Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1922-) One of the most distinguished contemporary social scientists, Lipset is currently Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. President, American Sociological Association (1993); President, American Political Science Association (1982); member, National Academy of Sciences; recipient of the first Marshall Sklare Award of the ASSJ and numerous other honors.

A political sociologist, Lipset's main concern throughout his career has been the social conditions necessary for stable democracy. In The First New Nation (Doubleday 1963), Lipset explores the relationship between the central value system of American society and religion as a social institution. The two basic American values Lipset identifies—equality and achievement—are supported by the Protestant emphases on voluntarism and personal achievement of grace, respectively. The stability of these values during the course of American history is associated with disestablishment and denominationalism in the religious sphere. That religious groups are voluntary organizations competing in a marketplace is central to America's vital civil society, which is in turn supportive of democracy.

Lipset was also an early contributor to understanding the role of "religious factors" in American politics. As Lipset (1964) notes, for many years America's leading pollster, George Gallup, did not inquire regularly into the religious affiliation of survey respondents. In 1940, when Paul Lazarsfeld found that Protestants and Catholics differed in political party preference net of other socioeconomic factors, Gallup expressed disbelief. Lipset explains Catholic support for the Democratic Party and Protestant support for the Republican Party to be an artifact of the late-nineteenth-century position of Catholics as immigrant newcomers to American society who were more welcomed by the Democrats than by Republican supporters of the Protestant status quo.

David Yamane


S. M. Lipset, "Religion and Politics in the American Past and Present," in Religion and Social Conflict , ed. R. Lee and M. E. Marty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964): 69-126.

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