Religion and British Sociology: The Power and Necessity of the Spiritual

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Social Reform, Chicago School, Sociological Society, Gift Relationship, British Sociology

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Understanding the role of religion in early British sociology, as well as its fate in later sociology, requires a variety of perspectives: one is intellectual and concerns the various forms that the topic of religion took for British sociology. Another is organisational and ecological. British sociology as embodied in the Sociological Society was a part of a vast array of organisations that were part of a massive movement of social reform, international in scope, and motivated largely by the newly ‘social’ Christianity of the late Victorian era. As a kind of public discourse, sociology was part of what Maurice Cowling called the ‘Public Doctrine’ replacing religion (1980). As Cowling demonstrates for British intellectual life as a whole, the withdrawing roar of the sea of faith, as Matthew Arnold put it (1867), was in the ears of generations of British academics and thinkers, and especially in those who used the term ‘sociology’ or referred to sociological thinkers, such as Comte, or their precursors.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Religion and British Sociology: The Power and Necessity of the Spiritual, in J. Holmwood & J. Scott (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Sociology in Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 97-122