Saturday, September 04, 2010

What is Christian Smith reading?

This weekend's featured contributor at Writers Read: Christian Smith, author of What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up.

His entry begins:
I’ve been reading a collection of personal correspondences of a favorite “Southern gothic” author, Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). The book was originally published the year I graduated high school, 1978, but the content is fresh and engaging. For one thing, O’Connor is super at metaphors, turns of phrases, and witty digs. Her letters are as fun to read as her fiction. It is also instructive to me as a writer to see in her early letters O’Connor’s struggles with editors, publishers, agents, and the general business of publishing. It is easy in retrospect to look back on great writers and assume that their gifts were readily recognized by early readers and that their paths to success were smooth. But of course that is often not the case. It was not for O’Connor. For starters, she was, by her own admission, a...[read on]
Among the early praise for What Is a Person?:
“This is an outstanding and important work of scholarship. I am confident What Is a Person? will be a landmark for the field; it will generate a good deal of contention, will be cited for many years to come, and will help influence the direction of social theory and the practice of sociology itself. Smith synthesizes a wide range of arguments, positions, theories, and assumptions in ways that are innovative, analytically powerful, and, finally, convincing. Yet the real originality of the book is in the structure of the larger argument, the cumulative weight of his critical but disciplined reading of this literature and, of course, the case he makes for a critical realist personalism as an alternative to various prevailing models. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.”
—James Davison Hunter, University of Virginia

What Is a Person? boldly raises the fundamental questions about the understanding of the person in social science that many thinkers either want to ignore or are content to say mindless things about. I know of no better example of a social scientist employing the resources of philosophy to deepen, clarify, correct, and enrich his own field. It is lucidly organized, philosophically sophisticated, written in clear prose, and takes account of an astounding amount and variety of literature. For me, a philosopher rather than a social scientist, Smith’s way of typologizing and critiquing the main options in his field was extraordinarily illuminating. It’s a terrific contribution to a topic of fundamental importance.”
—Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University
Read more about What Is a Person?.

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.

Writers Read: Christian Smith.

--Marshal Zeringue