again self-identity is particularly useful in predicting the social correlates of conservative Protestantism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Moberg, David O. 2008. Protestantism as a statistical fiction and “the new denominationalism.” Review of Religious Research 50:30–32.

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    In 1965, Stark and Glock published an article on the “new denominalization” (Rodney Stark and Charles Y. Glock, “The New Denominationalism,” Review of Religious Research 7 [1965]: 8–17) in which they argued that Protestantism is not a monolithic religious category but rather that denominations within this umbrella category have significant differences in beliefs and practices. This article reviews and updates the important work by Stark and Glock. Gives the background and rationale for distinguishing different types of Protestants: liberal, moderate, conservative, and fundamentalist. Available online by subscription.

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  • Smith, Tom W. 1990. Classifying Protestant denominations. Review of Religious Research 31.3: 225–245.

    DOI: 10.2307/3511614Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The United States has many Protestant denominations, which makes it a challenge to classify them. In this article, Smith develops a classification scheme based on three categories of Protestants: liberal, moderate, and fundamentalist. He uses data from the General Social Survey (cited under Data Sources) to test the validity of these categories. Available online by subscription.

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  • Steensland, Brian, Jerry Z. Park, Mark D. Regnerus, Lynn D. Robinson, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Robert D. Woodberry. 2000. The measure of American religion: Toward improving the state of the art. Social Forces 79.1: 291–318.

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    One of the most frequently used coding schemes for American religious affiliation. It divides Protestants into evangelical, mainline, and historically black based on the historical development of various denominations. The coding scheme for this classification, Reltrad, is available online for the statistical software packages SAS and STATA. Available online by subscription.

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The Growth of Conservative and the Decline of Mainline Protestantism

The long-term trend of Protestantism, both in the United States and worldwide, has been the decline of mainline, liberal Protestantism and the growth of various forms of conservative Protestantism. Various explanations have been offered for this pattern of change. Kelley 1978 offers an influential hypothesis that conservative churches are stricter; therefore, from a rational choice perspective they have more to offer. These churches require more from, and offer more to, their adherents; thus, they are more appealing from a cost–benefit perspective. This cost–benefit analysis is at the core of a rational-choice theory of religion, which relates religious decisions to standard economic models of rational decision making. However, empirical tests of this strictness hypothesis are mixed. For example, McGaw 1979 finds support for it, but Bibby 1978 and Bouma 1979 do not. More generally, conservative Protestant denominations are seen as more competitive in the American religious marketplace, and Finke and Stark 1989 argues that this is the reason they have been expanding their influence for more than a century. However, Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1994 offers a countering line of thought, suggesting that newcomers to conservative Protestant churches are mostly people switching from other conservative Protestant churches. Another approach disregards church practices and focuses on demographic differences in fertility. Hout, et al. 2001 finds that conservative Protestants are expanding more rapidly because they have higher birthrates. Still another explanation portrays mainline Protestantism as the victim of its own success. Demerath 1995 argues that the values that mainline Protestantism inculcates into its followers—individualism, pluralism, and tolerance—undermine group cohesion and mobilization.

  • Bibby, Reginald W. 1978. Why conservative churches really are growing: Kelley revisited. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17.2: 129–137.

    DOI: 10.2307/1386156Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article critiques and extends Deane Kelley’s classic thesis (Kelley 1978) that conservative churches are growing because they are strict. Bibby examines data collected in Canada, and he concludes that conservative growth there results from stronger socialization of children, people switching from mainline Protestant denominations, and greater participation. Although these processes could result from increased strictness, Bibby finds no evidence that conservative churches are growing due to more effective proselytization—in contrast to Kelley’s thesis. Available online by subscription.

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  • Bibby, Reginald W., and Merlin B. Brinkerhoff. 1994. Circulation of the saints 1966–1990: New data, new reflections. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33.3: 273–280.

    DOI: 10.2307/1386690Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evangelical Christians stress the importance of proselytizing to gain converts from other religious traditions. In this third installment of the “Circulation of the Saints” articles (the earlier articles were published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in 1973 and 1985), the authors revisit two evangelical churches in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Once again they find that the great majority of new members in these churches were already evangelical Christians, either by previous church attendance or by birth. Converts from other religious traditions were rare. Available online by subscription.

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  • Bouma, Gary D. 1979. The real reason one conservative church grew. Review of Religious Research 20.2: 127–137.

    DOI: 10.2307/3509971Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The conservative branch of the reformed church has grown far more rapidly since 1940 than the liberal branch has. This appears to support Deane Kelley’s strictness hypothesis (Kelley 1978). This article argues that this growth is due to immigration and higher levels of fertility—not necessarily due to the greater demands that it places on its members. Demonstrates that multiple factors are affecting the growth of conservative Protestant churches. Available online by subscription.

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  • Demerath, N. J., III. 1995. Cultural victory and organizational defeat in the paradoxical decline of liberal Protestantism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34.4: 458–469.

