Sociologist Christian Smith wins multiple book awards

Author: Joanna Basile

Christian Smith

Christian Smith, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, was recently honored for two of his latest books: “What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good From the Person Up” and “Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

In December, Choice magazine selected “What Is a Person?” as one of its Top 25 Outstanding Academic Titles of 2011. A publication of the Association for College and Research Libraries (a division of the American Library Association), the list represents the best of the approximately 7,000 scholarly titles Choice reviews each year from across all academic disciplines.

“Souls in Transition” recently won the 2011 Lilly Fellows Program Book Award. The biennial prize from the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts recognizes a work from any academic discipline that best represents the principles of the organization, which aims to strengthen and shape the character of church-related learning institutions for the 21st century.

Souls in Transition

Drawing on a nationally representative survey and hundreds of in-person interviews, “Souls in Transition” explores the religious and spiritual lives of 18- to 23-year-olds in the United States. Smith co-wrote the book with Patricia Snell Herzog, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University who received her Ph.D. from Notre Dame’s Department of Sociology.

“’Souls in Transition’ cuts through the media clutter on college-age adults to offer a vital portrait of their religious, moral and spiritual assumptions and practices,” the Lilly prize committee says. “The implications in this work for the way colleges and universities — religiously affiliated or not — recruit, retain, instruct and prepare students for lives that matter are challenging and profound. ‘Souls in Transition’ should be required reading for anyone working in higher education.”

Smith calls the award delightful and unexpected.

“I think it shows that the book is proving very helpful and enlightening for those who work in liberal arts colleges, such as those associated with the Lilly Fellows Program,” he says. “It feels great to have produced a book that is useful to people in the real world, not merely narrow scholarship for the ivory tower.”

“Souls in Transition,” which also won a distinguished book award from Christianity Today in 2010, is a follow-up to Smith’s 2005 book, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” co-authored with Melinda Lundquist Denton of Clemson University.

In 2013, Smith says he will begin a new wave of data collection to continue the series, this time focusing on the religious and spiritual lives of people in their mid to late 20s.

What is a Person?

In his award-winning book “What Is a Person?” Smith presents a new model for social theory that embraces the best of our humanistic visions of people, life and society.

“This book addresses some really basic questions in social theory about human nature, action, culture and social structure,” Smith says. “I think these matters are very important, but one always wonders if such a book will make any impact.”

Being named to Choice’s Top 25 Outstanding Academic Titles of 2011 “definitely affirms the significance of the book,” he adds, “which I hope expands its audience and future influence.”

“What is a Person?” also won a 2010 PROSE Award honorable mention in the philosophy category at the American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence and the 2010 Cheryl Frank Memorial Prize from the International Association for Critical Realism.

According to the IACR prize committee, the book “draws on first-wave critical realism to critique rival approaches and advance a model of the person that can serve as the indispensable basis for sociological theory and analysis.”

Lost in Transition

Smith specializes in religion in modernity, adolescents, American evangelicalism and culture. His previous books include “Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money” and “Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want.” In 2011, he published “Lost in Transition,” written with Snell Herzog and two current Ph.D. students in the Department of Sociology: Kari Christoffersen and Hilary Davis.

In Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, Smith directs both the Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research.

He also leads the University’s Science of Generosity initiative. Established in 2009 with a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Science of Generosity brings together the often disconnected and diverse approaches to this topic in order to research generosity in all its forms.

In addition, Smith is leading the sociology working group for Religion Across the Disciplines, a four-year, international project housed at Notre Dame. Funded by a $657,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Religion Across the Disciplines calls on leading scholars from around the world to join with faculty and graduate students at Notre Dame to investigate the influence of religious knowledge in history, international relations, literature, music and sociology, as well as the influence those fields have on religion itself.

Originally published by Joanna Basile at on January 06, 2012.