Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1915-1979) Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

A native of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, Eister studied at DePauw University (B. A., 1936), American University (M. A., 1937), and the University of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1945). Prior to his arrival at Wellesley in 1953, he served on the faculties of Hood College (1944-1946) and Southern Methodist University (1946-1952). His distinguished academic career included a Ford Foundation fellowship at Harvard (1952-1953), a Fulbright lectureship at the University of Karachi (1959-1960), and a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford (1966-1967).

Eister was a critical figure in the formalization of the social scientific study of religion. His long involvement in the Committee for the Scientific Study of Religion, the forebear of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), began in 1950. He later served on the Executive Council of the SSSR (1957 to 1966), was Secretary of that organization (1964 to 1967), and was the founding Editor of the book review section of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion . In 1962, he coedited (with Lauris Whitman and Constant Jacquet) Sociology and Religion: Proceedings of the Hazen International Conference on the Sociology of Religion , and in 1968, he edited a special issue of the Religious Research Association's journal, Review of Religious Research . In 1971, Eister was program chair of the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and he later edited a collection of papers from those meetings titled Changing Perspectives in the Scientific Study of Religion (Wiley 1974).

The emergence and development of new religious movements was an abiding interest of Allan Eister long before the topic became fashionable among sociologists of religion in the 1970s. It was the focus of his earliest work, Drawing Room Conversion: A Sociological Account of the Oxford Movement (Duke University Press 1950). Eister's critical abilities especially shine in two of his widely read essays. The first, published in the American Sociological Review in 1957, is titled "Religion in Complex Societies: Difficulties in the Specification of Functions." The second, which appears in Glock and Hammond's Beyond the Classics (Harper 1973), is "H. Richard Niebuhr and the Paradox of Organizations: A Radical Critique." Allan Eister was an academic of the old school in the good senses of that term. Even upon issues about which he felt deeply, his discourse always was as reserved and polite as it was clear. He was an outgoing person who constantly offered encouragement to younger scholars.

William M. Newman

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