Divine Hierarchies

Class in American Religion and Religious Studies

By Sean McCloud

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5849-3
    Published: October 2007
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7762-3
    Published: January 2009

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Awards & distinctions

A 2008 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Placing the neglected issue of class back into the study and understanding of religion, Sean McCloud reconsiders the meaning of class in today's world. More than a status grounded in material conditions, says McCloud, class is also an identity rhetorically and symbolically made and unmade through representations. It entails relationships, identifications, boundaries, meanings, power, and our most ingrained habits of mind and body. He demonstrates that employing class as an analytical tool that cuts across variables such as creed, race, ethnicity, and gender can illuminate American religious life in unprecedented ways.

Through social theory, historical analysis, and ethnography, McCloud makes an interdisciplinary argument for reinserting class into the study of religion. First, he offers a new three-part conception of class for use in studying religion. He then presents a focused cultural history of religious studies by examining how social class surfaced in twentieth-century theories of religious affiliation. He concludes with historical and ethnographic case studies of religion and class. Divine Hierarchies makes a convincing case for the past and present importance of class in American religious thought, practice, and scholarship.

About the Author

Sean McCloud is assistant professor of religion and modern culture at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is author of Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955-1993 (from the University of North Carolina Press).
For more information about Sean McCloud, visit the Author Page.


"Historians will benefit from McCloud's demolition of older lines of scholarship and from his carefully delimited and culturally perceptive theories of class analysis."--Journal of American History

"Compelling. . . . Strongly recommend[ed] . . . for those seeking a better historical understanding of religion and class from both sociological and theological perspectives."--Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

"Offers an important contribution to the understanding of North American religion that draws our attention to the role of class for an explanation. . . . A novel approach for understanding class and religion without explaining away the religion or the participants’ involvement. For these reasons, scholars of Penecostalism ought to read Divine Hierachies with openness to incorporating an element of class in their analysis."--Pneuma

"McCloud has taken the lead among scholars eager to reinsert class into studies of American religion. . . . McCloud provides us with a better tool for sifting through the symbiotic relationship of class and religion and how these together help us understand religious affiliation."--Journal of Religion

"Divine Hierarchies is an engaging, provocative book. Crossing scholarly domains in helpful ways, it will earn the serious attention of American religious historians and broader theoreticians of religion. Yet McCloud combines approaches from across subfields and disciplines in an unpretentious manner that should prove inviting to undergraduates as well."--Leigh Eric Schmidt, Princeton University

"This is a creative and wide-ranging approach to the now neglected topic of class in American religion. Well organized and written in a clear and accessible style, it introduces advanced ideas carefully and with ample background and illustration. Divine Hierarchies is a welcome addition that will help to reintroduce the idea of social class to scholars in religion and reposition class more centrally in the discipline."--Kevin J. Christiano, University of Notre Dame