Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1929-) Sociologist; Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles. Most of his career has been spent as a member of the sociology faculty at the University of New Mexico. President, Association for the Sociology of Religion, 1984.

McNamara is best known for his research on the Catholic Church in the United States (e.g., 1985). He was one of the first sociologists to study relationships between the Catholic Church and Mexican Americans. He reported on efforts by Catholic priests to empower Chicanos. He discussed the clash of perspectives between the policy of assimilation favored by officials of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the policy of preserving separatism favored by some Chicano activists. Early on, McNamara argued that Catholic social thought offers a vision of society that favors human rights and could facilitate democratization in Latin America (1968, 1970, 1979).

McNamara has summarized the available information on changes in the religiosity of young American Catholics. In a longitudinal study of graduates of a Catholic high school, Conscience First, Tradition Second: A Study of Young American Catholics (SUNY Press 1992), he has shown how upward mobility of American Catholics has changed the relationship between young people and their religion (see 1991). In a more prescriptive mode of discussion, he has offered practical proposals about how teachers can encourage student reflection on values and spiritual awareness (1994).

In a series of articles written with Arthur St. George, McNamara has explored the possibility of using survey data to develop social indicators for religion. They found that religiosity is a good predictor of psychological well-being. They also tested hypotheses derived from "deprivation theory." They showed that people of low social status are somewhat more likely to be religious, but low-status people in their sample did not use religion to compensate for low status (McNamara and St. George 1978, 1979).

William Silverman


P. H. McNamara, "Social Action Priests in the Mexican American Community," Sociological Analysis 29(1968):177-185

P. H. McNamara, "Dynamics of the Catholic Church," in The Mexican-American People , ed. L. Grebler et al. (New York: Free Press, 1970): 449-485

P. H. McNamara, "Conscience, Catholicism and Social Change in Latin America," Social Research 46(1979):329-349

P. H. McNamara, "American Catholicism in the Mid-Eighties," Annals 480(1985):63-74

P. H. McNamara, "Catholic Youth in the Modern Church," Religion and the Social Order , Vol. 2 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI, 1991): 57-65

P. H. McNamara, "Teaching the Sociology of Religion as a Reflective Enterprise," Social Compass 41(1994):329-338

P. H. McNamara and A. St. George, "Blessed Are the Downtrodden?" Sociological Analysis 39(1978):303-320

P. H. McNamara and A. St. George, "Measures of Religiosity and the Quality of Life," in Spiritual Well-Being , ed. D. O. Moberg (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979): 229-236.

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