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Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment Paperback – June 7, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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.”
“[Zuckerman] tells of a magical land where life expectancy is high and infant mortality low, where wealth is spread and genders live in equity, where happy, fish-fed citizens score high in every quality-of-life index: economic competitiveness, healthcare, environmental protection, lack of corruption, educational investment, technological literacy . . . well, you get the idea. Zuckerman (who has explored the sociology of religion in two previous books) has managed to show what nonbelief looks like when it’s ‘normal, regular, mainstream, common.’ And he’s gone at least partway to proving the central thesis of his book: ‘Religious faith—while admittedly widespread—is not natural or innate to the human condition. Nor is religion a necessary ingredient for a healthy, peaceful, prosperous, and . . . deeply good society.’ ”
“Society without God is both a sociological analysis of irreligion and Zuckerman’s apologia pro vita sua. He wants us to know that, contrary to the deeply held beliefs of some Americans, a society without god can be a good society and an irreligious person can be a moral person, too. To his credit, Zuckerman provides enough nuance and detail to allow a skeptic like me to see what Peter Berger called ‘signals of transcendence’ in the society without god he portrays. Along with the volume’s engaging writing style, this makes it ideal for classroom use. I know my students will enjoy reading and discussing Society without God.”
“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.”
“Puts to rest the belief that you need God in order to be a moral person, that irreligious societies are wracked by social problems, and that godless people are unhappy and unmoored. . . . In the case of Scandinavia: God may be dead, but Swedes and Danes lead rich, full lives. Society Without God is a colorful, provocative book that makes an original contribution to debates about atheism and religiosity. Ideal for classroom use, it will get students thinking about their own lives and choices.”
“In an anecdotal and eminently readable manner, Zuckerman offers a novel idea within the study of religious sociology.”
“The book succeeds in documenting how the conditions of a liberal social welfare state promote contentment.”
“Much that he found will surprise many people, as it did him.”
-The New York Times
“His reporting of previously published material is invaluable to persons not previously familiar with such information.”
“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
“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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Top Customer Reviews
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...
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
I had the same aha! moment reading this analysis of the secular societies of Denmark and Sweden. In our own rich and self-touted "Christian" nation, we talk incessantly of faith, and of solving homelessness, poverty, hunger, joblessness, lack of healthcare, and illiteracy. Somehow, though, we don't do those things. We talk the talk and then go off and pretend we've done our duty because solving such problems isn't really possible (right?), even in a country where faith would seem to be an overwhelming impetus to succeed.
Denmark and Sweden, on the other hand, have almost entirely secular societies in which thoughts of religion, faith, God, and the meaning of life have little or no place in everyday life. Shockingly little, the author thought, and so did I as I read the book. And yet these two countries rank at the top or close to the top in all areas of social welfare, and certainly above the U.S. They have solved, for all intents, all the social ills listed above.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Philip Zuckerman (born 1969) is a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Steven H Propp
I appeared in this book as 'Henry 41' and am proud to have contributed to this fantastic book. Basically, Phil shows that societies don't need god to be 'good', or good places to... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Daniel G. Burke
Excellent survey of life in a apatheistic society. Uses first hand accounts and facts to debunk myths and explore possibilities.Published 8 months ago by E. M. Burke
Interviews and commentary on cultural religion and non-belief in Denmark and Sweden. Challenges the assumption of the universality of religion.Published 9 months ago by Multiversalist
I enjoyed the author's attempt to statistically quantify the impact of belief, or lack thereof, in God has upon a given society based upon interviews of its members. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Craggin Stylie
Fascinating book. Well written and researched. Counter to the prevailing opinion in the States that one needs to be religious to be moral, successful, etc. Read morePublished 11 months ago by M. S. Sanders
Author Zuckerman has found that the least religious societies also tend to be the most peaceful, prosperous and equitable. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Loyd Eskildson