Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1942) Professor of Sociology, Purdue University; Ph.D., Notre Dame (1969). Editor, Review of Religious Research , 1977-1980; President of the Religious Research Association, 1989-1990. Executive Secretary, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1988-1993. President, North Central Sociological Association, 1984-1985.

Davidson has pursued a wide range of religious research projects, including studies that analyze the link between faith and social concern, the changing face of contemporary American Catholicism, the religious affiliation of America's elites, and other issues. He also has played an important role in ensuring the vitality of the social scientific study of religion through his development of a large graduate program in the sociology of religion at Purdue.

Davidson has spent much of his professional career exploring the relationship between religious faith and concern for the poor and the powerless. In 1985, he published Mobilizing Social Movement Organizations (Society for the Scientific Study of Religion monograph series), a study of an interfaith urban ministry located in Lafayette, Indiana. Davidson used a resource mobilization approach to analyze the formation of this social service organization and its subsequent effectiveness in promoting church involvement in social support programs. In 1990, he edited, with Lincoln Johnson and Alan Mock, Faith and Social Ministry: Ten Christian Perspectives (Loyola University Press), a cross-denominational analysis of faith and social concern that featured religious leaders discussing how their organizations promote social outreach programs. In several studies, Davidson has noted that despite church teachings that emphasize that there ought to be a close relationship between love of God and love of neighbor, there is virtually no relationship between faith and social concern. Religion plays a larger role in comforting church members than inspiring their social participation in the community (Davidson 1972, 1986).

Davidson has written extensively about American Catholics. He served as coauthor (with William V. D'Antonio, Dean Hoge, and Ruth Wallace) of American Catholic Laity in a Changing Church (Sheed & Ward 1989) and Laity: American and Catholic (Sheed & Ward 1996). These two volumes have documented changes in Catholics' religious orientations as they have moved into America's middle class and been assimilated into the cultural mainstream. Davidson also headed the Catholic Pluralism Project, a largescale study that has explored the social bases of increasing theological pluralism among Catholics. The research has highlighted important differences in the beliefs and practices of pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Catholics. Davidson notes that although Catholics born before World War II were taught a respect for authority as they learned to support "the one true church," those born after Vatican II have cultivated a more privatized faith. Davidson and others involved in his pluralism project have prepared a book for scholars and church leaders titled The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans (Our Sunday Visitor Press 1997).

Some of Davidson's other studies have analyzed the multiple dimensions of religious commitment (Davidson 1972, 1975), religion and the meaning of work (Davidson and Caddell 1994), and the nature and sources of religious involvement (Roberts and Davidson 1984). He has contributed an insightful article that examines different theories and measures of poverty (Davidson 1985). Additionally, he has conducted studies that analyze the religious affiliations of American elites between the 1930s and the 1990s (Davidson 1994, Davidson et al. 1995). His research suggests that despite an increasing proportion of society's leaders with Catholic or Jewish affiliations, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and members of the United Church of Christ continue to be disproportionately represented among Americans with power, position, and prestige. Consequently, disestablishment theories (those stressing that America's Protestant establishment has been replaced by a religiously pluralistic elite) are only partly correct. Davidson has argued that we have not yet entered a post-Protestant age in American life.

Ralph E. Pyle


J. D. Davidson, "Religious Belief as an Independent Variable," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 11(1972):65-75

J. D. Davidson, "Glock's Model of Religious Commitment," Review of Religious Research 16(1975):83-93

J. D. Davidson, "Theories and Measures of Poverty," Sociological Focus 18(1985):177-198

J. D. Davidson, "Captive Congregations," in The Political Role of Religion in the United States , ed. S. D. Johnson and J. B. Tamney (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1986):239-261

J. D. Davidson, "Religion Among America's Elite," Sociology of Religion 55(1994):419-440

J. D. Davidson and D. P. Caddell, "Religion and the Meaning of Work," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33(1994):135-147

J. D. Davidson et al., "Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment," Social Forces 74(1995):157-175

M. K. Roberts and J. D. Davidson, "The Nature and Sources of Religious Involvement," Review of Religious Research 25(1984):334-350.

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