Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1933-) James R. Wood was born to pious Methodist parents and has remained loyal but not uncritical toward his religious background. He attended Yale Divinity School, where he was influenced by H. Richard Niebuhr and James Gustafson in ethics. He obtained his Ph.D. in sociology at Vanderbilt in 1967 under Mayer Zald. He was ordained into the Methodist ministry in which he served in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He has spent his entire academic career, from 1967, at Indiana University, where he rose from Assistant Professor to Professor of Sociology, also serving as Associate Dean and Acting Dean of Liberal Arts and Chair of Sociology. Wood has served as board member of the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars, Secretary and also board member of the Religious Research Association, Editor of the monograph series and also Chair of the Article Awards Committee for the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Chair of Finance and also Vice President for the Association for the Sociology of Religion. He delivered the ASR's Furfey lecture in 1983.

Wood has employed all methodological forms in his research, including the sample survey. From early in his career, he has been interested in applying open-systems organizational models to the study of religious organizations. He has been especially interested in seeing how religious leaders can implement controversial (civil rights) social policies within their denominations and the civil sector. He has hypothesized that local congregations' official stances can "transcend" (i.e., be more liberal than) individual member attitudes and vary directly with their overhead denominations' official policies and control structures. This is evidenced particularly in his book Leadership in Voluntary Organizations (Rutgers University Press 1981), a work that has affected not only the scientific study of religion but also the sociology of organizations more generally.

More recently, Wood has been exploring the religious sector's relations with other voluntary and nonprofit organizations, toward explaining the distinctive influences of religion upon volunteering and the extent of the church's role as a "private legislature" for public policies. He is also studying how nonprofits often serve as alternatives to religious organizations.

See also Organization Theory, Volunteerism

Ross P. Scherer


J. R. Wood, "Authority and Controversial Policy," American Sociological Review 25(1970):1057-1069

J. R. Wood, "Unanticipated Consequences of Organizational Coalitions," Social Forces 50(1972):512-521

J. R. Wood, "Legitimate Control and 'Organizational Transcendence,'" Social Forces 54(1975):199-211

J. R. Wood, "Leaders, Values, and Societal Change," Sociological Analysis 45(1984):1-9

J. R. Wood, "Liberal Protestant Social Action in a Period of Decline," in Faith and Philanthropy in America , ed. R. Wuthnow and V. Hodgkinson (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1990)

J. R. Wood and J. Bloch, "The Role of Church Assemblies in Building a Civil Society," Sociology of Religion 56(1995):121-136.


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