Claremont, Calif. (September 16, 2008)—Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment by Pitzer College Associate Professor Phil Zuckerman was recently published by NYU Press.
Zuckerman observes that while most humans worldwide are vigorously religious, most residents of Denmark and Sweden generally do not worship any god, do not pray and do not pay much attention to any religious dogma. He then notes that residents of these countries score at the very top of the happiness index, and that their societies have very low rates of violent crime and corruption, excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths and great beer.
To explore a possible connection between godlessness, happy people and healthy societies, Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over fourteen months while living in Scandinavia, beginning in 2005. Particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation, he explored how they think about and cope with death and if they worried about an afterlife.
Zuckerman found that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. He then considers how and why certain societies are nonreligious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Zuckerman’s interesting answers draw on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research. His fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that society without God is not only possible, but can be quite civil and pleasant.
Other publications by Zuckerman include Invitation to the Sociology of Religion and Strife in the Sanctuary: Religious Schism in a Jewish Community.