    DOI: 10.2307/1387339Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Makes the paradoxical case that the success of mainline Protestant denominations contained the seeds of their demise; namely, mainline denominations advanced values such as individualism, freedom, pluralism, tolerance, and democracy. These values, however, make it difficult for an organization to mobilize and sustain itself. Hence, the cultural values of mainline denominations work against their organizational effectiveness. Available online by subscription.

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  • Finke, Roger, and Rodney Stark. 1989. How the upstart sects won America: 1776–1850. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 28.1: 27–44.

    DOI: 10.2307/1387250Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Documents that the decline of mainline Protestantism in the United States actually happened in the century after the American Revolution. According to the authors, this decline occurred because the mainline Protestant denominations, such as Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, were less effectively competitive in the religious market that opened up with the Revolution. Significantly, their endorsement of a more secular message undercut efforts to proselytize. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hout, Michael, Andrew Greeley, and Melissa J. Wilde. 2001. The demographic imperative in religious change in the United States. American Journal of Sociology 107.2: 468–500.

    DOI: 10.1086/324189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the demise of mainline Protestantism and rise of conservative Protestantism to differences in fertility, with conservative Protestants having higher birthrates than mainline Protestants. According to the authors, this simple demographic difference accounts for three-quarters of the differences in growth between the two groups. Calls into question other accounts that focus on the religious beliefs and practices. Available online by subscription.

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  • Kelley, Dean M. 1978. Why conservative churches are still growing. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17.2: 165–172.

    DOI: 10.2307/1386160Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kelley revisits his controversial book Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972) and presents additional data and argumentation to back up his thesis—that conservative churches are stronger because they are more strict and thus do a better job at conveying what makes for a meaningful life. Available online by subscription.

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  • McGaw, Douglas B. 1979. Commitment and religious community: A comparison of a charismatic and a mainline congregation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18.2: 146–163.

    DOI: 10.2307/1385937Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Deane Kelley’s strictness hypothesis by comparing two demographically similar mainline and charismatic churches. This article finds support for Kelley’s position that the belief system of conservative churches is key to their strength, but it also emphasizes the high level of social belonging that they provide. It suggests that community is as important as social structure in explaining the success of conservative Protestantism. Available online by subscription.

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Forms and Practices

The nature of Protestantism has been studied along various dimensions and at different levels of analysis, and numerous studies have documented the forms and practices of Protestant religious behavior. Congregations play a central role in Protestantism because its denominations tend to have relatively low levels of central power. Protestants vary in the form of their religious behavior as well as their incorporation of it into civil engagement.

Congregations

Congregations are the organizing principle of Protestantism, and analysis of them lies between the individual-level analysis of congregants and the macrolevel analysis of denominations and traditions. Ammerman 2005b and Chaves 2004 offer overviews of the nature of religious congregations throughout the United States, and Demerath and Farnsley 2007 summarizes their historical development. Specific issues of study include the relationship of congregations with their surrounding community (Ammerman 1997), sources of congregational conflict (Becker 1999), and the institutional life span of congregations (Dougherty, et al. 2008). Ammerman 2005a illustrates that studies of congregations lend themselves to analysis from an organizational perspective.

  • Ammerman, Nancy T. 1997. Congregation & community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Congregations are the basic organizational form of American Protestantism and are rooted in their local communities. What happens, then, when the community changes? How do congregations react? This study explores these dynamics with observations from over twenty congregations in nine communities. Highlights the importance of congregations’ social context.

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  • Ammerman, Nancy T. 2005a. Denominationalism/congregationalism. In Handbook of religion and social institutions. Edited by Helen Rose Ebaugh, 353–371. New York: Springer.

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    Provides an overview of both denominations and congregations from an organizational perspective. Many of the examples given are Protestant denominations, and the chapter is a useful overview of this structural perspective on religious bodies.

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  • Ammerman, Nancy T. 2005b. Pillars of faith: American congregations and their partners. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An estimated three hundred thousand religious congregations are found in the United States. In this comprehensive study, the author uses data from surveys and in-depth interviews to describe the organization and functioning of American congregations. Notably, the study finds that congregations draw resources from a wide range of sources.

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  • Becker, Penny Edgell. 1999. Congregations in conflict: Cultural models of local religious life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499319Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on case studies of twenty-three congregations in the Chicago area, this book focuses on the institutional aspects of congregations, especially the issues over which they have conflict. In doing so, it elucidates different cultural models by which congregations organize themselves and their mission. Congregations provide support for their members, public service to their community, and even a place for activism. Useful in identifying the functions of congregations and their different forms.

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  • Chaves, Mark. 2004. Congregations in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Before Chaves’s National Congregations Study, studies of congregations used convenience samples, so it was difficult to generalize from them. This study randomly sampled and interviewed more than 1,200 American religious congregations, and this book summarizes its findings. Among its findings receiving attention are that most congregations offer short-term, fleeting assistance to those in need rather than sustained, transformative assistance and that congregations provide considerable support to the arts.

