The eminent sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, must be one of the most prolific scholars alive. Now emeritus at Princeton, he continues to churn out books that are essential for understanding American religion in the 21st century. His new book, Religion’s Power: What Makes It Work (Oxford) focuses on the communal rituals that give religion its strength. Community is central to a plausible definition of religion (or at least it should be), and Wuthnow’s new book will no doubt help show why that is so. Here’s a description from the Oxford website:
What makes religion so powerful? Why does it attract so many followers? Raise so much money? Influence how people vote? The usual answer is that religion is powerful because it offers divine hope. But there is more to it than that. Why does a worship service seem powerful? Why is it powerful to hear someone testify about their faith? Who sets the rules for who can be a member and who cannot? What does religion do to reinforce gender and racial differences? Or to challenge them?
Religion’s Power takes a fresh look at these questions by examining what happens during religious rituals to signal the leader’s power, the power of the deity being worshipped, and, inadvertently, why some people in the congregation are deemed more powerful than others. Robert Wuthnow explores how religious narratives are constructed to demonstrate sincerity, how religious organizations control time by controlling space, how codified knowledge gives religious organizations power, and the small ways in which religion shapes identities and politics. Building on classical work in the sociology of religion and drawing extensively on historical and ethnographic studies, Religion’s Power foregrounds cases ranging from nineteenth-century church organ and lightning rod controversies to current clashes about border walls and racial justice. This is a book for beginning students of religion as well as for advanced scholars and for practitioners, fellow travelers, and critics who want to understand better what makes religion powerful.