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Identity and the Sacred

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Identity and the Sacred is the most influential work of Hans Mol (1922-2017), Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster University. In this volume, Mol broke new ground in the sociology of religion by borrowing from ethology, developmental psychology, and even symbolic interactionism to argue that personal identity was central to the religious enterprise. In doing so, he became one of the first (if not the first) sociologists to utilise the concept of identity as a means of discussing the persistence and socio-cultural role of religion in contemporary life. Giving identity pride of place within a new theoretical framework was not only unique but perceptive, as scholarly interest in issues of identity has only increased since the late 70s. Mol’s identity theory dissolved the hard line previously drawn between individual agents and social structures, introduced serious doubt into debates over hard secularisation, and suggested that religion was a dynamic process involving irrational commitment and vigorous defence rather than a static cultural object of reasoned belief. The significance of such a theory for the twenty-first century cannot be overstated – it is largely due to our available hindsight that sociologists and other scholars can now recognise the novelty of Mol’s approach and its usefulness for contemporary topics such as religious extremism/violence, Brexit, the alt-right, and so-called ‘postsecularism’.

This new edition of Identity and the Sacred includes a substantive Foreword that argues for the enduring significance of Mol’s ideas but also includes never-before-seen content from the archived Hans Mol Papers of the National Library of Australia. This volume will be of interest to both postgraduates and academics from the fields of Religious Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Theology who are interested in social-scientific theories of religion and identity.

Published: Oct 15, 2026