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  • Demerath, N. J., III, and Arthur E. Farnsley II. 2007. Congregations resurgent. In The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Edited by James A. Beckford and N. J. Demerath III, 193–204. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    Congregations are a hallmark of Protestant Christianity. This review examines the scholarly literature on the history of congregations and typologies given to them. A good starting point for learning about congregations.

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  • Dougherty, Kevin D., Jared Maier, and Brian Vander Lugt. 2008. When the final bell tolls: Patterns of church closings in two Protestant denominations. Review of Religious Research 50.1: 49–73.

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    This study examines the closure of churches in two Protestant denominations: the Presbyterian Church (US) and the Church of the Nazarene. The authors found overall low rates of closure. Still, churches are at the greatest risk of closing in their first decade of life, due to a scarcity of resources, and again after about forty to fifty years, when they lose their founding membership. Available online by subscription.

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Religious Behavior

Religious behavior takes many different forms. Perhaps the most controversial issue regarding Protestants (and other religious people) has been how often they attend church. Through the 1980s, self-reported attendance measures on surveys found that about half of Americans attended church on a regular basis. However, when these reported attendance rates were compared to other measures, they appear quite inflated, as found in Hadaway, et al. 1993 and Marler and Hadaway 1999. This report of an “attendance gap” has received a variety of criticisms, as summarized in Hadaway, et al. 1998. Baker 2008 addresses the issue of how often Protestants pray, and Hoge and Carroll 1978 looks at why some members participate in church activities more than others.

  • Baker, Joseph O. 2008. An investigation of the sociological patterns of prayer frequency and content. Sociology of Religion 69.2: 169–185.

    DOI: 10.1093/socrel/69.2.169Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Prayer is a key feature of Christian practice. This study explores how often Americans pray, what they pray about, and how this varies by religious tradition, including several Protestant traditions. It analyzes data from the 2005 Baylor Religion Survey, and it provides an empirical description on which future studies of prayer can build.

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  • Hadaway, C. Kirk, Penny Long Marler, and Mark Chaves. 1993. What the polls don’t show: A closer look at U.S. church attendance. American Sociological Review 58.6: 741–752.

    DOI: 10.2307/2095948Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Until this seminal article, researchers accepted self-reported church attendance measures at face value. However, Hadaway and colleagues compared self-reported attendance with church counts, and they estimated that actual attendance is about half of reported attendance. Although the debate has not been settled, this article called into question the face validity of self-reported attendance, and most researchers seem to agree that at least some overreporting occurs. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hadaway, C. Kirk, Penny Long Marler, and Mark Chaves. 1998. Overreporting church attendance in America: Evidence that demands the same verdict. American Sociological Review 63.1: 122–130.

    DOI: 10.2307/2657484Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hadaway and colleagues postulated an attendance gap in which people overreport their religious service attendance on surveys. It was criticized on various grounds, and this article responds to those criticisms. Useful for summarizing the attendance gap research itself as well as its potential shortcomings. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hoge, Dean R., and Jackson W. Carroll. 1978. Determinants of commitment and participation in suburban Protestant churches. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17.2: 107–127.

    DOI: 10.2307/1386155Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    People who attend church vary in their levels of religious participation. This article reports a survey of Presbyterians and Methodists that tests different theories for explaining why some people attend more often than others. Factors linked to increased participation include having children living at home, having doctrinal beliefs consistent with the church, and believing that the church serves as a status group. Available online by subscription.

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  • Marler, Penny Long, and C. Kirk Hadaway. 1999. Testing the attendance gap in a conservative church. Sociology of Religion 60.2: 175–186.

    DOI: 10.2307/3711747Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The seminal paper by Hadaway, et al. 1993 found an attendance gap in which churchgoers overreported how often they attended church. However, their results were criticized on various methodological grounds. This article revisits the issue with a different methodology and finds continued evidence of an overreporting gap—even when taking into account going to Sunday school and other non–Sunday-service religious activities. Available online by subscription.

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Civic Engagement

The separation of church and state is a hallmark of American public policy; however, as Farnsley 2007 discusses, this line becomes blurred with churches’ involvement in civic matters. A basic issue is whether religious participation prompts increased civic involvement; it appears to do so, at least for some Protestant groups according to Beyerlein and Hipp 2006 and Park and Smith 2000. With the election of George W. Bush as US president, much attention was given to churches as social service providers, and this political issue prompted considerable sociological research. The resulting studies, such as that by Chaves and Tsitsos 2001, found that when churches do assist the needy, the assistance tends to be short-term and in emergencies, as opposed to long-term and transformative. A line of research covered in Ebaugh, et al. 2006a and Ebaugh, et al. 2006b found that many religious organizations report not wanting government funding for their efforts and that more explicitly religious organizations receive less government funding. Although much attention on this general issue has been focused on conservative Protestants, Wuthnow and Evans 2002 points out that mainline Protestants also actively participate in community life, a fact sometimes overlooked.

