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Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,265 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
"Silver" Winner of the 2008 "Foreword Magazine" Book of the Year Award, Religion Category

Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were "getting religion"--praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all,
ebook, 248 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by New York University Press (first published 2008)
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I always find it telling that the US has the highest religiousity level and yet we also usually have right around the highest poverty level among Western countries. You would think that Jesus' socialistic message would make that different, but NOOOOO. Witness all these religious Joe-Six-Pack-Plumber-Palin people. All the Republicans have to do is say the word "socialism," and they run screaming away from Barack Obama. Pitiful.
How often do we hear that without religion there would be no morals, that society would collapse into hedonism, crime, violence and suicidal chaos? What about the evils of "secular humanism" endlessly repeated by Pat Robertson for 30 years?

First, if one spends an hour thinking about where they get there moral code it is readily apparent the get it from society - parents, extended family, friends, teachers, plus it has generally be realized by science that a positive moral code would have obviou
Dec 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a sociology grad, an American atheist, and the wife of Swedish atheist, this was a thought-provoking read for me. I didn't need any convincing that individuals and communities can be good without god; the points that were more interesting to me were related to Zuckerman's argument that religious belief is not innate and to his examination of the relationships among religion, culture, government, and politics in both the U.S. and Scandinavia. In the U.S., religion and government are clearly se ...more
Dec 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was really amazed/amused by some of the things Zucherman reveals in this book. Reading about the ideas that the Danes he interviewed had about religion was so heartwarming it gave me a small bit of faith in humanity.
It was interesting to look at the factors that may have contributed to the secular nature of these societies but by far it was most interesting to see the excerpts from the personal interviews he did.
It was funny to see people over and over again say, when asked if they where Chr
Oct 28, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
you know, i am not sure what i was expecting, and i guess it's my fault. i should have seen this inevitably would not hold my interest, seeing as how i hold any sociological study to be utterly boring, filled with mind-numbing statistics and flat stories the authors pull from their daily lives to make SOME sort of point, a point that was already made in their head.....

but seriously. this book is horrible, and i have no pateince for it:

"god, sweden and denmark are so great. though they're among t
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: atheism-religion
Society without God by Phil Zuckerman

Society without God is a social study of how secular societies such as Denmark and Sweden are not only essentially "godless" but thrive as societies. Social scientist Phil Zuckerman does a wonderful job of capturing the cultures of these Scandinavian nations and provides interesting insight on how they have become secular. Through a series of interviews and references to social studies the author provides strong support for his social theories and contrasts
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, library
This was a good look at two very non religious democratic countries, Sweden and Denmark. It shows that those countries are not immoral and actually are more moral, accepting, non judgmental and so called "Christian" than the US which is known to be the largest religious nation in a democratic state.
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A nice look at a couple of kinder, gentler nations (Sweden, Denmark). Difficult, very qualitative, topic in many ways but the author does a good job I think of exploring all sides, knowing that there are no definitive answers.
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: todd-s-books
Definitely a bit dry and I feel like I read it too late. Lots of info that I was already familiar with but may have been more unique 10 years ago. The Danish perspective that it's scary how much US politicians say their religion influences their decisions was interesting - so worth just reading the last chapter!
As an atheist/secular humanist, I am very receptive to Zuckerman's thesis (i.e., that functional, healthy societies can exist without belief in deity or religion) and my imagination is fired (and, frankly, my envy stoked, as it were) by the idea that the Scandinavian countries are living representations of that thesis. Even so, I was frustrated by Zuckerman's approach--meandering excerpts from interviews with individuals, interspersed with high-minded personal anecdotes, neither of which I found ...more
Oct 22, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I just read a review of this book that nearly guarentees my interest in reading this book (from Louis Bayard's review):

