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Morrissey College of Arts and Science

UN520 The Sociology of the Inner Life

capstone program

Paul G. Schervish

Professor of Sociology
Director, Social Welfare and Research Institute

This course is also offered as SC 523

This Capstone course offers a novel theoretical and methodological framework for examining the most deeply seated features of cultural and emotional life, what in more common parlance is called spirituality. I draw on my research on Christmas, to explore with the students a mode of sociological and theological analysis that takes seriously people’s daily spiritual experiences. The course offers students an opportunity to:

  • review their own and other’s spiritual life-history;
  • understand the relation among cultural, communal, and emotional realms of experience; and
  • develop analytical and personal strategies for understanding and deepening their spiritual life and the quality of our culture.


The three sections of the course address the every-day experience of Christmas in Culture, Home, and Heart. Each section is connected to reading assignments and a small-scale research project designed to investigate the social meaning of the sacred and teach the methods of social inquiry:

  • studying the social settings of Christmas that frame and express spiritual life;
  • carrying out personal interviews and observations of others; and
  • writing autobiographical narratives of one's personal history and Christmas memories.


Reading assignments will be from sociological, theological, literary, and spiritual texts.


Advent and Psychic Birth

The Modern Christmas in America

The Liberation of Christmas: The Infancy Narratives in Social Context

Papers, reports, and books can be viewed, downloaded, or ordered on