Secularization Troubles: The Sociology of Liberal Protestantism
Harvard Divinity School
In seeking a clearer understanding of the situation of contemporary American liberal Protestantism, this dissertation pursues a comparative analysis of the work of Peter Berger, Rodney Stark, Robert Bellah, and Robert Wuthnow. Giving particular attention in this analysis to implicit and explicit theological commitments at work in these writings, I address disagreements among the sociologists and contend that a more interdisciplinary approach to these questions is justified. Contemporary resistance among both sociologists and theologians to greater engagement between the disciplines reflects an intellectual differentiation associated with secularization. Building on sociological interpretations of liberal Protestantism, I argue here that similar social pressures towards differentiation significantly undermine both contemporary liberal Protestant practice and theology. A renewal of liberal Protestantism will thus require active resistance to such compartmentalization of religious practice and religious belief. Though such resistance is difficult, requiring a reappraisal of liberal Protestantism’s de-centering of doctrine and transcendence, it suggests a distinctive and much needed role for liberal theology and the liberal Protestant churches.
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