"To a certain jaded sensibility, what makes Scandinavia particularly magical is what it lacks. "There is no national anti-gay rights movement," writes Zuckerman, "there are no 'Jesus fish' imprinted on advertisements in the yellow pages, there are no school boards or school administrators who publicly doubt the evidence for human evolution ... there are no religiously
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The US may be weirdly religious compared to the other industrialized democracies, but even in Western Europe, Denmark and Sweden stand out for their lack of religiosity. They're not atheist utopias, but they're as close as you can get in the world today. Zuckerman, an American social scientist, had 149 formal interviews on the topic of religion with these Scandinavians (in addition to countless informal talks) while he lived there. The result is this fascinating book, about what people in these ...more
Adam Lewis
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, sociology
The Danes and Swedes live in countries that consistently rank among the world’s best in terms of social conditions. They have low crime and high economic equality. They have some of the lowest rates of infant mortality and highest life expectancy. They have one of the most educated populations on earth and as well as highest levels of happiness. They also are some of the most secular societies in existence today.

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman spent over a year there interviewing and trying to ascert
Apr 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An important note: The author is NOT arguing that high levels of societal health are CAUSED by low levels of religiosity. His point is merely to counter the claim by some conservative Christians that a godless society is an evil, immoral one. This is clearly not the case in Sweden and Denmark, as his sociological data shows.

Random, interesting things I learned that aren't mentioned in the description of this book:

* It's acceptable for a church priest/pastor to be atheist in Sweden.
* Almost no on
Eduardo Barraza
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have never been in either Denmark or Sweden and I am not sure on how the societies are there, but from my perception I wish all societies were like that. Religion is an parasite that goes around parasitizing all aspects of society, and I am not talking about just one religion in particular, I am talking about the whole concept of religion from all religions perspective, where it controls many aspects of government all the way down to individual levels influencing your eating diet, you intimacy ...more
Nicole Cushing
Jun 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title "Society Without God" is a little deceptive. This is NOT another entry in New Atheist literature. It is, rather, a work in academic sociology -- particularly a work of comparative religion -- in which the author interviews many people in Denmark (and some from Sweden) about their religious beliefs and spirituality.

If the reader is willing to let go of the expectation conveyed by the title, and go with the academic sociology read, they will come away with some satisfaction.
Phil Whittall
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What does a country look like if you take faith out of it? What kind of world would it be for those that live there and how did this come about? These are some of the questions that sociologist Phil Zuckerman tries to answer in A society without God.

The book is the fruit of a year and half living in Denmark and interviewing hundreds of Danes and Swedes about why they, mostly, do not believe in God. It makes for fascinating reading.

Zuckerman convincingly demonstrates that most Scandinavians no lo
Dec 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
A well-written sociological study of religion in Denmark and Sweden, as experienced by someone from the United States. Zuckermann isn't afraid to wonder and speculate freely, and to let his personal preference for the Scandinavian secularity shine through.
He alternates sociological and historical theories of religion with personal observations with transcripts from interviews he conducted with hundreds of Danes and Swedes (149 fomal, semi-structured interviews and countless spontanuous conversa
This book is poor science, even from a qualitative methods perspective. Too frequently there is a theory or proposition put forward as if its fact when something at its base is erred. The biggest challenge the book faces is purpose. Its supposed purpose is to prove in the face of increasing religiousity around the world that societies without religion can be functional and moral. The problem with this is two-fold. First, the world is NOT in general becoming more religious. While the US is the mo ...more
This book was rather repetitive. I don't know if that's just the way sociology texts are when it's heavily based on case studies... Sometimes I felt like tossing the book down on the table when he starts excerpting interviews that basically say the same thing.

I also notice an end note that cited Wikipedia, the Danish version. Still! My professors would scalp us if we did such a thing, and this is an associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College at the time of publication.

The chapter that
Feb 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stopped-reading
I think that this book was a dissertation that was evolved into a non-fiction mass market book. I read the introduction which was interesting, highlighting how the Danes and the Swedes are national populations that are the happiest on the planet, have the amongst the lowest major-crime rates, and are a society that pretty much exists without the presence of (a) god.

