Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1908-1994) A member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Fichter received a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University and became a member of the Department of Sociology at Loyola University of New Orleans, Louisiana, where he remained until his death. He held visiting faculty appointments at various universities and was the Chauncey Stillman Professor of Catholic studies at Harvard (1965-1970). President, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1970-1971; Southern Sociological Society, 1982-1983.

One of the most prolific researchers and published authors in the sociology of religion, most of Fichter's work was what he called "one-man research." As Paul Roman suggested in his Preface to Fichter's autobiographical Sociology of Good Works (Loyola University Press 1993), Fichter's primary focus on issues concerning the Catholic Church placed him in the outsider-insider dilemma. This is well illustrated by the ecclesiastical suppression of Southern Parish , a projected four-volume work reporting a yearlong survey in 1948 of a New Orleans Catholic parish. Volume 1, Dynamics of a City Parish (1951), had already been published by the University of Chicago Press, and Volume 2, accepted by the Press, was making its way through the censorship process mandated by the church's canon law, when the pastor of the surveyed parish, irate at perceived slights and improprieties, by various means pressured Fichter's local Jesuit superior into denying publication approval for the remaining volumes. The completed and revised manuscripts of Volumes 2 and 3 of this work, together with the material for Volume 4, remain unpublished to this day.

As Fichter indicated in One-Man Research (Wiley 1973), the "great awakening to the need for sociological research occurred among the American bishops several years after the close of the Second Vatican Council." In his later work, Fichter continued to probe sensitive areas in Catholic life: the transmission of values in Catholic secondary schools and colleges; Catholic school desegregation in New Orleans; research on Catholic clergy as a profession (Religion as an Occupation , University of Notre Dame Press 1961); problems experienced by some priests (alcoholism, health, married priests and their wives); Catholic charismatics; organizational shortcomings of the Catholic Church. Toward the end of his life, Fichter's research on the Unification Church and his sympathy with it was a source of comment among some sociologists of religion. What they may have overlooked in Fichter was something admirably caught by Ralph Lane in his review of The Sociology of Good Works in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Vol. 33, p. 300):

At times, one detects a note of impatience, indeed exasperation at the reluctance he encountered in his colleagues within the Catholic Church to change and to accept the good in others. At no time did he give up on them, and he wanted his research to advance, in as loving a way as possible, the plight of the suffering.

Joseph H. Fichter Grants given annually by the Association for the Sociology of Religion for research in the area of gender and religion honor Fichter's career contributions.

Loretta M. Morris


J. K. Hadden and T. E. Long (eds.), Religion and Religiosity in America (New York: Crossroad, 1983, [festschrift])

R. Lane, Jr. (ed.), "Symposium on Joseph H. Fichter, S.J.," Sociology of Religion 57(1996):337-377.

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