Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Term coined originally in the nineteenth century by Alexis de Tocqueville in reference to the modern tendency to pursue one's private concerns in isolation from the concerns of others, the common good, or social institutions.

Currently often used to identify various strands within modern cultural patterns (e.g., possessive individualism, expressive and utilitarian individualism, ethical individualism, and aesthetic individualism). Regarding religion, used in reference to the modern tendency to insist on personal choice in matters of morality and faith rather than seeking primary guidance from religious traditions. Also used in reference to social researchers focusing on isolated individuals rather than on social groups, such as "methodological individualism."

Richard L. Wood


R. N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)

E. Fox-Genovese, Feminism Without Illusions (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991)

H. J. Gans, Middle American Individualism (New York: Free Press, 1988)

D. Gelpi (ed.), Beyond Individualism (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989)

S. R. Gupta et al., Citizenship Values in India (Calcutta: Mandira, 1990)

K. Miyanaga, The Creative Edge (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1991)

B. A. Shain, The Myth of American Individualism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994)

A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, 1969 [1835])

H. Varenne, Americans Together (New York: Teachers' College Press, 1977).

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