Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

In the late 1930s, the American sociological establishment suspected that anyone committed to a specific set of religious beliefs and a specific religious institution would be ideologically incapable of scientifically objective research. During the 1937 annual meeting of the American Sociological Society (now the American Sociological Association), a small group of Catholic sociologists met to share their frustrations at the atmosphere and content of the meeting. As they saw it, scientific sociology on the model of the natural sciences was becoming a vehicle for amoral and antireligious attitudes of secular sociologists. The illogicality of value-neutral research was also an irritation: "Don't ask me how they could even talk about delinquency, crime, poverty, etc., without seeing some kind of norm. We were pretty much satiated with that sort of attitude" (Francis Friedel letter, 1948). In addition to Friedel of Dayton University, the group included Ralph Gallagher, S.J., of Loyola University (Chicago), Louis Weitzman, S.J., of John Carroll University, and Marguerite Reuss of Marquette University.

The outcome of this exchange of views was an organizational meeting at Chicago's Loyola University in 1938 attended by 31 representatives from 30 Catholic colleges and universities. The participants forthwith drafted a constitution and elected Ralph Gallagher the first president of the American Catholic Sociological Society. The founding ethos was one of loyalty to the Catholic Church, even as one pursued sociological research in the interest of social change. Although the scope of papers read at ACSS meetings and published in the quarterly American Catholic Sociological Review displayed the varied interests of Catholic sociologists, there was a deep, fractious, and ultimately unresolved debate about the legitimacy of a "Catholic" sociology. In time, this issue was displaced by questions of professional specialization, and 1963 saw the last meeting with a focus on matters generally sociological. In 1964, the annual meeting was devoted to the sociology of the Catholic Church.

Reflecting the pressures of professional specialization, the ACSS journal was in 1963 renamed Sociological Analysis (now Sociology of Religion ), and the society in 1970 became the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

See also Association for the Sociology of Religion

Loretta M. Morris


R. Rosenfelder, A History of the American Catholic Sociological Society from 1938-1948, Dissertation, Loyola University, Chicago, 1948

Sociological Analysis 50(1989):319-418.

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