Science in Christian Perspective



JASA Book Review For December 1962
Table of Contents
The Church As A Social Institution: The Sociology of American Religion, by David 0. Moberg. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1962. 569 pp., trade $10; text $7.50.    (Two Reviews)
A Structure of Science, by Joseph H. Simons, Philosophical Library, New York, 1960. 269 pp. $4.75.

The Church As A Social Institution: The Sociology of American Religion, by David 0. Moberg. PrenticeHall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1962. 569 pp., trade $10; text $7.50.

Described on the jacket as "a systematic interdisciplinary approach to the sociology of religion in America," this book is an invaluable asset to the serious student of the contemporary religious situation. It is a massive compendium of data, organized in a schematic unity and readily accessible by means of a 48-page index. The encyclopedic nature of this survey is indicated by the hundreds of articles and monographs cited in more than 1,400 footnotes. it is unlikely that any significant modern contribution to the field has been overlooked.

This is a book for not only the scholar, however, in spite of constant reference to technical studies and the employment of sociological methodology, Moberg's writing is neither pedantic nor cumbersome. The nonspecialist who is seriously interested in the church should find it readable, informative, and possibly disconcerting, if he has not been previously exposed to this sort of dispassionate analysis of the "sacred." When Moberg states in his preface that he writes "neither to lampoon nor to laud the church," but "to present a balanced picture of the church as a social institution," he means just that. Very rarely does the reader catch a glimpse of the author's personal value-judgment on the manifold aspects of church life which he presents.

In Part I, an introductory chapter, Moberg sets forth his frame of reference. Sociologically, the key to understanding the church is organization; "church" is defined to cover all instances "in which people have established some form of functioning and continuing organization to serve their religious needs and purposes." The sources and methods employed come under the rubric of institutional analysis; they include demographic, ecological, typological, case study, structural-functional, socio-psychological, and logical-theoretical approaches.

Part II begins with a presentation of statistical and interpretive data on the demography and ecology of the American religious scene. Then follows discussion of social and religious norms values, and of religious symbolism. This  chapter, like the first, is more theoretical than other sections of the book and offers a number of valuable insights into the interplay of religious and secular value-systems. It could be wished that the author, having focused the issues, might have attempted a general analytical statement on the function of religion in society.

The meaning, development, modification, and heuristic value of the Weber-Troeltsch church-sect typology form the backbone of Part III. After a survey of the relevant literature, Moberg discusses the social sources of religious movements and formulates a life cycle pattern for plotting the natural history of the church as a social institution. A lack of precision in distinguishing between church as "denomination" and as "local congregation" makes the elaboration of this five-stage cycle somewhat ambiguous.

The largest section, and certainly one of the book's most valuable contributions, is Part IV on the social functions and dysfunctions of the church. With clarity and conciseness, Moberg explains the rationale and method of functional analysis, adapted from Merton, Parsons, and others. He goes on to delineate the social functions of the church; attention is given to its role in socialization, in social control and reform, in providing solidarity and stability. Recognition of mutual sanctions and interdependence of church and society in America continues through the discussion of social, recreational, esthetic, economic, and ethical-moral functions. Numerous activities commonly regarded as "purely religious" are revealed as largely social in nature. Doubtless many readers unacquainted with functional theory will find this section an eye-opener, particularly if they have held to a rigid separation of "church" and "world."

Moberg also notes the changing functions of the church in an increasingly differentiated society, particularly the loss of many charitable, educational, and therapeutic functions to secular agencies. In this context, he allows himself one of the few evaluative or predictive statements in the book: "As a more specialized institution, the church may direct the spiritual welfare of mankind more effectively than when it was expected to be the direct agent of society in numerous realms of life."

Informative chapters on educational and missionary activities of the church follow. Extensive documentation and discussion of the ethnocentric and nationalistic aspects of missionary work affords opportunity for sober reflection on the actual situation of Christian missions in today's world.

Part V is a survey of the social processes of cooperation and conflict, both within the church and between the church and the rest of society. The creative possibilities of conflict are noted, as are the serious dysfunctional effects for both the church and the social order. An extensive discussion of interfaith conflict (Protestant-Catholic-Jewish) concludes with helpful suggestions for reducing tensions.

Of particular interest for ASA members are the sections on the fundamentalist-modernist controversy and the conflict of science and religion. Moberg rightly rejects a one-dimensional (doctrinal) view of the conflict over modernism and notes nine contributing social factors, including the advance in scientific knowledge, rural-urban tensions, the need for socio-psychological compensation, and the struggle for power among leaders. A discerning observation has to do with the hyperrationalism of the extreme fundamentalist approach to Scripture, that is, a materialistic notion of truth which is in itself derived from the scientific method which the fundamentalist fears!

The science-religion controversy is seen as the conflict of "two different normative systems which have two different theories of knowledge, two different approaches to reality, two different methods of extending knowledge, and two different attitudes of mind." Moberg presents an illuminating ten-point typology of science and religion, with the suggestion that these contrasts (inductive-deductive, natural-supernatural, determinist-voluntarist, objective-value-weighed, etc.) actually allow for a complementary, rather than a contradictory, relationship. There are moral aspects to scientific method-intellectual honesty, love of truth, self-discipline, humility-but science is finally limited to telling us what is, not what ought to be.

