ⓘ Christian Smith (sociologist)
Christian Stephen Smith is an American sociologist, currently the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Smiths research focuses primarily on religion in modernity, adolescents and emerging adults, sociological theory, philosophy of science, the science of generosity, American evangelicalism, and culture. Smith is well known for his contributions to the sociology of religion, particularly his research into adolescent spirituality, as well as for his contributions to sociological theory and his advocacy of critical realism.
Smith was born on October 23, 1960. He attended Wheaton College 1978–1979 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Gordon College in 1983. Smith earned his Master of Arts 1987 and Doctor of Philosophy 1990 degrees from Harvard University, where he also spent a year studying theology at Harvard Divinity School. Smith began his academic career as an instructor, and then assistant professor at Gordon College. In 1994 he joined University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was an assistant professor, full professor, and then Stuart Chapin Professor of Sociology. He remained at North Carolina for 12 years before moving to Notre Dame as the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society. He is also a Faculty Fellow of the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies and the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies. Smith has been awarded more than $20 million worth of research grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Lilly Endowment Inc., the John Templeton Foundation, and other foundations and institutes.
In 2012, the American Sociological Association section on Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity awarded Smith with the Distinguished Career Award.
He was awarded the Lilly Fellows Program Distinguished Book Award in 2011 for his 2009 book, co-authored with Patricia Snell, Souls in Transition: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. He was also awarded Christianity Today s 2010 Distinguished Book Award for the same book, Souls in Transition. He previously won Christianity Today s 2005 Distinguished Book Award for his 2005 book, co-authored with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
In December, Choice magazine selected What Is a Person? as one of its Top 25 out of 7000 reviewed Outstanding Academic Titles of 2011. The book also received the" Cheryl Frank Memorial Prize for 2010,” from the International Association for Critical Realism.
In 2007, Smiths alma mater, Gordon College, presented him with the "Alumnus of the Year" award in "recognition of his many accomplishments and work as one of the leading Christian sociologists in the country."
Michael Emerson and Smiths Divided by Faith was the winner of the "2001 Outstanding Book Award" from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
He was co-author with Mark Regnerus on the 1999 "Outstanding Article Award", granted by the American Sociological Association Section on the Sociology of Religion, for "Selective Deprivatization Among American Religious Traditions: The Reversal of the Great Reversal", published in Social Forces.
3. Moralistic therapeutic deism
In his 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers co-written with Melinda Lundquist Denton, he introduced the term moralistic therapeutic deism abbreviated MTD to describe the common religious beliefs exhibited by American youth in a survey. It has also been referred to as egonovism. The book summarized the "National Study of Youth and Religion", privately funded by the Lilly Endowment.
They label moralistic therapeutic deism as a religion with the following traits:
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in ones life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
4. Critical realism
Critical realism CR is, in Smiths view, the most promising general approach to social science for best framing our research and theory. CR, as a philosophy of social science not a sociological theory per se, offers the best alternative to the problems and limits presented by positivist empiricism, hermeneutical interpretivism, strong social constructionism, and postmodernist deconstruction. It is the meta-theoretical direction in which American sociology needs to move
Smiths work in CR involves What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up Chicago 2010 with Moral, Believing Animals OUP 2003 forming a pre-CR theoretical backdrop); To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil Chicago 2014, and Religion: What it Is, How it Works, and Why it Matters Princeton 2017.
CR is a significant position within which scholars work in Britain, Scandinavia, and Europe. Yet few American sociologists are aware of the substance and importance of the CR account. CR is a genuinely alternative approach to reality and social science that requires serious, focused study and intellectual re-tooling in order to learn well enough to not simply fall back into the old assumptions, instincts, and paradigms.
5. Published works
Smith is author, co-author, and editor of numerous scholarly books, articles, book chapters, book reviews, and research reports. A selection of Smiths books includes:
- The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory 1991 Chicago
- Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults 2009, with Patricia Snell Oxford
- The Sacred Project of American Sociology 2014 Oxford University Press
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America 2000, with Michael Emerson Oxford
- Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood 2011 Oxford
- Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture 2003 Oxford
- The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture 2011 Brazos
- The Secular Revolution 2003 California
- Religion: What it Is, How it Works, and Why it Matters 2017 Princeton
- Resisting Reagan: The U.S. Central America Peace Movement 1996 Chicago
- Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want 2000 California
- American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving 1998, with Michael Emerson, Sally Gallagher, Paul Kennedy, and David Sikkink Chicago
- To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil 2015 Chicago
- Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers 2005, with Melinda Lundquist Denton Oxford
- How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps 2011 Cascade
- Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Do Not Give Away More Money 2008 Oxford
- What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up 2010 Chicago