Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1922-) Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, until his retirement (to Australia) in 1987. Born in the Netherlands, Mol immigrated to Australia and then the United States. He studied theology and worked as a pastor in both countries before completing his Ph.D. in sociology in 1960 at Columbia. Prior to McMaster, he taught at Canterbury University (New Zealand), Australian National University, and briefly at a number of American universities. He served on the Council of the International Sociological Association (1966-1970) and as Secretary (1970-1974) and President (1974-1978) of its Research Committee 22.

The author or editor of a dozen books (e.g., 1969, 1971, 1972) and many articles on aspects of religion in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere, Mol is best known for his neo-functionalist, general social scientific theory of religion focused on the "sacralization of identity" presented in such works as Identity and the Sacred (Free Press 1976), the edited volume Identity and Religion (Sage 1978), and The Firm and the Formless (Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1982). Setting religion against a natural and social dialectic of processes of integration and differentiation, and positing a fundamental human need for secure identity, Mol provides a sophisticated discussion of how religions operate to regulate symbolic and social changes so as to perpetuate personal, group, and social identities. In every instance, Mol stresses, these identities are both congruent and in conflict. The process of sacralizing identities is analyzed in terms of four interrelated "mechanisms": objectification, commitment, ritual, and myth. This perspective leads Mol to be relatively optimistic about the continued relevance of religion to modern societies.

Lorne Dawson


J. J. Mol, Christianity in Chains (Melbourne: Nelson, 1969)

J. J. Mol, Religion in Australia (Melbourne: Nelson, 1971)

J. J. Mol (ed.), Western Religion (The Hague: Mouton, 1972).

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