Item Details

Recovering Theism: Three Biographical Case Studies in Alcoholics Anonymous

Issue: Vol 22 No. 2 (2019) Religion, Spirituality and Addiction Recovery

Journal: Implicit Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies

DOI: 10.1558/imre.37830


Recent studies in the sociology of religion have shown that religion and spirituality are related yet distinct concepts which impact social life in a variety of ways. Since its founding in 1935, the popular program known as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has offered an approach to addiction recovery that manifestly adopts spirituality as a means to sobriety while at the same time eschewing certain organized religious beliefs. This paper seeks to understand how participants perceive spirituality to be integral to addiction recovery as featured through three biographical case studies of unrelated AA members living in different cities in the United States. While the particularities of these three case studies should not be taken as representative of the AA population since they are tied to specific contexts, the similarities of their stories and the emphasis each respondent places on spirituality should prompt researchers to consider the evident connection between spirituality and recovery through AA participation. Suggestions for future research studies and the implications of these results will be discussed.

Author: Paul K. McClure

View Original Web Page

References :

AA General Service Office. 2017. “Estimated Worldwide AA Individual and Group Membership.”

AAWS. 2001 [1939]. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. 4th edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.

B., Hamilton. 1996. Twelve Step Sponsorship: How It Works. Hazelden edition. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Berger, Peter L. 1969. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor.

Besecke, Kelly. 2014. You Can’t Put God in a Box: Thoughtful Spirituality in a Rational Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chaves, Mark. 2011. American Religion: Contemporary Trends. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Davie, Grace. 2013. The Sociology of Religion: A Critical Agenda. Second edition. London: SAGE.

Dossett, Wendy. 2017. “A Daily Reprieve Contingent on the Maintenance of Our Spiritual Condition.” Addiction 112(6): 942–943.

Edgell, Penny. 2012. “A Cultural Sociology of Religion: New Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 38(1): 247–265.

Fuller, Robert C. 2001. Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hill, Peter C., Kenneth Pargament, Ralph W. Hood, Michael E. McCullough, James P. Swyers, David B. Larson, and Brian J. Zinnbauer. 2000. “Conceptualizing Religion and Spirituality: Points of Commonality, Points of Departure.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 30(1): 51–77.

Houtman, Dick and Stef Aupers. 2007. “The Spiritual Turn and the Decline of Tradition: The Spread of Post-Christian Spirituality in Fourteen Western Countries, 1981–2000.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46(3): 305–320.

Huss, Boaz. 2014. “Spirituality: The Emergence of a New Cultural Category and Its Challenge to the Religious and the Secular.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 29(1): 47–60.

Kelly, John F. 2017. “Is Alcoholics Anonymous Religious, Spiritual, Neither? Findings from 25 Years of Mechanisms of Behavior Change Research.” Addiction 112(6): 929–936.

Kurtz, Ernest and William L. White. 2015. “Recovery Spirituality.” Religions 6(1): 58–81.

Lipka, Michael. 2015. “Millennials Increasingly Are Driving Growth of ‘Nones.’” Pew Research Center.

Liu, Joseph, Cary Funk, and Gregory A. Smith. 2012. “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” Pew Research Center, Religion & Public Life.

Lofland, John and Rodney Stark. 1965. “Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective.” American Sociological Review 30(6): 862–875.

Marshall, Joey and Daniel Olson. 2018. “Is ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ a Replacement for Religion or Just One Step on the Path Between Religion and Non-Religion?” Review of Religious Research 60(4): 503–518.

McClure, Paul K. 2017. “Something besides Monotheism: Sociotheological Boundary Work among the Spiritual, but Not Religious.” Poetics 62: 53–65.

Mercadante, Linda A. 1996. Victims & Sinners. First edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox.

———. 2014. Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but Not Religious. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Office of the Surgeon General. 2016. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.

Orsi, Robert. 1997. “Everyday Miracles: The Study of Lived Religion.” Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice, edited by David D. Hall, 3–21. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Putnam, Robert D. and David E. Campbell. 2012. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Riesebrodt, Martin. 2010. The Promise of Salvation: A Theory of Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Roof, Wade Clark. 2001. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rudy, David R. and Arthur L. Greil. 1987. “Taking the Pledge: The Commitment Process in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Sociological Focus 20(1): 45–59.

———. 1989. “Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Religious Organization?: Meditations on Marginality.” Sociology of Religion 50(1): 41–51.

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. 2012. Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality. Second edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Steensland, Brian, Xiaoyun Wang, and Lauren Chism Schmidt. 2018. “Spirituality: What Does It Mean and to Whom?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 57(3): 450–472.

Tong, Yunping and Fenggang Yang. 2018. “Internal Diversity Among ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ Adolescents in the United States: A Person-Centered Examination Using Latent Class Analysis.” Review of Religious Research. 60(4): 435–453.

Wuthnow, Robert. 1998. After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s. Revised edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Zhai, Jiexia Elisa, Christopher G. Ellison, Charles E. Stokes, and Norval D. Glenn. 2008. “‘Spiritual, but Not Religious’: The Impact of Parental Divorce on the Religious and Spiritual Identities of Young Adults in the United States.” Review of Religious Research 49(4): 379–394.

Zinnbauer, Brian J., Kenneth I. Pargament, Brenda Cole, Mark S. Rye, Eric M. Butter, Timothy G. Belavich, Kathleen M. Hipp, Allie B. Scott, and Jill L. Kadar. 1997. “Religion and Spirituality: Unfuzzying the Fuzzy.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36(4): 549–564.