Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. His research focuses primarily on religion in modernity, adolescents, American evangelicalism, and culture. He received his MA and PhD from Harvard University in 1990 and his BA from Gordon College in 1983. Before coming to Notre Dame he taught Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 12 years.
Smith’s larger theoretical agenda has been to move culture, morality, and identity to the center of sociological theorizing generally and the sociology of religion specifically. His early work on social movements emphasized not only structural political opportunities but also personal moral motivations for participation in social movement activism. In his work on American Evangelicals, Smith developed a subcultural identity theory of religious persistence and strength in the modern world and highlighted the immense cultural complexities within conservative Protestantism. The Secular Revolution (California 2003) emphasized the centrality of culture, agency and moral vision by religiously hostile actors in the secularization of American public life. Moral, Believing Animals (Oxford 2009) underscored the morally-oriented, narratological and epistemically anti-foundationalist condition of human personhood.
Smith’s more recent work on the religious and spiritual lives of U.S. adolescents emphasizes the interplay of broad cultural influences, family socialization and religious motivations in forming teenager’s life outcomes. Behind and contributing to these sociological emphases are the philosophical works of Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre, a critical realist philosophy of social science, and an interpretive-hermeneutical understanding of sociology.
Dear Dr. Smith,
I would like to share my story with you. I am a 1964 graduate of the University, 2.0 not 4.0, but a proud graduate. After a divorce in 1978, I was trying to buy a Lincoln Mercury dealership in Seneca Falls, NY. I had no money. I took my kids college fund of $17,000, got $5000 from an uncle, $5000 on lines of credit, $4000 from another friend, and was still $15,000 short. I tried to get my parents to co-sign a loan for me, but they refused. Lunching one day with a Catholic priest who had helped me through my divorce, I told him my story. He asked how much I needed. When I told him $15,000, he said, “I’ve got that. My mother died and left me some stock.” From that day on, he was in. I paid him 1% over prime since 1979 and provided him a car until I retired in January of 2012.
The charity comes in two years later when, while emptying a bottle of Courvoisier, my priest friend took me to task for not giving enough to charity. I agreed to tithe. He assured me that God would provide for our needs. We, my now wife of 32 years, and I are not rich, but comfortable. We give away 10% of after tax income a year. Actually, it keeps working out to about 20%, but we don’t lack for anything we need. We have given away over $1M++. We support the ministry of the priest, who has retired to become a missionary in the Dominican Republic where he feeds 850 kids each day through 3 day care centers he operates. We support an ex nun from Buffalo in Nicaragua who ships 35 containers of collected clothing, school supplies, household goods, etc to Nicaragua each year. She has also built 18 churches, a retreat center, supports three schools, runs a farm where she gives away calves to mountain families and sells beef cattle, and frankly, could manage a Fortune 500 company. She is a living saint. We, my wife and I have also funded building a church in Tabasco, Mexico, plus we do a lot of local stuff such as a Catholic high school scholarship program (which failed), United Way, library fund, food bank etc.
My message to you is that it works. We still live pretty well in retirement, and still tithe on our retirement income.
(George) Peter Koch ND ‘64