  • Beyerlein, Kraig, and John R. Hipp. 2006. From pews to participation: The effect of congregation activity and context on bridging civic engagement. Social Problems 53.1: 97–117.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.2006.53.1.97Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Americans give more time to religious organizations than any other type of voluntary organization. Does religious involvement result in increased participation in other, nonreligious civic organizations? Analyzing data from a national survey, the authors find that church attendance, per se, has little effect on other civic involvement. However, other forms of religious participation do, and mainline Protestants and black Protestants volunteer outside the church more often. Available online by subscription.

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  • Chaves, Mark, and William Tsitsos. 2001. Congregations and social services: What they do, how they do it, and with whom. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 30.4: 660–683.

    DOI: 10.1177/0899764001304003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    President George W. Bush advocated religious organizations as potentially more effective providers of social services. The authors analyzed data from Chaves’s National Congregations Study and found that, contrary to political rhetoric, congregations tend to provide primarily short-term social services and the provision of such services is not lessened by collaborating with the government. Breaks down social service provision by religious tradition, including Protestants.

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  • Ebaugh, Helen Rose, Janet S. Chafetz, and Paula F. Pipes. 2006a. The influence of evangelicalism on government funding of faith-based social service organizations. Review of Religious Research 47.4: 380–392.

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    Government funding of faith-based social service organizations has been a controversial topic over the past decade. The authors collected data about such organizations and found that the more religious organizations are actually less likely to want government funding for their efforts. This finding calls into question the feasibility of this approach to social service provision. Available online by subscription.

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  • Ebaugh, Helen Rose, Janet S. Chafetz, and Paula F. Pipes. 2006b. Where’s the faith in faith-based organizations? Measures and correlates of religiosity in faith-based social service coalitions. Social Forces 84.4: 2259–2272.

    DOI: 10.1353/sof.2006.0086Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Much has been made about faith-based social service providers, but how religious are they really? The authors studied data from 656 faith-based coalitions to measure levels of service, staff, and formal organization religiosity. Evangelical organizations have the highest level of religiosity, and the more religious ones receive less government funding across all organizations. Available online by subscription.

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  • Farnsley, Arthur E., II. 2007. Faith-based initiatives. In The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Edited by James A. Beckford and N. J. Demerath III, 345–356. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    The United States is both a deeply religious country and one that separates religion and the state. Faith-based initiatives, however, blur the line between the two. This summary essay offers an organizational analysis of their boundaries and links this to the expanding role of congregations in such initiatives and the increasingly prominent role of conservative evangelicals in public policy.

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  • Park, Jerry Z., and Christian Smith. 2000. “To whom much has been given . . .”: Religious capital and community voluntarism among churchgoing Protestants. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 39.3: 272–286.

    DOI: 10.1111/0021-8294.00023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Various studies have found a link between religion and voluntarism. This study examines the relationship among Protestants, finding that those who attend church the most often also volunteer the most. Also analyzes volunteering by different traditions within Protestantism. Useful for disentangling the nature of the religion-volunteering relationship. Available online by subscription.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert, and John H. Evans, eds. 2002. The quiet hand of God: Faith-based activism and the public role of mainline Protestantism. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Research on Protestantism and culture has tended to focus on the conservative Protestants. This book, however, provides a counterpoint, for it contains a collection of essays written by distinguished scholars on the various ways in which mainline Protestants have influenced society and the way, albeit quiet, in which they continue to do so. Corrects an imbalance in existing research.

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Substantive Issues

The study of Protestantism is not just the study of a religious tradition; it also incorporates studies of other sociological topics in a religious context. Protestantism, in particular, and religion, in general, play an important role in how we understand and express some of the basic sociological conditions, including gender, the family, race, politics, social class, education, and the media. It is both infeasible to study these issues without reference to religion and, likewise, to study religion without reference to these issues.

Gender

Gender roles in Protestantism, especially in its more conservative manifestations, has been a hot-button issue of public debate, and it has prompted numerous scholarly investigations. Gallagher 2004 makes the case that, generally speaking, secular ideas of feminism have been marginalized among conservative Protestants. However, empirical examination of the beliefs and practices of conservative Protestant married couples, such as Gallagher and Smith 1999, finds that, although the rhetoric used is often authoritarian, the practical working of the relationship is much more egalitarian. Gallagher 2002 goes on to trace this split understanding of women’s roles back to the early days of American religion. As such, the gap between secular feminist thought and women’s roles in conservative Protestant churches and organizations might be overstated, according to Griffith 1997. At the very least, religious faith has a mixed impact on these women’s lives, according to Chong 2006. Likewise, Williams 2001 and Wilcox 2004 detail the wide range of effects that conservative Protestantism has on how conservative Protestant men approach family life. At the institutional level, Chaves 1997 discusses how the ordination of women has proven to be a contentious issue.

