Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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First introduced in the sociology of community, the local-cosmopolitan distinction was used to great effect in the sociology of religion by Wade Clark Roof as an explanatory tool for understanding changes in American denominational religiosity.

The distinction suggests that people operate primarily on one of two worldviews: Either they are oriented to their immediate surroundings, or they are oriented to a "larger" culture, centered in a global civilizational complex that has generally been referred to as "modern." The advantage of the local-cosmopolitan distinction is that it avoids the loaded quality of words such as liberal and conservative , and focuses instead on the subjective experience of participant actors in specific contexts.

Although localism is probably more likely to exist in more isolated areas, and correspondingly cosmopolitanism in more urban areas, localism/cosmopolitanism should not be seen as simply a new phraseology for rural/urban . It is possible to be cosmopolitan in a rural setting and localistic in an urban setting. Similarly, local/cosmopolitan is not simply a social stratification measure. Relatively speaking, there is local wealth and cosmopolitan poverty, and vice versa. The local-cosmopolitan distinction bridges between spatial location and the concept of "reference group." The localism factor, particularly, has played a significant role in Swatos's estimate (e.g., 1981) of the nature and function of denominational religiosity in the United States and in Robertson's understanding (e.g., 1992) of the dynamics of antiglobal tendencies and apparent contradictions in the process of globalization.

William H. Swatos, Jr .


R. Robertson, Globalization (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992)

W. C. Roof, "The Local-Cosmopolitan Orientation and Traditional Religious Commitment," Sociological Analysis 33(1972):1-15

W. C. Roof, "Traditional Religion in Contemporary Society," American Sociological Review 41(1976): 195-208

W. H. Swatos, Jr., "Beyond Denominationalism?" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 20(1981):217-227.

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