Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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A phrase used in two distinct, although not unconnected, ways to refer to developments within the field of sociology since the late 1800s.

The older context of use was a movement, largely centered in liberal Protestant circles, that reflected a general quest to "make Christianity relevant to modern society." J. W. H. Stuckenberg can probably be credited with introducing the phrase in his book by that title published in 1880. The 1890s saw two Institutes of Christian Sociology formed—one under the leadership of George Herron of Iowa College (Grinnell), the other founded as an alternative to the first, under the leadership of Z. Swift Holbrook (with the imprimatur of Social Gospel leader Washington Gladden) at Oberlin College—neither of which lasted any length of time or made a significant impact upon subsequent sociology. Hartford Seminary also began a Summer School of Sociology, first inserting and then dropping Christian from its title. The journal Bibliotheca Sacra , of which Holbrook was coeditor, originally included sociology in its subtitle. A survey conducted by Holbrook in 1895 demonstrated that the phrase had a variety of meanings to both its supporters and its detractors, although there was some consensus that Christian sociology should be distinguished from Christian socialism, and that Christian sociology should be distinguished from the highpriestly new religion of Auguste Comte's sociology. Christian sociology from these roots has been a longstanding heading in the Library of Congress classification system.

A Christian approach to sociology began a process of revivification with the publication of essays by William L. Kolb in the 1960s. An organizational network began later with the Christian Sociologists prayer group, largely as an effort by George A. Hillery, Jr., but with support from others, including David O. Moberg, Margaret Poloma, Patricia Kirby, Thomas C. Hood, and Jack O. Balswick, which subsequently became the Christian Sociological Society, as well as ACTS, the Association of Christians Teaching Sociology, both of which meet annually. Leadership in the recent movement has come from evangelical and charismatic traditions, has tended to be primarily outside of the hands of the clergy, and has been rather cool toward sociologists from the liberal traditions, even if professing Christians, who treat sociology as a "value-free" discipline. The CSS initially published an occasional Newsletter that has now become a quarterly.

William H. Swatos, Jr .


G. A. Hillery, Jr., A Research Odyssey (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1982)

Z. S. Holbrook, "What Is Sociology," Bibliotheca Sacra 52(1895):458-504

W. L. Kolb, "Sociology and the Christian Doctrine of Man," in Religion and Contemporary Western Culture , ed. E. Cell (Nashville: Abingdon, 1967): 360-369

J. W. H. Stuckenberg, Christian Sociology (New York: Funk, 1880)

W. H. Swatos, Jr., Faith of the Fathers (Bristol, Ind.: Wyndham Hall, 1984)

W. H. Swatos, Jr., "Religious Sociology and the Sociology of Religion in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century," Sociological Analysis 50(1989):363-375; issues of the CSS Newsletter .

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