  • Chaves, Mark. 1997. Ordaining women: Culture and conflict in religious organizations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    The ordination of women is a contentious issue. Chaves draws on historical and modern-day sociological sources to examine the creation and implementation of ordination rules in more than one hundred denominations. He finds that the formal rules are often of symbolic value and are not necessarily the same as actual church practice. Demonstrates how denominations negotiate policy amid a wide range of social pressures.

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  • Chong, Kelly H. 2006. Negotiating patriarchy: South Korean evangelical women and the politics of gender. Gender & Society 20.6: 697–724.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891243206291111Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This ethnographic study explores South Korean’s entry into evangelicalism and how the women negotiate the meaning and impact of it on their lives. She characterizes the evangelical involvement as liberating in some ways but oppressive in others, because it returns women to traditional family systems. Overall, Chong makes a strong case that the effects of religious traditionalism vary by the sociohistorical context and, therefore, must be studied that way.

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  • Gallagher, Sally K. 2002. Evangelical identity and gendered family life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Identifies two strands of thought among evangelicals about gender roles: one emphasizing traditional male authority and the other, egalitarianism. Traces both from the colonial days through the early 21st century. Draws on a wide range of data, including historical documents, data from a national survey, and three hundred in-depth interviews.

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  • Gallagher, Sally K. 2004. The marginalization of evangelical feminism. Sociology of Religion 65.3: 215–237.

    DOI: 10.2307/3712250Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evangelical thought on women’s role in society has been described as practically egalitarian but still endorsing gender hierarchy. This article explores why evangelicals have held on to hierarchical beliefs and, in particular, why a feminist perspective remains marginalized. It traces evangelical thought on the matter over the last century and provides a useful analysis of the interplay among social roles, theology, and social pressures.

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  • Gallagher, Sally K., and Christian Smith. 1999. Symbolic traditionalism and pragmatic egalitarianism: Contemporary evangelicals, families, and gender. Gender & Society 13.2: 211–233.

    DOI: 10.1177/089124399013002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Popular understanding of evangelical Christians often holds them as traditionalists in gender roles. This study, based on 265 in-depth interviews with evangelicals, finds that most are a mixture of traditionalism and egalitarianism. Most evangelicals adhere to symbolic portrayals of the man as the head of the house, for example, having financial and spiritual responsibility for it. However, the day-to-day decision making of evangelical couples fits better with an egalitarian model.

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  • Griffith, R. Marie. 1997. God’s daughters: Evangelical women and the power of submission. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Evangelical women are sometimes contrasted with feminists in their beliefs and actions regarding gender roles. This book provides a study of the largest evangelical women’s organization, Women’s Aglow Fellowship, and portrays them as more similar to feminists than many think as they seek to make sense of gender and their faith. Furthermore, they play an important role in the organization and expression of charismatic Christianity.

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  • Wilcox, W. Bradford. 2004. Soft patriarchs, new men: How Christianity shapes fathers and husbands. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Mainline and evangelical Protestantism are often described as differing in their prescribed gender roles. Wilcox argues that, although men in the mainline tradition emphasize being egalitarian, evangelical men are not as authoritarian and are more emotionally involved with their family than is commonly assumed. The larger point is that religion makes men more attentive and responsive to their families.

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  • Williams, Rhys H., ed. 2001. Promise Keepers and the new masculinity: Private lives and public morality. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

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    The Promise Keepers was a national men’s movement and, during its brief years of prominence, played an influential role in shaping Christian thought about gender roles and family life. It was a lightning rod for criticism and misunderstanding. The essays in this volume shed light on various aspects of the Promise Keepers, including gender, racial reconciliation, and patriotism.

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Family

Family socialization provides the primary mechanism by which people enter Protestantism. As Bartkowski 2007 analyzes, the people most likely to be Protestants as adults are those raised in a Protestant family. Of concern to practitioners and scholars of Protestant Christianity is what happens to young people as they transition out of their families and into adulthood. Among the many changes that occur during adolescence are changes in religious actions and beliefs, as discussed by Smith, et al. 2003. However, Bartkowski 1998 makes the case that, despite all of the social change in recent history, current constellations of family practices in Protestantism have their roots in early American history.

  • Bartkowski, John P. 1998. Changing of the gods: The gender and family discourse of American evangelicalism in historical perspective. History of the Family 3.1: 95–115.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1081-602X(99)80236-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evangelical Christianity is often associated with traditional family values. This article, however, points out a paradox. Although many evangelicals emphasize traditional, authoritarian gender roles between men and women, others emphasize egalitarianism and individualism. This historically based study traces these two views of family relationships in the church back to early American history. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Bartkowski, John P. 2007. Religious socialization among American youth: How faith shapes parents, children, and adolescents. In The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Edited by James A. Beckford and N. J. Demerath III, 511–525. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    This summary chapter provides an illustrative review of the recent literature on the role of religion in socializing young people. Although focused on the general relationship between religion and raising children, it includes in-depth discussions of conservative Protestant parenting practices as well as the religious beliefs and practices of Protestant teens.