The remaining chapters deal with the church in relation to the family, to government, to social problems (race, mental illness, crime, etc.), and with analysis of church membership and participation, conversion and revivalism, and the clergy. These discussions continue the same high level of organization and presentation of multitudinous data which characterizes the whole volume.

A concluding chapter deals with a question which may have troubled readers from the beginning: After this thorough scientific scrutiny, what is left of the church as a divine institution? Or as Moberg puts it: Is the church unique? His answer: "The uniqueness of the church does not lie . . . in its social characteristics. Its social functions, structures, and processes are shared with other institutions . . . It is only by an act of faith that modern man can accept the tenet that the church is a special institution ordained by God and established in a unique manner." The book closes with a plea for comprehensive sociological self-understanding in order that the church may be effective in the modern world.

Whether laymen or specialists, we are indebted to David Moberg for die considerable results of his labors. This book will serve as both introduction and reference source for a long time to come. The author wisely limited himself to an overview of the contemporary American scene, leaving historical, anthropological, and cross-cultural approaches to other workers.

Although it borders on ingratitude to expect more than has been given in this compendium, I was somewhat frustrated by the rather indiscriminate reporting of numerous studies of varying quality, and incorporation of research findings with little attempt at evaluation from a consistent point of view. But to expect critical comment on the wealth of data presented would be to condemn the author to a lifetime of servitude; we must recognize as he does that sociology is something of an art, as well as a science, and be willing to involve ourselves in the discipline of critical creativity.

Reviewed by J. R. Burkholder, doctoral candidate in Religion and Society, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Second Review

Friends of the ASA who have read David Moberg's articles will find in this new book the thoroughness which they would expect. His scholarship, documentation, organization and concern for detail is impressive. His writing is lucid and flows naturally from one topic to the next. This is a book from which much may be learned.

Moberg limits the field under view and stays within the designated bounds. Designed for a broad audience '
the book is undoubtedly of great value for the layman interested in the American church. "As a survey of the
sociology of American religion", Moberg indicates his desire to record the facts as studies have shown them
to exist. There is no attempt to develop a new theoretical approach to the problems at hand. The book is
particularly valuable because of its objectivity; it is scientific and inter-disciplinarian in outlook.

For two related reasons, however, this could not be called a text on the subject. As Moberg states, the book is "concerned with the church and does not attempt to survey the entire field of the sociology of religion." Undoubtedly, merely for lack of space, much of significance had to be omitted. Nevertheless, the book gives the impression that the church is religion, leaving little room for an individual relationship with God. It is this narrow definition of the sociology of religion which seems to me to be the chief weakness of die work.

Certainly, much of American religion is "organized" and manifests itself through church forms. I would not, however, agree with Moberg that the church is an institution. By establishing the church as the frame of reference, all roles, values, goals, and activities to which he refers are made subsidiary to the organization. The church becomes the intermediary. By taking the Durkheimian approach that religion has an integrative function and an origin in religious action and unity, one must then doubt the prevalence, or even the existence, of a personal relationship with God. The emphasis is put upon the social and not the individual needs which are met by society. Perhaps the chapter most highly oriented to the needs of the individual is the one entitled "Religious Conversion and Revivalism." A typical statement here is as follows: "Repentance and faith, turning from sin and to God, are not merely philosophical or theological concepts. They involve group identification to such an extent that 'loving the brethren' is given in the New Testament as a necessary indication of possessing eternal life." (I John 4:7-12)

The stated viewpoint of this book is perfectly legitimate. The question is whether the model adequately portrays the facts. Certainly Durkheim has been criticized by many authorities. There is, in this reviewer's opinion, a growing tendency in the field to present a model based upon a disintegrative or at least a non-integrative function of religion which stresses the needs of the individual rather than society.

The previous criticism of the definition of the church as an institution is a problem in semantics with which sociologists are constantly involved. The title and subtitle do not seem to be correct in their conceptualization. Moberg makes a valid attempt to redefine the church by stating that it is "synonymous with 'organized religion.' " This statement would seem to be in keeping with current terminology, since it would allow religion to be defined as an institution (rules organizing statuses and roles so that the purposes of the group and individual may be realized) and the church as an association (a limited set of interests which people feel they may obtain by concerted action).

An accurate evaluation of this book can be made only when it is realized that the author has circumscribed his approach and made little attempt at rigorous use of definitions and concepts; within the thus-defined area of the sociology of religion, this is probably the most complete work available.

Reviewed by Russell Heddendorf, Instructor of Sociology, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.

A Structure of Science, by Joseph H. Simons, Philosophical Library, New York, 1960. 269 pp. $4.75.

This is a relatively short book of 28 chapters, clearly written and at a level which should be understandable to most people. The first part of nine chapters deals with the meaning, extent, growth, and place of science, and discusses the subdivisions of science. Concepts such as matter, force, inertia, potential, orderliness, conservation, chance, and so forth are treated in the second part. The third part is entitled "A Tidy Universe" and has material on impacts of objects, affinite quantities, collisions, and similar topics. Little reference to religion is made in this book; the author believes that science and religion deal with different phenomena and therefore do not overlap to any serious extent.

Reviewed by Irving W. Knobloch, Professor of Botany, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.