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Price: $49.50

Hardback 176 pp.
213 mm x 147 mm



Publication date:
July 2003

Imprint: OUP US

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Moral, Believing Animals

Human Personhood and Culture

Christian Smith

What kind of animals are human beings? And how do our visions of the human shape our theories of social action and institutions? In Moral, Believing Animals, Christian Smith advances a creative theory of human persons and culture that offers innovative, challenging answers to these and other fundamental questions in sociological, cultural, and religious theory.

Smith suggests that human beings have a peculiar set of capacities and proclivities that distinguishes them significantly from other animals on this planet. Despite the vast differences in humanity between cultures and across history, no matter how differently people narrate their lives and histories, there remains an underlying structure of human personhood that helps to order human culture, history, and narration. Drawing on important recent insights in moral philosophy, epistemology, and narrative studies, Smith argues that humans are animals who have an inescapable moral and spiritual dimension. They cannot avoid a fundamental moral orientation in life and this, says Smith, has profound consequences for how sociology must study human beings.


  • "A concise book that is enjoyable and easy to read, offering a far-reaching synthesis of a variety of philosophical and sociological approaches.... Smith masterfully situates many of the key current debates while calling attention to their historical origins and implicit assumptions."--Contemporary Sociology
  • "Well written and clearly argued, Moral Believing Animals is both a searching critique of recent social theory and an important first step toward the articulation of a richer model of human personhood, motivation, and culture."--INSight
  • "An admirable model of wide-ranging and rich yet focused scholarship."-- The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
  • "Rarely does a book land on my desk that is as profound as Christian Smith's Moral, Believing Animal: Human Personhood and Culture. Anyone with an interest in sociology or theology will find a great deal of insight in this book." --Amitai Etzioni, on Amitai Etzioni Notes
  • "Questions of culture, personhood, the nature of social action, and the meaning of moral commitments have all moved to the forefront of sociological concern. Christian Smith weaves together crucial threads of recent work, both identifying distinctively sociological issues and informing sociology with perspectives from philosophy, theology, and other fields. His synthesis is clarifying, stimulating, and insightful. It should help to put the problem of moral order back at the center of disciplinary concern, where it was for Durkheim and where it belongs."--Craig Calhoun, Professor of Sociology and History, New York University; President, Social Science Research Council
  • "This is as good as books get: visionary yet rigorous, polemical yet constructive, bold yet careful, engaging yet precise. Smith argues that to be human is to be a moral believing animal interacting with a social and cultural order that is itself a moral order. His discussion, while aimed at his fellow social scientists and thoroughly engaged with their literature, is also deeply informed by recent philosophical discussions about belief and morality, and employs the results of those discussions with insight and unwavering sure-footedness. A masterful achievement." --Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University

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Christian Smith is Professor and Associate Chair of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among the many books he has written or edited are Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, with Michael O. Emerson (OUP, 2000), and The Secular Revolution: Power, Interest, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life (2003).

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