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Religion as Poetry

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Overview

Religion as Poetry continues in the grand tradition of the sociology of religion pioneered by Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons, among other giants in intellectual history. Too many present-day sociologists either ignore or disparage religious currents. In this provocative book, Andrew M. Greeley argues that various religions have endured for thousands of years as poetic rituals and stories. Religion as Poetry proposes a theoretical framework for understanding religion that emphasizes insights derived from religious stories. By virtue of his own rare abilities as a novelist as well as sociologist, Greeley is uniquely qualified for this task. Greeley first considers classical theories of the sociology of religion, and then, drawing upon them, he explicates his own interpretation. He critically examines the viewpoint that society is becoming more secular, and that religion is declining. He observes that this theory stands in the way of persuading sociologists that religion is still worth studying. In contrast, Greeley is interested in why religions persist despite secular trends and alongside them. He argues that it is poetic elements that touch the human soul. Greeley then sets out to test this viewpoint. Greeley maintains that his theory is not the only, or necessarily even the best approach to study religion. Rather, it is his contention that it uniquely provides sociologists with perspectives on religion that other theories too often overlook or disregard. Religion as Poetry, an original and intriguing study by a distinguished social scientist and major novelist, will be enjoyed and evaluated by sociologists, theologians, and philosophers alike.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Greeley (sociology, Chicago), after summarizing major theories defining religion, proposes an alternative. In doing so, he hopes to skewer the notion that humans are less religious now than in earlier ages. Armed with data based on several studies, Greeley argues that religion is a constant because humans have always sought to endow their experience with meaning, to tell a story with their lives (the "poetry" of the title)… This suggestive work, very readable despite its charts and graphs, is of interest at all levels to students of religion and Western culture, popular religion, and connections between religion and current issues. General; undergraduate through professional.” —C. H. Lippy, Choice “This book is a terrific read. It is fresh, generous and uninhibited. What the author is trying to do is hugely important and as many people as possible should read it. Because what Andrew Greeley is trying to do is bring together in dialogue at least three areas of life which have been ignoring each other for one whole century: the areas of art, science and religion. And he is able to do this because he happens to be a priest, a social scientist and a novelist himself. . . . I found this one of the most important and provocative books I have read for some time.” Mark Patrick Hederman, Doctrine & Life “Greeley’s context is almost exclusively Protestant/Catholic. . . and there, I think, his brilliant effort works best.” Patrick McNamara, Contemporary Sociology “In Religion as Poetry Andrew Greeley, well known and prolific author of both (sociological) prose and poetry (fiction), combines his talents to make an important argument about the nature of religion and how best to study it. . . . Greeley employs highly sophisticated intellectual tools to protect the “ordinary fold” from the arrogance of their betters. Their betters, in Greeley’s mind, are often their hierarchs (a favorite Greely term), their theologians, and their sociologists. Though Greeley has played the David against these Goliath’s before, he does it here with fresh material well worth considering.” James R. Kelly, Cross Currents “In this cheerful, sensible, casually written book, Andrew Greeley, the country’s most famous priest-sociologist-novelist, steers an awkward course between chatty sermon and technical study. Greeley insists that religion is a mighty factor on the American scene and, more specifically, that ‘religious stories’ (the ‘poetry’ in his title), ‘particularly as they are expressed in images of God, will predict, at low to moderate levels of correlation, political, social and familial stories. . . .’ Greeley largely succeeds in his main purpose here: to defend ‘his people’ against their cultural despisers.” Peter Heinegg, Christian Century "Father Greeley's study and the impressive data he has assembled may help us understand and begin to solve some of humankind's most pressing problems." —Reverend Michael P. Orsi, Philadelphia Inquirer “In the same engaging style with which Andrew Greeley brings to life characters of his Blackie Ryan tales, Religion as Poetry breathes life into the idea that what matters first about religion are the tales that it tells.” Daniel C. Johnson, National Opinion Research Center “An inveterate story teller himself, Greeley argues that it is religious stories, dealing with the meaning of life, that shape human behavior in daily life. A provocative perspective, informed by sociological theory and empirical analysis, that deserves the attention of serious scholars while challenging and encouraging those concerned with religious belief.” Maureen Hallinan, University of Notre Dame, President-Elect of the American Sociological Association “In the past ten years, Andrew Greeley has revolutionized the study of popular religion by getting sociologists to focus on the substance of religious devotion instead of the formal denominational differences. Religion As Poetry realizes the potential of this new paradigm for understanding prayer, magic, and contact with the dead. Greeley introduces his compelling new theory of how religious stories shape the religious imagination and shows how his theory makes sense of prayer and devotional practices in 16 countries.” Michael Hout, University of California – Berkeley "While drawing upon Weber, Durkheim, Eliade, and others, Greeley offers a theory of 'religion-genesis' that deserves to take its place alongside the seminal works of the aforementioned giants. An altogether remarkable volume." —Doug McAdam, University of Arizona
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560008996
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew M. Greeley (1928-2013) was a Catholic priest, best-selling novelist, and sociologist. He was professor of social science at the University of Chicago and member of its National Opinion Research Center (NORC). His books include Faithful Attraction, The Denominational Society, Unsecular Man, Death and Beyond, and The Church and the Suburbs.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Prelude
1 Introduction 1
2 Social Science Theories of Religion 5
3 Religion as Poetry 23
4 The Faith We Have Lost 57
5 The Persistence of Religion 83
6 Testing the Links 111
7 Different Poetry for Different People 123
8 The Pragmatics of Prayer 157
9 Religious Stories and Political Stories 179
10 Religious Stories and the Environment 191
11 Religious Stories and AIDS 205
12 Religious Stories and Contact with the Dead 217
13 A Story of Two Religious Imaginations 229
14 The Development of a Religious Story 257
15 Conclusion 263
References 271
Index 277
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