New book explores meaning of “person” from sociological perspective

Christian Smith

The question “What is a person?” has occupied the minds of philosophers and theologians for centuries. But University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith argues in his latest book that the question also lies at the center of the social scientist’s quest to interpret social life.

“What is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up” (University of Chicago Press, 2010), presents a new model for social theory that embraces the best of our humanistic visions of people, life and society.

Smith draws on critical relativism and personalism to construct a theory of personhood that sits between the extremes of positivist science and relativism. He then draws on the work of other renowned sociologists to illustrate the importance of personhood to our understanding of social structures.

The William R. Kenan Jr., Professor of Sociology, Smith specializes in the sociology of religion. He also serves as director for Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative and is author or co-author of several books including “Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture,” “Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want,” and “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” which received a 2006 book award from Christianity Today magazine.

Contact: Christian Smith, 574-631-4531 or