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  • Smith, Christian, Robert Faris, Melinda Lundquist Denton, and Mark Regnerus. 2003. Mapping American adolescent subjective religiosity and attitudes of alienation toward religion: A research report. Sociology of Religion 64.1: 111–133.

    DOI: 10.2307/3712271Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Popular discussions of the future of Protestant Christianity in American often focus on the youth, but many commentaries use poor or outdated data. This article presents information from several leading data sets about the religious behaviors and attitudes of American youth and how they vary across Protestant denominations. A wide-ranging description of adolescent religiosity. Available online by subscription.

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Politics

Few issues are as divisive as the combination of religion and politics. Hunter 1991 outlines how this has been at the heart of the culture wars experienced since the 1970s. Worldwide, an association between religion and political views can be found. For example, Hayes 1995 finds that Protestants have political views more similar to Catholics than to the irreligious. Likewise, Gray 2008 finds systematic variation in political attitudes among Protestant clergy. The entry of religion into politics takes various forms beyond simply the political attitudes of individuals. Most recently, evangelical Christians have made a concerted effort to enter into the halls of power (Lindsay 2008), and religious congregations get involved in political activity, albeit at relatively low levels (Beyerlein and Chaves 2003).

  • Beyerlein, Kraig, and Mark Chaves. 2003. The political activities of religious congregations in the United States. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42.2: 229–246.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-5906.00175Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Most studies of religion and politics focus on individual political behavior, but what about congregations? How much, if at all, do they engage in it? This study examines data from the National Congregations Study and finds that Protestant congregations engage in some political behavior, but at relatively low levels. The form and level of participation varies by Protestant tradition. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gray, Don. 2008. Beyond orthodoxy: Social theology and the views of Protestant clergy on social issues. Review of Religious Research 50.2: 221–240.

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    This article examines data collected from Protestant clergy and finds that beliefs in communitarianism and neopuritanism both strongly correlate with politics. However, the net result of this study showed that the actual denominational effects of these theologies were minimal. Offers a mechanism through which religion influences political beliefs. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hayes, Bernadette C. 1995. The impact of religious identification on political attitudes: An international comparison. Sociology of Religion 56.2: 177–194.

    DOI: 10.2307/3711762Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This cross-national study examines the relationship among religion, political, and social attitudes across eight Western nations. It finds that the religious beliefs of Protestants are similar to those of Catholics but at odds with the nonreligious. In particular, compared to the nonreligious, Protestants and Catholics are more likely to oppose abortion and women in the workforce, and they have more confidence in social institutions. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hunter, James Davidson. 1991. Culture wars: The struggle to define America. New York: Basic Books.

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    Makes a strong case that the nature of religion-based conflict in America has changed. It argues that conflict in the past was between different religious traditions—for example, Jewish versus Catholic versus Protestant. Now, however, the conflict is between orthodox and progressive factions within these traditions, and the battlegrounds are on a wide range of issues. Concludes with suggestions on how to work past this type of conflict.

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  • Lindsay, D. Michael. 2008. Faith in the halls of power: How evangelicals joined the American elite. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Lindsay interviewed a wide range of evangelicals in power to describe their ascent and describes how evangelicals negotiate their religious faith with the societal values that they have come to represent—a tension that Lindsay describes as “elastic orthodoxy.” Rich description of the interplay between power and religion.

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Race and Ethnicity

The expression and experience of religion varies substantially by racial and ethnic groups, and it actually defines the ethnic group in some cases. Substantial racial segregation occurs by both Protestant congregation and denomination, although Emerson and Smith 2000 argues that this might be largely inadvertent. In contrast, Tranby and Hartmann 2008 makes the case that this segregation might be rooted in racism. Studies of black Protestant churches, such as Nelson 1996, portray them as having unique expressions of worship; however, as McRoberts 2003 describes, these churches might not be as closely tied to their local community as previously believed. Lichterman, et al. 2009 points out that conscious efforts have been made to bridge the racial gap among Protestants. Blanchard 2007 qualifies this by arguing that these efforts can be undermined by forces that create segregation.

  • Blanchard, Troy C. 2007. Conservative Protestant congregations and racial residential segregation: Evaluating the closed community thesis in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties. American Sociological Review 72.3: 426–433.

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    Examines the closed community thesis and finds that American counties with more conservative Protestant congregations also have more racial segregation between whites and blacks. Available online by subscription.

