Religion in the National Agenda: What We Mean by Religious, Spiritual, Secular

Religion in the National Agenda: What We Mean by Religious, Spiritual, Secular

by C. John Sommerville
     
 

In this highly provocative investigation, C. John Sommerville examines common linguistic uses of the terms "religion," "religious," "spiritual," and "secular" in order to discern understandings of these words in contemporary American culture. For example, he finds that, in English, "religion" is our word for a certain kind of response to a certain kind of power

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Overview

In this highly provocative investigation, C. John Sommerville examines common linguistic uses of the terms "religion," "religious," "spiritual," and "secular" in order to discern understandings of these words in contemporary American culture. For example, he finds that, in English, "religion" is our word for a certain kind of response to a certain kind of power (the power and the response both being beyond anything else in our experience). Sommerville then uses these definitions to examine the ways that institutions in the fields of education, science, law, politics and religion are affected--often in unexpected ways--by a shared set of assumptions about what these words mean.

Baylor University Press

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Should become a must-read for anyone interested in debates about "religion" and religion in the United States and beyond.

-Charles Mathewes, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Religion in the National Agenda is a significant contribution to an important discussion.

Christian Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame

CHOICE

His consideration of relationships between religion and science, as well as religion and the law, are thought-provoking, and his discussion of the place of religion in political life should prove helpful... Recommended.

Publishers Weekly

We all talk about it, but historian Sommerville says we don't do so in the right way. This work seeks to end the confusion in American public life over what religion is by studying the definition of the word itself rather than the thing. "Religion is something," Sommerville argues, "that must be defined before we can identify cases." Sommerville says we need a nominal rather than a functional definition, but readers may grow frustrated that he never states exactly what this would be. His work's strength, however, is in showing us the ways we use the word religion-and the problems those usages produce-in a variety of fields such as education, law, science and politics. In politics, for example, we often make the mistake of treating religion as a set of ideas when instead we should think of it as an experience of transcendence. General readers may find this distinction irrelevant and see Sommerville's discussion as frustrating if not overly theoretical. Still, scholars will appreciate the important questions the author raises about language, theory and methodology when we talk about religion. (Feb.)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781602581630
Publisher:
Baylor University Press
Publication date:
02/28/2009
Pages:
210
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Paul J. Griffiths

Refreshing in its clarity and directness this book defends the view that in order to know what "religion" means we need only to carefully observe and describe how we use the term. Sommerville nicely shows that our usage of this word is not as incoherent as is often claimed, and that a nominal definition can do a lot of work, helping us not only to understand how we talk, but also to make the classificatory decisions about whether this or that is religious required by our political and legal systems.

Christian Smith

Religion in the National Agenda is a significant contribution to an important discussion.

Charles Mathewes

Should become a must-read for anyone interested in debates about 'religion' and religion in the United States and beyond.

Meet the Author

C. John Sommerville (Ph.D. University of Iowa) is Emeritus Professor of History, University of Florida. He is the author of nine books, including most recently, The Decline of the Secular University (2006), How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society (1999), and The News Revolution in England: Cultural Dynamic of Daily Information (1996).

Baylor University Press

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