Group for the Study of Religion and Social Change

About us

The Group for the Study of Religion and Social Change is open to graduate students in the Department of Sociology at Western Michigan University and works in collaboration with scholars in the U.S. and abroad. Our research focuses on the relationships between religion and social change across societies, cultures and religious traditions. The group seeks to understand how religion informs social transformations, and how, in turn, societal change impacts religion. This broadly comparative approach combines theoretical and empirical studies and utilizes a variety of methods, ranging from historical to cross-national analyses, and from ethnography and content analysis to survey research.

Collaborative work

The Group for the Study of Religion and Social Change emphasizes and cultivates collaboration among faculty and graduate students. Most of the projects are collaborative in nature, involving faculty and graduate students and result in co-authored publications, presentations or grant proposals. Furthermore, we emphasize collaborations with scholars in the U.S. and abroad. These include collaborations researchers and research centers at Boston University, Baylor University, University of Uppsala (Sweden), Church Research Institute (Finland), Russian State University for Humanities, University of Tartu (Estonia) and others.

Program development

The Group for the Study of Religion and Social Change contributes to graduate program developments such as offering five graduate courses in the sociology of religion. The sequence's seminars became an important forum for enthusiastic discussions of theoretical, methodological and substantive issues relevant to the group's collaborative research. Coordinated with the seminars was the Kercher Symposium lecture series, which included leading authorities in comparative studies of religion. These developments resulted in the establishment of the sociology of religion as a permanent area of doctoral concentration and examination in the department.

Current research interests

Within the general field of comparative studies of religion and social change, our work has focused on a broad range of specific topics. These could be combined into the following several clusters:

  • The coexistence, conflict and interplay between secularizing and desecularizing actors, forces and trends across societies and cultures.
  • The role of religion and religious change in international, interfaith, interethnic and other forms of social conflict, coexistence and peace, tolerance and intolerance.
  • The interplay between religious and social diversity; religions and religiosities in the context of changing gender, race, ethnic and class relations and identities.
  • The interplay between religion, education and science across societies, cultures and religious traditions.


Graduate students

  • Jacob Armstrong
  • John Chew
  • Lori DeVries
  • Cleran Hollancid
  • Yevgeniya Leontyeva
  • Jennifer Marson
  • Melinda McCormick
  • Rachel L. Schroeder
  • Jessica Sullivan


  • David M. Barry (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point)
  • David Hartmann
  • Vyacheslav Karpov, Director
  • Elena Lisovskaya
  • Jesse Smith
  • Jon Van Wieren (Grand Valley State University)
  • Cynthia Vischer (WMU Department of Comparative Religion)
  • Yuan-Kang Wang

Friends and guests

In addition to members working on collaborative and individual projects in the sociology of religion, several graduate students and faculty have participated in collective discussions and other activities of the group. We are especially thankful to Ellen Archey, Matthew Reid, Aleena Robinson, Rebecca Sevin and Dr. Ann Miles for their participation and contributions.