Religion’s Power

This week's review analyzes what affords religion power through its examination of "ritual practice, discourse, institutions, identity, and politics."

Religion’s Power: What Makes it Work

Wuthnow, Robert. Oxford, 2022
248p bibl index, 9780197652534 $35.00, 9780197652565

Religion's Power: What Makes it Work book cover.

One might think of a religion in terms of beliefs, ethical values, and personal practices, and those certainly are central elements. But Wuthnow (emer., sociology, Princeton) calls for looking at religion more deeply, specifically at its power as expressed in several key dimensions. He notes that this power can be used positively or negatively, but he wants readers to be aware of how religion can function in subtle, easily unnoticed ways. Wuthnow’s specialties have been cultural sociology and the sociology of religion, and he utilizes his expertise in these areas to draw out insights related to five central areas of religion’s power: ritual practice, discourse, institutions, identity, and politics. In successive chapters, he examines the power of religion in terms of these areas. Though the book is scholarly—Wuthnow discusses empirical research and points to key figures, theories, and ideas on the subject—it is also accessible. The author writes in a somewhat conversational style, without academic jargon, and he illustrates his ideas with interesting stories and historical examples. Other scholars have examined religion in politics but have not engaged in the kind of incisive sociological and historical analysis Wuthnow does.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.
: J. Jaeger, Johnson University
Subject: Humanities – Religion
Choice Issue: Dec 2023

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