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Religion in the National Agenda
What We Mean by Religious, Spiritual, Secular

By C. John Sommerville

Religion in the National Agenda
Hardback, 210 pages $29.95
Published: 15th February 2009
ISBN: 9781602581630
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Religious Studies, All Rhetoric Studies, Rhetoric & Religion

In this highly provocative investigation, C. John Sommerville examines common linguistic uses of the terms “religion,” “religious,” “spiritual,” and “secular” in order to discern understandings of these words in contemporary American culture. For example, he finds that, in English, “religion” is our word for a certain kind of response to a certain kind of power (the power and the response both being beyond anything else in our experience). Sommerville then uses these definitions to examine the ways that institutions in the fields of education, science, law, politics and religion are affected—often in unexpected ways—by a shared set of assumptions about what these words mean.


1. Growing Confusion over Religion and Spirituality

2. Defining Religious and Religion

3. Why Religion and Education Challenge Each Other

4. Religion and the Law

5. Religion and Political Variety

6. Science and Reductionism

7. Sciences of Human Life

8. Religion and Theologies at Odds

9. What We Mean By Secular


His consideration of relationships between religion and science, as well as religion and the law, are thought-provoking, and his discussion of the place of religion in political life should prove helpful... Recommended.


Refreshing in its clarity and directness this book defends the view that in order to know what “religion” means we need only to carefully observe and describe how we use the term.  Sommerville nicely shows that our usage of this word is not as incoherent as is often claimed, and that a nominal definition can do a lot of work, helping us not only to understand how we talk, but also to make the classificatory decisions about whether this or that is religious required by our political and legal systems.

—Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, Duke Divinity School

Should become a must-read for anyone interested in debates about "religion" and religion in the United States and beyond.

—Charles Mathewes, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Religion in the National Agenda is a significant contribution to an important discussion.

—Christian Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame

C. John Sommerville (Ph.D. University of Iowa) is Emeritus Professor of History, University of Florida.  He is the author of nine books, including The Decline of the Secular University; How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society; and The News Revolution in England: Cultural Dynamic of Daily Information.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 210 pages
 9in x 6in

  REL062000, REL084000, SOC039000
 Baylor University Press

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