I found the academic style of writing a bit tedious (a ongoing narrative literature review), but the facts were interesting. I skim
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
What a sociologist did on his summer vacation....
Well, somewhat more than that, but an odd mishmash of statistics, unsystematic interviews and anecdotes that tries to prove that Denmark and Sweden are almost completely religion-free. A-historical and unconvincing. He needed to talk with more people, at the very least. The best chapter is the one that reviews current theories for the decline of religious involvement in the 20th century.
From the bibliography it seems that the author does not have
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
In his book Society without God, Phil Zuckerman challenges an assertion made by religious fundamentalists: that religion is the only thing that keeps humanity from falling into moral and ethical bankruptcy. Zuckerman takes a job teaching for a year in Denmark, one of the most secular nations on the planet, and finds that rather than being rife with moral depravity, corruption, crime and instability, its citizens actually rank among the happiest and most peaceful according to a variety of UN stat ...more
Totally fascinating look at how the citizens of some secular non religious countries,especially the Scandinavian ones have the highest quality of life on this planet.

The author focused mostly on Denmark and Sweden.They have a welfare state with free healthcare, virtually no poverty, low crime rate, and some of the least disparity between the rich and poor.

Life there is certainly nothing like how religious leaders like Pat Robertson,and Jerry Falwell said a society without God would be like!

The a
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I was reading this book, it occurred to me time and again how much my viewpoint gelled with that of the Scandinavian societies of Denmark and Sweden.
Here in the U.S. we are constantly bombarded by religion, not only from those around us, but also from our politicians and news programs. Such views in the societies outlined in this volume would be viewed with skepticism and the persons expressing them, quite irrational.

How I would love to live in a place where Science and Reason hold more sway
Feb 28, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This book could have been so much better. He makes his argument and answers it in the first chapter. The rest of the book is full of repetitious facts that lead to monotony. If written better it might have been more illuminating and entertaining. Also he says that when doing studies one should have a non-random sample and how hard that is to obtain, but he doesn't even try. The people he interviews are ones he self-selects. Most are parents of his daughter or someone he met at a party.
Daniel Gonçalves
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a misconception, largely spread out through ignorance, that atheists are unsatisfied with life, because supposedly God serves as the prime motivator to fulfill happiness. Phil Zuckerman knows about this flawed ideia, and goes on to argument against it brilliantly. Predominantly atheistic societies are happier than the rest: it's a fact even the most fervent, pious individuals cannot deny.
Quite the nice tonic against the typical theist claim that, without religion, society would collapse into some amoral anarchy. Of particular interest is his discussion of "Cultural Religion" in the pre-final chapter, which argues for the distinction between cultural rituals with the trappings of religion and actual belief in a monotheistic god of the type described in the Torah/Bible/Koran.
Jan 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting account of the author's experience in Denmark and Sweden. But not a lot of synthesis or historical context. Mostly just interviews with Danish citizens. But the thesis is robust: an areligious society can be a very orderly, moral and community oriented society, contrary to popular American sentiment.
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
En rigtig god redegørelse for tro i Danmark/Skandinavien. Jeg brugte den som primærlitteratur, da jeg skrev studieretningprojekt/tredieårsopgave på Odense Tekniske Gymnasium i begyndelsen af 2009. Jeg fik 12! :)
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Philip "Phil" Zuckerman (born June 26, 1969 in Los Angeles, California) is a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He specializes in the sociology of secularity. He is the author of several books, including Society Without God for which he won ForeWord Magazine's silver book of the year award, and Faith No More.
More about Phil Zuckerman...
“...I found myself pondering the specific Christian American obsession with abortion and gay rights. For million of Americans, these are the great societal "sins" of the day. It isn't bogus wars, systemic poverty, failing schools, child abuse, domestic violence, health care for profit, poorly paid social workers, under-funded hospitals, gun saturation, or global warming that riles or worries the conservative, Bible-believers of America." pg33” 9 likes
“one can never predict or foresee what lies ahead when it comes to humans and religion.” 1 likes
More quotes…