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Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment Hardcover – October 1, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814797148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814797143
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Oct.)
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Review

“In an anecdotal and eminently readable manner, Zuckerman offers a novel idea within the study of religious sociology.”
-Library Journal

,

“Most Americans are convinced that faith in God is the foundation of civil society. Society Without God reveals this to be nothing more than a well-subscribed, and strangely American, delusion. Even atheists living in the United States will be astonished to discover how unencumbered by religion most Danes and Swedes currently are. This glimpse of an alternate, secular reality is at once humbling and profoundly inspiring— and it comes not a moment too soon. Zuckerman’s research is truly indispensable.”

-Sam Harris,author of the New York Times

“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

,

“While never presuming to offer a strictly generalizable snapshot, by focusing his attention on what are “probably the least religious countries in the world” (2), his provocative and engagingly written book is very effective in helping readers to examine numerous assumptions concerning the place of religion in the modern world... The real strength of this book is that, by challenging widespread analytical assumptions, it presents us with more complexity and with more nuanced questions regarding the nexus of the religious and the secular in contemporary life. To quote a famous Dane on this very point, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If, as Horatio should have done, we are to heed these words in terms of expanding the frameworks of our accordingly, it will be due in good measure to paying attention to thoughtful and creative books like this one. In my estimation, not to do so would be, well, a tragedy.” -Sociology of Religion,

“Despite this book’s weighty topic, with its conversational writing style, Society Without God is amazingly readable, even fun. It presents rigorous arguments that are deceptively simple to understand, but that are, when you think about them more deeply, quite transformative.”-PopMatters,

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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The book was well written and made several interesting points.
Carolyn J. Wilkinson
Denmark and Sweden are some of the most egalitarian and nonreligious societies in the world.
A. Brockhaus
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in society and religion.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 149 people found the following review helpful By G. Charles Steiner TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Phil Zuckerman, a social scientist, has a really pleasant story to tell in this easy-to-read book about the people living in Denmark and Sweden. According to Zuckerman, who spent 14 months in Scandanavia between 2005 and 2006, the Danes and Swedes live a comfortable secular life in which they doff their cap to Christianity (state Lutheranism) the way sneezing in the U.S. warrants the response "Bless you": easy-breezy and without much fervency or depth of thought. They live a "cultural religion," much as George Santayana (not mentioned in this book) characterized himself as a Catholic atheist.

The people of Sweden and Denmark are largely a nice people with largely secular lives. From the social scientist's viewpoint, the fact that there exists these two nations whose people exhibit little religious fanaticism or fervency disproves any notion that there is a "God gene" or that religious belief is somehow intrinsic to the existential nature of being human.

The last chapter, "Back to the USA," sadly shows not much hope exists, however, that such a way of life as the Scandanavians presently possess can be widely achieved in the U.S. The cultural, historical, and sociological forces are much too different. The book offers a shining glimpse of what life can be like -- unfettered by irrational stupidities and fanatical hatred, especially on the political level.
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95 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm a Scandinavian, living and working in Stockholm, Sweden, and I read Mr. Zuckerman's book from that perspective.

Obviously he is very well read on the issues of Scandinavian societies and on religion in general, but I have to say that given that he only spent a year or so in Scandinavia, I'm very impressed with his thorough understanding of the finer nuances of the Nordic countries and the mentality of its people (he mainly deals with Denmark and Sweden) - and his descriptions and analysis of people's attitudes to religious and societal matters are interesting.

In his book he shows that societies can be sane, prosperous and humane without people having a God-fearing approach to life, and he also presents some interesting ideas and explanations as to why the Scandinavian societies have become so secular, and reversely, why the USA has become so religious.

His book and studies are clearly built on sociological research methods, but he carries a personal tone throughout the book which makes it very pleasant to read. And although some of the interviews in the book can be a bit lengthy at times, they provide a direct and valuable insight into the way the common Dane or Swede thinks on matters of religion, the church, life, death, etc.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in society and religion. And I also think it's a valuable read for us Scandinavians, to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves on the matter of religion...
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62 of 72 people found the following review helpful By W. Roth on December 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book presents an excellent case study of how solid, peaceful, and advanced society can be when we collectively view the world without acting out the literal word of the books that support organized religion. One major takeaway that surprised me was the contrast and comparison between how the Danes and Swedes viewed religion with a sense of spirituality and culture and the Americans viewed religion with a sense of literal and rigid interpretation and how that translated into our societies differences. I am personally embarrased of how our America thinks and behaves relative to this topic. To a great degree, we can step back and view American Christianity similar to how we view the worship of ancient cultures - Greek, Egyptian, Mayan, Incan, and see how antiquated our thinking is around this subject.

This book was recommended to me through the Sam Harris blog, and I recommend it for anyone that is asking the question, what would society look like if we walked away from the literal interpretation of the Bible? While the book doesn't get into Islam, the same parallels can be drawn and points inferred. It briefly touches Judaism, which is ironically viewed more similarly to the Dane and Swede view of Christianity. Jews are surprisingly secular when viewing social topics.

One last stat that surprised me was how large the secular/free-thinking/humanist population is across the world - 4th largest group (if you had to group this populus against labeled groups of believers and non-believers). Of the 6.8 billion of us currently on our planet, 2 billion are admittedly Christian (Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, Lutheran,etc), 1.2 are Muslim, 900 million are Hindu, and 750 million are admittedly freethinkers.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Emeritus on September 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A readable and interesting presentation of preliminary field research showing rather convincingly that societies need not be religious/god fearing in order to be good. The methodology was a bit loose (interviewees were anyone the author could cajole into sitting for a rather lengthy interview) and the presentation of results was for the most part anecdotal.

I just had a couple quibbles with the author. First, in his introduction Zukerman states that in the U.S. and much of the world religiosity is on the increase without citing any studies to back up the statement. Since so much of the book is well documented I found this a lack, coming from an academic. This is particularly the case given the results of the recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (published after Zuckerman's book.) This is a minor quibble and in no way detracts from the conclusions in the book.

My second quibble I find a bit more troubling. In his discussion of social well being in Denmark and Sweden Zuckerman cites studies showing that these two countries rank very high in economic competitiveness, gender equality, lack of corruption, quality of education, etc. He frequently mentions other countries that also rank high, but never does he mention the country that consistently ranked higher that Denmark and Sweden, and was more often than not ranked first: Finland. Granted, Zuckerman didn't get to visit Finland during his stay but I find it rather puzzling that he never once mentioned their ranking in these studies, considering that Finland is a Nordic country sharing many characteristics with her Scandinavian neighbors.
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