N.J. Demerath III (‘Jay’), former president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (2005), former Paul Furfey Lecturer at the ASR meetings (1993), and recipient of the ASR Lifetime Achievement Award (2019), passed away February 5, 2021 in Leeds, Massachusetts.
Jay was born in 1936 to an academic family. His father was Nicholas J. Demerath, Jr., a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina and later Washington University in St. Louis (the academic tradition carried on, as one of Jay’s sons is an anthropologist and another is a sociologist).
Jay received a B.A., magna cum laude, from Harvard University in 1958, and then an M.A. (1962) and Ph.D. (1964) in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. There he studied with Professor Charles Glock. Jay was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison from 1962-1972, progressing from Instructor to Full Professor, before moving to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst as Professor and Department Chair. When he retired from UMass in 2008, Jay held the title of Emile Durkheim Distinguished Professor.
During his career Jay authored, or co-authored, eight books, edited or co-edited four others, edited two special issues of academic journals (including one of Sociology of Religion), and authored three shorter monographs intended for specialized professional audiences. He was sole author on 28 articles in scholarly journals and co-author on 16 others, authored 16 chapters in edited collections and co-authored another nine, and wrote about two dozen book reviews, review essays, and encyclopedia entries. Moreover, he consistently produced op-ed contributions for newspapers and newsletters.
More distinctly relevant to the sociology of religion, Jay contributed to a number of important scholarly debates about religion in American, and then global, life. His first book was Social Class and American Protestantism (1965), once a classic in the study not just of religion and inequality but how religion becomes expressed in various class cultures. He wrote three books specifically on religion and public life and politics, one on their connections in Springfield, Massachusetts, A Bridging of Faiths: Religion and Politics in a New England City (1992; an article drawn from the study won the Distinguished Article award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion), Crossing the Gods: World Religions and Worldly Politics (2001), which won the Distinguished book award from the SSSR, and Sacred Circles and Public Squares: The Multi-Centering of American Religion (2004) a study of public religious expression in Indianapolis. His articles ranged from studies of ‘non-religion’ (one of which was in the American Journal of Sociology), to examining and revising secularization theory, to analyses of the effects of organizational and cultural change on religious institutions.
Beyond his scholarship, Jay offered considerable organizational service to the discipline. He was executive officer of the American Sociological Association (1970-72), and was president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (2005), the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (1997-99), the Eastern Sociological Society (2001), and chaired the ASA Section on the Sociology of Religion (2011). He was willingly drafted into organizing conference sessions, being a discussant or a critic in an ‘author-meets-critics’ session, or serving on associational committees. Notably, when he was President of the SSSR, he secured Ford Foundation support for grants to international scholars so they could attend SSSR meetings; it gave a powerful push to the SSSR’s efforts to become more global. Further, Jay was active in the International Society for the Sociology of Religion (SISR) and the International Sociological Association.
In all these ways, Jay was the consummate professional. He was committed to rigorous scholarship and to the promotion of sociology as a perspective. He believed fervently in the ‘craft’ of good writing and was a tireless editor of others’, and his own, prose. But his bow-ties and WASPy ways could be misleading. In fact, Jay loved sitting up late at night while at conferences, sharing scotch, telling stories, swapping ideas, and making predictions about the upcoming baseball or basketball season. His delight at word play and puns was inexhaustible – sometimes seemingly compulsive – and he reveled in his audience’s groans and eye-rolls at his turns of phrase. He rarely began an academic presentation without an opening joke or humorous anecdote. He rarely was at a lost for something to say.
For all these contributions, professional and personal, Jay will be missed.