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  • Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. 2000. Divided by faith: Evangelical religion and the problem of race in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    White evangelicals denounce racism, but in this provocative and compelling book, the authors make the case that evangelical beliefs and practices inadvertently foster racism. Namely, evangelicals emphasize free will and individualism, which blinds them to the structural causes of racism. Furthermore, models of church growth often emphasize growth along racial and ethnic lines, thus creating further segregation. Offers a complete revision of the relationship between religion and race for evangelical Christians.

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  • Lichterman, Paul, Prudence L. Carter, and Michèle Lamont. 2009. Race-bridging for Christ? Conservative Christians and black–white relations in community life. In Evangelicals and democracy in America. Vol. 1, Religion and society. Edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel, 187–220. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    In the context of racial segregation among evangelical Christians, various efforts are aimed at reconciling black and white evangelicals. These authors term these actions as “race bridging.” They explore the different strategies used by evangelicals to bridge the racial divide and the problems that arise with these strategies. Provides a richer understanding of the degree and form of racial reconciliation among evangelicals.

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  • McRoberts, Omar M. 2003. Streets of glory: Church and community in a black urban neighborhood. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Black churches are commonly assumed to play significant roles in their communities and neighborhoods. In this revisionist work, McRoberts reports on a study of the churches in an impoverished neighborhood in Boston. He finds that most of them draw congregants from outside of the neighborhood and that they actually engage fairly little with the people who live there. Gives an alternative perspective on the relationship between churches and their surrounding communities.

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  • Nelson, Timothy J. 1996. Sacrifice of praise: Emotion and collective participation in an African-American worship service. Sociology of Religion 57.4: 379–396.

    DOI: 10.2307/3711893Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Researchers distinguish historically black churches from other Protestant traditions and find that some of the difference is in the nature of the worship service. In this qualitative study, Nelson describes the worship services at an African Methodist Episcopal church and how it incorporates emotions. These emotions play an important role in the service, and they are linked to social class as well. Available online by subscription.

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  • Tranby, Eric, and Douglas Hartmann. 2008. Critical whiteness theories and the evangelical “race problem”: Extending Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47.3: 341–359.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00414.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article views the book by Emerson and Smith 2000 through the lens of critical whiteness theories, and it suggests that white evangelicals’ race attitudes might be more subtly racist than Emerson and Smith acknowledge. Presents data from the American Mosaic Project supporting the idea that white evangelicals’ identity is inherently racial. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Class

Adherents of Protestant denominations vary widely in their social class. This is true for differences in wealth (Keister 2008), as well as income and occupational prestige (Smith and Faris 2005). Reimer 2007 finds that variation also exists between congregations within denominations. The link between Protestantism and social class is the focus of Max Weber’s classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (originally published in 1905; reprinted New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011), as discussed in Swatos and Kaelber 2005 as well as Gorski 2011. Davidson and Pyle 2005 and Pope 1942 both trace this link back to early American history.

  • Davidson, James D., and Ralph E. Pyle. 2005. Social class. In Handbook of religion and social institutions. Edited by Helen Rose Ebaugh, 185–205. New York: Springer.

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    A review chapter of the relationship between social class and religion in America. Roots the discussion in a comparison of a “fair shares” approach (i.e., conflict theory) versus a “fair play” approach (i.e., functionalism). Useful for the rich descriptive data that it provides about class differences among Protestants throughout American history as well as in the early 21st century.

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  • Gorski, Philip S. 2011. The Protestant ethic revisited. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    This collection of essays explores questions raised by Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; namely, how Western society is changed by the Calvinist movement. Although it focuses on political development in the West, it covers changes in various aspects of society, including secularism, religion, and nationalism.

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  • Keister, Lisa A. 2008. Conservative Protestants and wealth: How religion perpetuates asset poverty. American Journal of Sociology 113.5: 1237–1271.

    DOI: 10.1086/525506Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that conservative Protestants have less wealth than other religious groups. Explains this as resulting from conservative Protestant values, which downplay the role of wealth accumulation. Also, conservative Protestants have less education, more children, and fewer women in the workplace. Available online by subscription.

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  • Pope, Liston. 1942. Millhands & preachers: A study of Gastonia. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    A classic field study of a cotton mill in Gastonia, NC. It chronicles the local churches’ reaction to labor unrest at the mill. The churches that catered to upper-class congregants were far less supportive of the strike than those who had lower-class congregants. Graphically demonstrates the conflicts of interest that arise when churches become involved in economic issues.

