Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment

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Overview

Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were "getting religion"-praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all, don't pray, and don't give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the "happiness index."

Zuckerman lived in Scandinavia for fourteen months and interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds, exploring the world-views of people who live their lives without religious orientation, and investigating how and why it is that certain societies are nonreligious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some provocative answers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Despite this book's weighty topic, with its conversational writing style, Society Without God is amazingly readable, even fun. It presents rigorous arguments that are deceptively simple to understand, but that are, when you think about them more deeply, quite transformative."-PopMatters,

"While never presuming to offer a strictly generalizable snapshot, by focusing his attention on what are "probably the least religious countries in the world" (2), his provocative and engagingly written book is very effective in helping readers to examine numerous assumptions concerning the place of religion in the modern world... The real strength of this book is that, by challenging widespread analytical assumptions, it presents us with more complexity and with more nuanced questions regarding the nexus of the religious and the secular in contemporary life. To quote a famous Dane on this very point, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." If, as Horatio should have done, we are to heed these words in terms of expanding the frameworks of our accordingly, it will be due in good measure to paying attention to thoughtful and creative books like this one. In my estimation, not to do so would be, well, a tragedy."-Sociology of Religion,

“In an anecdotal and eminently readable manner, Zuckerman offers a novel idea within the study of religious sociology.”
-Library Journal

,

“For those interested in the burgeoning field of secular studies’ or for those curious about a world much different from the devout U.S.—this book will offer some compelling reading.”
-Publishers Weekly

,

“Most Americans are convinced that faith in God is the foundation of civil society. Society Without God reveals this to be nothing more than a well-subscribed, and strangely American, delusion. Even atheists living in the United States will be astonished to discover how unencumbered by religion most Danes and Swedes currently are. This glimpse of an alternate, secular reality is at once humbling and profoundly inspiring— and it comes not a moment too soon. Zuckerman’s research is truly indispensable.”
-Sam Harris,founder of the Reason Project and author of the New York Times best sellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

Publishers Weekly

Sociologist Zuckerman spent a year in Scandinavia seeking to understand how Denmark and Sweden became "probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world." While many people, especially Christian conservatives, argue that godless societies devolve into lawlessness and immorality, Denmark and Sweden enjoy strong economies, low crime rates, high standards of living and social equality. Zuckerman interviewed 150 Danes and Swedes, and extended transcripts from some of those interviews provide the book's most interesting and revealing moments. What emerges is a portrait of a people unconcerned and even incurious about questions of faith, God and life's meaning. Zuckerman ventures to answer why Scandinavians remain irreligious-e.g., the religious monopoly of state-subsidized churches, the preponderance of working women and the security of a stable society-but academics may find this discussion a tad thin. Zuckerman also fails to answer the question of contentment his subtitle speaks to. Still, for those interested in the burgeoning field of secular studies-or for those curious about a world much different from the devout U.S.-this book will offer some compelling reading. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In an anecdotal and eminently readable manner, Zuckerman (sociology, Pitzer Coll.) offers a novel idea within the study of religious sociology. Specifically, he investigates what it means to be a nonbelieving person in a pervasively secular society. Zuckerman offers personal reflections and sociological analysis of two of the least religious countries in the world today: Denmark and Sweden. His yearlong study consisted of 150 formal interviews of people from all vocations and areas of these countries. Through these findings, Zuckerman attempts to analyze the answers that a relatively nonreligious society offers for dealing with death, considering deep philosophical questions, and creating personal contentment. Unfortunately, he offers much more personal reflection than sociological analysis, and his study does not include controls for statistical (rather than haphazard) sampling to produce accurate representation of these societies. As a result, this book is an interesting conversation starter, but it has little sociological value. Optional for libraries with large religious sociology collections.
—Dann Wigner

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814797235
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 6/7/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 622,302
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Phil Zuckerman is associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He is the author of Invitation to the Sociology of Religion and Strife in the Sanctuary: Religious Schism in a Jewish Community.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Society without God 17

2 Jens, Anne, and Christian 36

3 Fear of Death and the Meaning of Life 57

4 Lene, Sonny, and Gitte 76

5 Being Secular 95

6 Why? 110

7 Dorthe, Laura, and Johanne 128

8 Cultural Religion 150

9 Back to the USA 167

Appendix 185

Notes 189

Bibliography 205

Index 215

About the Author 227

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