Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1944-) B.A. degree from Eckerd College, M.A. and Ph.D. (1970) from the New School for Social Research. Professor at Trinity University (San Antonio) since 1988. Rose through the ranks (1970-1978) and was chair of the Department of Sociology at Montclair State College (N.J.); Senior Fulbright Fellow (1977) in Ireland. President, Association for the Sociology of Religion, 1982; Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1988-1989.

At the New School, she studied with Thomas Luckmann and Peter Berger; her dissertation focused on the "underground church"—a movement within Catholicism that emphasized peace and justice social activism. She has returned to the social activism theme, as evidenced in the Latino community of San Antonio.

Her text Religion: The Social Context (Wadsworth) was first published in 1981 and is now in its fourth edition. It is organized as a series of essays on major theoretical themes or issues, and these are integrated throughout the text. The final chapter focuses on religion in the modern world; it discusses privatization and the individual, with personal identity increasingly found in the private sphere. This promotes personal freedoms, but it can cause problems of meaning for the person. There exists, therefore, a "relatively widespread quest for holistic world views, as expressed by many alternative health movements, agrarian communes, and contemporary religious movements" (3rd ed., p. 265). The chapter closes on a discussion of religion, power, and order in the modern world. She observes that "religion-politics tensions are . . . promoted by global interdependence" (p. 281).

Following her research on social activists, she undertook her first major postdoctoral study, which centered on directions the less activist (but strongly spiritual) families took: gravitating toward the new pentecostal movement in Catholicism. Pentecostal Catholics , published in 1982 (Temple University Press), won the Distinguished Book Award of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in 1984.

The next project centered on nonmedical healing. Chapters six and seven of Pentecostal Catholics had dealt with definitions and issues of health among that population. Ritual Healing in Suburban America (with Debra Kantor, Rutgers University Press 1988) is an ambitious and very successful study of 130 different groups in the suburban communities of West Essex County, New Jersey, that have to do with alternative healing, dealing with health and illness as an alternative to the biological (medical) definitions of disease. These groups are diverse, ranging from meditation, metaphysical, and psychic groups to Christian groups concerned with healing. The participants were, for the most part, well-educated, middle-aged suburbanites. Ritual language and nonverbal symbolism are important in these healing movements because they provide "a sense of order and control together with a sense of personal empowerment [that] may indeed be both physically and emotionally healing" (p. 239).

McGuire's two presidential addresses were related to these research projects. Her 1982 address to the ASR set forth an agenda for theory and research on the discovery of religious power; her address to the 1989 meeting of the SSSR focused on the need to incorporate the person as body into our research and theory. A volume by Peter E. S. Freund and McGuire, Health, Illness, and the Social Body (Prentice Hall 1991), is a text on the sociology of health and illness that goes beyond, but includes, standard topics on medicine and health care systems, by defining health and illness and describing alternative healing systems. Her research and writings on the theoretical and methodological underpinnings for a sociology of mind-body-self are applicable not only to studies of healing but also to an appreciation of the links between religion and sexuality as well as religious experience and other religious loci for the interpenetration of mind and body and self.

Hart M. Nelsen


M. B. McGuire, "Discovering Religious Power," Sociological Analysis 44(1983):1-10

M. B. McGuire, "Religion and the Body," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(1990): 283-296.

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