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  • Reimer, Sam. 2007. Class and congregations: Class and religious affiliation at the congregational level of analysis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46.4: 583–594.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2007.00379.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores class variation at the congregational level rather than at the denominational or individual level—the traditional foci of religion–class studies. Finds significant variation in class standing of congregations within denominations and posits that a congregation’s class standing is influenced by its location, the nature of its services and programs, and the relational networks of its members. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Smith, Christian, and Robert Faris. 2005. Socioeconomic inequality in the American religious system: An update and assessment. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44.1: 95–104.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2005.00267.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tracks social class differences in religious denominations from the early 1980s through the late 1990s. The authors conclude that stable differences exist among denominations in education, income, and occupational prestige. These differences are influenced by denominational theology, race and ethnicity, and liturgical style. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Swatos, William H., Jr., and Lutz Kaelber, eds. 2005. The Protestant ethic turns 100: Essays on the centenary of the Weber thesis. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

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    Max Weber’s classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was initially published in 1905. One hundred years later, this edited volume examined important aspects of this work. These essays explore the empirical validity of Weber’s thesis as well as current interpretation and acceptance of it. A useful account of the role of Weber’s work in modern sociology of religion.

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Education

Religion is thought to have wide-ranging effects on educational achievements. Studies have documented that conservative Protestantism has mixed effects, with fundamentalists achieving lower levels of education and evangelicals achieving higher levels, as seen in Beyerlein 2004, Darnell and Sherkat 1997, and Sherkat and Darnell 1999. Muller and Ellison 2001 finds that across all Protestantism, higher levels of religious involvement are associated with better educational outcomes. Documenting another educational trend, Reese 1985 finds an increase in students attending religious schools. This influences religion because, as Uecker 2008 finds, students at Protestant schools display more religious behaviors.

  • Beyerlein, Kraig. 2004. Specifying the impact of conservative Protestantism on educational attainment. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43.4: 505–518.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2004.00252.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains and tests the effects of conservative Protestantism on education and finds that these vary by tradition. Pentecostals and fundamentalists have lower levels of education, but evangelicals have relatively higher levels.

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  • Darnell, Alfred, and Darren E. Sherkat. 1997. The impact of Protestant fundamentalism on educational attainment. American Sociological Review 62.2: 306–315.

    DOI: 10.2307/2657306Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the impact of Protestant fundamentalism on various educational outcomes. Studying data from a longitudinal study of high school studies, the authors find that fundamentalists have less college preparation, lower educational ambitions, and fewer years of higher education. Available online by subscription.

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  • Muller, Chandra, and Christopher G. Ellison. 2001. Religious involvement, social capital, and adolescents’ academic progress: Evidence from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. In Special issue: Religion in America. Edited by James D. Davidson. Sociological Focus 34.2: 155–183.

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    This article explores the general relationship among adolescents’ religion, social capital, and academic outcomes using data from the important National Education Longitudinal Study. It finds that young people’s religious involvement predicts better academic outcomes even when controlling for social capital.

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  • Reese, William J. 1985. Soldiers for Christ in the army of God: The Christian school movement in America. Educational Theory 35.2: 175–194.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-5446.1985.00175.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides an overview of the rationale and growth of Christian schools in America. A useful reminder that not all schools are secular, which is sometimes forgotten in discussions of religion and education. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Sherkat, Darren E., and Alfred Darnell. 1999. The effect of parents’ fundamentalism on children’s educational attainment: Examining differences by gender and children’s fundamentalism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38.1: 23–35.

    DOI: 10.2307/1387581Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The effect of parental fundamentalism on children’s education varies by the gender and religious beliefs of their children. Relative to other parents, fundamentalists are less educationally supportive of their nonfundamentalist daughters but more supportive of their fundamentalist sons. These findings demonstrate the sometimes complex consequences of religious affiliation.

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  • Uecker, Jeremy E. 2008. Alternative schooling strategies and the religious lives of American adolescents. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47.4: 563–584.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00427.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Starts with the assumption that school affects adolescents’ religiosity and empirically tests the effects of different types of schooling. Those young people who attend Protestant schools, relative to those who attend public schools, are no more involved in their local congregations, but they have more salient religious beliefs and engage in more private religious activities. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Media

One of the most dramatic expressions of conservative Protestantism is televangelism. Hadden and Shune 1988 describes the controversy that arises when televangelists wade into politics. It was initially feared that the rise of televangelism would lessen participation in local religious communities, but as Wuthnow 1987 documents, that fear has proven to be unfounded.

  • Hadden, Jeffrey K., and Anson D. Shune. 1988. Televangelism, power, and politics on God’s frontier. New York: Holt.

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    Explores the overlap among religion, politics, and the media by analyzing televangelists. Although the study of televangelism is becoming passé and, indeed, its social influence has waned considerably, this type of research informs inquiries into social media and other advances in the media.

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  • Wuthnow, Robert. 1987. The social significance of religious television. Review of Religious Research 29.2: 125–134.

    DOI: 10.2307/3511722Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concern about religious broadcasting was that it would weaken local religious communities because Christians would watch religious programs on television rather than go to churches. In this article, Wuthnow examines this concern with Gallup survey data and finds only marginal support for this concern, because most viewers of religious programs are already disengaged from their communities. The article reinterpreted the social impact of religious television. Available online by subscription.

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