Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture

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"Smith suggests that human beings have a peculiar set of capacities and proclivities that distinguishes them significantly from other animals on this planet. Despite the vast differences in humanity between cultures and across history, no matter how differently people narrate their lives and histories, there remains an underlying structure of human personhood that helps to order human culture, history, and narration. Drawing on important recent insights in moral philosophy, epistemology, and narrative studies, Smith argues that humans are animals with an inescapable moral and spiritual dimension. They cannot avoid a fundamental moral orientation in life, and this, says Smith, has profound consequences for how sociology must study human beings. Similarly, humans cannot escape living by one or another sacred narrative, and this too has important implications for sociology. Along the way, Smith advances a sustained critique of rational choice theory, sociobiology, and other accounts of human social life drawn from the naturalistic, antimentalist, noncultural tradition of Western social theory as badly misunderstanding the character of the human animal. By contrast, this work argues that all people are at bottom believers whose lives, actions, and institutions are constituted, motivated, and governed by narrative traditions and moral orders on which they inescapably depend." This approach - which has profound consequences for how we think about knowledge, culture, social action, institutions, religion, and the task of the social sciences - will be of interest to scholars in sociology, social theory, religious and cultural studies, psychology, and anthropology.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Well written and clearly argued, Moral Believing Animals is both a searching critique of recent social theory and an important first step toward the articulation of a richer model of human personhood, motivation, and culture."

"A concise book that is enjoyable and easy to read, offering a far-reaching synthesis of a variety of philosophical and sociological approaches.... Smith masterfully situates many of the key current debates while calling attention to their historical origins and implicit assumptions."
—Contemporary Sociology

"An admirable model of wide-ranging and rich yet focused scholarship."
—The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199731978
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/26/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 172
  • Sales rank: 1,039,259
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 3
2 Human Culture(s) as Moral Order(s) 7
3 Believing Animals 45
4 Living Narratives 63
5 On Religion 95
6 The Return of Culture? 125
7 Conclusion 147
Index 159
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