Zuckerman here builds on his previous work which examined ďSociety without GodĒ, that is, Nordic countries which rank amongst the least religious places in the world. In this book he combines qualitative interviews and rich descriptions to produce an interesting and well written book. It covers many well-known reasons for why people disengage from religious belief and practise. Students of this topic will be very familiar with the conclusions that Zuckerman arrives at. For instance, the impact of perceived misfortune on believers is a well described cause of disenchantment. For religious persons who see themselves as entering some type of pact with God where they perform certain functions and in turn are rewarded by a supplicated deity misfortunes such as losing a job or marriage breakdown can easily rupture this bargain. In his descriptive writing we see the real strength of this book. One thing that is lacking in this study, however, is some type of overarching summary which moves beyond description of individual cases and toward a general theory of religious disaffiliation. There is ample evidence of this in the wider literature but Zuckerman does not engage with this in any significant way. One can see in the descriptions he develops clear signs of what European sociology, in particular, would describe as a process of secularization. Lambertís work, for example, provides a ready response to how the process of individual secularization unfolds.
The scope of Zuckermanís study is quite broad and this detracts somewhat from the overall cogency of the book. He does point out that this study cannot be generalized to the wider population but by looking at religious disaffiliation through so many different instances the overall focus of the book becomes too diffuse. We read of former Catholics, Jews, Jehovahís Witnesses, Mormons, Moslems and a number of varieties of Evangelical Christians. To be sure there are some similarities in the stories of all these former adherents. Nonetheless, significant group specific differences make it hard to find commonalty in the subsequent commentary. The movement away, for example, of a person from a large mainstream group, such as the Roman Catholic Church is different from a similar disengagement from a small, local Baptist community. A feature of what I think is the strongest chapter in the book bears out the benefits of narrowing the focus of the book. Zuckerman devotes the fourth chapter to a study of former Mormons. What makes this chapter compelling is the commonality in the stories that are related. These tell us something about the unique features of the Latter Day Saints. For example, of all the groups covered in the book, Zuckerman notes that it is only the former Mormons who are reluctant to have identifying features revealed as news of their apostasy may leak back to family and friends (by contrast many of the Catholics note their disaffiliation with a sense of pride). He attributes this to the tight segmentation of the Mormon community and the heavy socialization and integration of most Mormons with their faith community. To leave this community brings with it considerable opprobrium and personal cost.
On the other hand, the other tales of religious disaffiliation have an almost generic quality to them. Indeed for many of the cases that Zuckerman describes the movement from religious belief and practise is not toward a rigorous atheism but a fairly conventional agnosticism. To describe such a movement, as Zuckerman does, as a brave bold and counter-cultural decision does not take into account the significant benefits that accrue to those who abandon strong religious commitment to more amorphous connections. This is an extremely common pattern in secular cultures. And although this study is based on American subjects the snowballing technique that is followed, starting with the authorís associates who are no longer religious, ensures that those interviewed will represent a section of the American community that may have more in common with secular Europeans than with the heartland of the United States. Zuckermanís despairing comments about the lack of grounding in the theories of C. S. Lewis could also apply to his own position in as much as both men developed their views within relatively constrained groups.