Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1945-1990) Sociologist of religion. Wallis's career took him from a junior lectureship in 1977 at the University of Stirling, Scotland, to the established chair of sociology at the Queen's University of Belfast, where he became Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and then Pro-Vice-Chancellor in 1989. Despite this move into university management and his untimely death, he made significant contributions to the sociology of religion and social movements.

Wallis was one of an impressive generation of students of Bryan Wilson at Oxford. In his doctoral thesis on Scientology, subsequently published as The Road to Total Freedom (Heinemann 1976), he first displayed characteristic skill in assimilating and simplifying a large amount of diverse material into a parsimonious reworking of the classic church-sect typology that also included a denomination-cult dimension. He argued that the bulk of what interested us in such differentiation could be traced to two simple principles: the extent to which the ideology saw itself as uniquely (rather than pluralistically) legitimate, and the extent to which the ideology was viewed as respectable (rather than deviant) by the surrounding society.

His interest in new religious movements led to a general study, The Elementary Forms of the New Religious Life (Routledge 1984), which again showed his skill at going to the heart of the matter in categorizing new religious movements as world-affirming, world-rejecting, and world-accommodating.

Wallis also produced a theory of factionalism and schism in Salvation and Protest (Pinter 1979), a theory of charisma in his edited collection Millennialism and Charisma (Queen's University of Belfast 1982), and a series of robust defenses of the secularization thesis, usually presented as criticisms of the Stark and Bainbridge theory of religion. Less well known is his interest in the dividing lines between science, religion, and medicine. He edited or coedited three collections of essays in this area, to which he made important original contributions: Marginal Medicine (with Peter Morley, Owen 1976), Culture and Curing (with Peter Morley, Owen 1978), and On the Margins of Science (Sociological Review Monographs 1979).

Steve Bruce

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