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Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentmentby Phil Zuckerman
Synopses & Reviews
“Silver” Winner of the 2008 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Religion Category
Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were “getting religion”—praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all, don't pray, and don't give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the "happiness index" and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer.
Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over the course of fourteen months. He was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how and why it is that certain societies are non-religious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some interesting answers.
This fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that “society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant.”
"Sociologist Zuckerman spent a year in Scandinavia seeking to understand how Denmark and Sweden became 'probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world.' While many people, especially Christian conservatives, argue that godless societies devolve into lawlessness and immorality, Denmark and Sweden enjoy strong economies, low crime rates, high standards of living and social equality. Zuckerman interviewed 150 Danes and Swedes, and extended transcripts from some of those interviews provide the book's most interesting and revealing moments. What emerges is a portrait of a people unconcerned and even incurious about questions of faith, God and life's meaning. Zuckerman ventures to answer why Scandinavians remain irreligious — e.g., the religious monopoly of state-subsidized churches, the preponderance of working women and the security of a stable society — but academics may find this discussion a tad thin. Zuckerman also fails to answer the question of contentment his subtitle speaks to. Still, for those interested in the burgeoning field of secular studies — or for those curious about a world much different from the devout U.S. — this book will offer some compelling reading." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Many of our nation's oldest ethnic communities trace their roots in this country to New York City's Lower East Side. A century ago, travelers to the area could attend a black-faced minstrel show performed by Irishmen, drink German lager, visit Jewish-run gambling houses, and dine on Chinese delicacies, all within a matter of blocks. Long a hub of immigrant cultures, this vibrant section of New York City remains one of the country's most astonishingly diverse neighborhoods.
This unique walking guide takes us back to the world of these bustling immigrant enclaves. The historical tours, enlivened by colorful photographs and illustrations, chronicle the evolution of the communities--African, German, Irish, Chinese, Jewish, and Italian--for whom the Lower East Side served as an entryway into America.
As participants stroll through one of the world's most heterogeneous and visually stimulating neighborhoods, the tours take them past such historic points as the African burial ground excavation site; Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, the first Catholic cathedral in New York State; the charming Caff Roma, which still serves authentic Italian coffee and desserts much as it did in the early 1900s; the oldest still- standing Jewish house of worship in the City; the site of the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911; and Mott Street, the main thoroughfare around which New York's Chinatown developed.
Combining educational historical accounts with enchanting scenic tours, the heritage tours impart a keen sense of the legacies waiting to be discovered in the Lower East Side's remarkable past.
About the Author
Phil Zuckerman is associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He is the author of Invitation to the Sociology of Religion and Strife in the Sanctuary: Religious Schism in a Jewish Community.
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