Best Selling Books in Sociology of Religion, SSSR 2011

Last weekend at the meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, I perused the book sale, wondering “What are other people buying? What should I be reading?”

On the last day of the conference, I asked Theo, the religion editor for Oxford University Press, to tell me which of Oxford’s books were selling a lot. He pointed at Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, and gave me a knowing look. Oh, yes, I said, all Smith’s books from the National Study of Youth and Religion sell well. Yes, indeed, he replied. If you pick up this book, get ready for a rather depressing read about the dominant culture of some (though clearly not all) youth: hedonism.

Two more books on youth and religion are also selling well, Lisa Pearce and Melinda Denton’s A Faith of Their Own and Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s Premarital Sex in America. Both are very popular among my undergrad students, so much so that I have had to put multiple copies on reserve at the library because so many students want to write their research papers using them. Neither should be read if you think your children or youth group attendees are angels; but if you want a sense of what youth culture is really like, pick them up.

Nearly all the copies of my UNC colleague Charles Kurzman’s book The Missing Martyrs: Why There are so Few Muslim Terrorists were gone from the Oxford display. A well-placed and well-timed (September 9, 2011) book review in the New York Times probably helped sales, and Kurzman’s argument that is very hard to recruit terrorists should be carefully considered.

Robert Brenneman’s Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America also sold impressively. Having lived and worked in Central America from 1995-1998, I saw much of the rising gang violence that is the backdrop of this book. In fact, during my trips to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, I was advised to pretty much never walk even 2 or 3 blocks alone (even in daylight) because of the violence. Nor was I ever allowed to hail a taxi from the street–I had to call a specific driver. Even in Costa Rica, the safest country in Central America, and where I lived for 3 years, every single person I know was robbed at least once a year. Fear of violence was a part of life, and a part of life I was not sorry to leave behind. To know that some have gotten out of gangs is indeed a heartwarming story. Thanks for telling it, Robert, in such beautiful prose and passionate stories.

To wrap up highlights from the Oxford table, I was pleased to see two of my perennial favorites, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s Divided by Faith and Christian Smith’s Moral Believing Animals in paperback. These are both must-reads in my opinion. And I was also pleased to see the proofs of my good friend Gerardo Marti’s Worship Across the Racial Divide hanging around the Oxford display–the final copy will be out in January 2012.

Over at the Springer book display, Helen Rose Ebaugh’s bestseller, The Gulen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam was prominently displayed. If you have never heard of Fetullah Gulen before, which I had not until Helen Rose told me about her book last year, then the subtitle, which strings together Islam, moderate and civic in single phrase, should grab your attention. It is likely both great interest in the figure of Mr. Gulen and the search for a moderate, civic version of Islam that has led thousands of people to buy this book. Helen Rose told me that the Turkish translation of the book (Mr. Gulen is from  Turkey but now resides in the U.S.) has sold 20,000 copies and thousands more in the German translation (Germany is home to Western Europe’s largest Turkish population). Among its eager readers figure are quite a few diplomats from Europe and the Middle East who are asking what this moderate, civic version of Islam looks like, as well as members of the U.S. International Commission for Religious Freedom.

I read The Gulen Movement as soon as it came out last year, and it is an easy and intriguing read. I recommend you get a copy for your bookshelf in case you get a visit from someone involved with the movement, as I recently did. Sitting in my office in the sociology department at UNC about a month ago, I got a visit from two Turkish graduate students who invited me to a dinner to learn about Turkish culture. The guest speaker will be the US Representative from this district of North Carolina, David Price. I listened intently as these two students told me about the center sponsoring the activity, wondering… “Could this be the Gulen movement Helen Rose writes about?” And finally they mentioned Mr. Gulen’s inspiration for their center.

Aha! I told them, I am friends with Helen Rose Ebaugh, and I jumped up and grabbed her book from the shelf. What do you think of this book? Oh, you know her? They inquired. It’s a nice book, they told me, but there is much more to what we do than what she writes. Hoping to learn more, I accepted their invitation to the dinner and will attend this November 9th.

Two of  my favorite books of the last year, Christian Smith’s What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life and the Moral Good from the Person Up and Martin Riesebrodt’s The Promise of Salvation: A Theory of Religion, did not seem to be prominently displayed or selling like hotcakes. But I hope to remedy that by using their ideas in my work and telling everyone they must read them. Now I must go back to re-reading them for my work.


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