The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) recently featured Paul Froese in their New Voices section, which recognizes leading scholars in the social sciences for outstanding and original research. Paul Froese, considered by some as one of the best new researchers in the field of the sociology of religion, had his revised dissertation, The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization, published by University of California Press. SSRC contributor, Daniel Chirot explains:
Interestingly, there has been controversy surrounding The Plot to Kill God, which shows the sensitive nature of this kind of work. Some have attacked it as an apology for religion, while others have praised it as a refutation of arguments against religion. But the book does neither of these things. Instead it is a data-driven analysis that shows a previously relatively neglected aspect of how and why communism failed: not only did communism not deliver the economic goods but it also never succeeded in laying a solid philosophical and moral basis for its claims to universal truth. In 2009, it won the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion’s prize for the most distinguished book in the study of religion.
Froese and his colleagues at Baylor went on to obtain a major grant to conduct a series of national surveys on religion in the United States. Called the “Baylor Religion Surveys,” this project included a battery of questions about how Americans think of God. What he and his colleague Christopher Bader found is that while most Americans believe in God, there exist widespread disagreements about the extent to which this God is judgmental and directly engaged in the world. In the ensuing book, America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God—and What That Says about Us (Oxford University Press, 2010), Froese and Bader show that Americans who believe in a more engaged and judgmental God tend to be moral absolutists, they distrust academic science, they are economic conservatives, and they report higher levels of nationalism. But at the same time, the majority of American believers who believe in other kinds of gods do not share those attitudes. Belief as such is not a good predictor of social and political attitudes because the other “three Gods” are different. What counts is the kind of belief. While this finding is not so surprising by itself, it solidly lays to rest the tired argument about whether the “secularization” thesis is right or wrong. Again using an immense amount of data, the book demonstrates that what is going on in America is not necessarily a progression from religion to its rejection but can best be described as a process of change in the way people understand the supernatural. America’s Four Gods was widely discussed in the popular press because it is one of the first solid pictures given to us about the nature of contemporary American religious diversity.
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