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Brian R. Wilson

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Brian R. Wilson

Bryan Ronald Wilson, (25 June 1926, Leeds – 9 October 2004, Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire), was Reader Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Oxford and President of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion 1971-75.

Academic life

Wilson spent his undergraduate years at University College, Leicester, obtaining an External B.Sc. (Econ.) with First Class Honours from the University of London in 1952.[1] He continued his studies under the supervision of Donald MacRae at the London School of Economics where, in 1955, he completed his doctoral thesis, which formed the basis for his book Sects and Society published in 1961.[1] Wilson then took up a lecturing post at the University of Leeds; he held this post until 1962, when the University of Oxford awarded him an M.A. and appointed him as a Reader in Sociology.[1] A year later he became a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and returned there after each of his many sojourns in Europe, America, Africa, Asia, or Australia as a researcher or Visiting Professor.[1] In 1984, the University of Oxford conferred upon him a D.Litt.[1] In 1992, the Catholic University of Leuven, Louvain, Belgium conferred upon him the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the sociology of religion.[1]

Work and legacy

Wilson was a founding member of the University Association for the Sociology of Religion.[2] From 1971 to 1975, he was President of the CISR (now known as the International Society for the Sociology of Religion or SISR).[2] At the 1991 conference he became the first scholar to receive an honorary presidency from the Society.[2] He was European editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, sitting on the editorial board of the Annual Review of the Social Science of Religion, and sharing responsibility for the English-language papers of SISR issues of Social Compass.[2]

Wilson has exercised a formative influence on the sociology of religion in Britain.[3]

His 1959 An Analysis of Sect Development in the American Sociological Review and his book Sects and Society (Heinemann 1961) – a study of the Elim Churches, the Christadelphians, and Christian Science (based on his doctoral thesis at the London School of Economics) – may be regarded as representing the beginning of contemporary academic study of new religious movements, to which Wilson later contributed its influential The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society (Oxford University Press 1990). He was also a pioneer of studies of millennialism, many years before this field achieved its present visibility, in Magic and the Millennium (Heinemann 1973).

In a eulogical article by Massimo Introvigne, Director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), he is described as "one of the most distinguished sociologists of the 20th century" who has exercised "a crucial influence on the sociology of religion, not only through his many publications but also through the generations of his graduate students.[...] Wilson will also be remembered as one of the most prominent academic champions of religious liberty in the 20th century. He defended new religious movements and other minorities against the various waves of international anti-cult campaigns, for no other personal reason than his passionate love for freedom and justice, since he defined himself as an atheist." In Memoriam: Bryan Ronald Wilson, 1926–2004 [4]

Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford, and Karel Dobbelaere have called him "the doyen of sociological studies of religion in Britain, stating that in honoring Wilson, "they represent thousands of other scholars around the world who owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for the enrichment that he has brought to our understanding of modern societies."[1]

They describe Wilson as "a scholar of indubitable integrity", adding that "Wilson displays a scrupulous attention to detail within a broad theoretical approach that not only educates and illuminates, but also stimulates his readers. Rarely does one find someone engaged in original research who is so influential theoretically. His lectures and writings, full of nuances and subtleties, are models of clarity and elegance."[1]


In honor of Bryan R. Wilson the book "Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honour of Bryan R. Wilson" was made by his friends and students, and published.[5]


Further reading

  • Wilson, Bryan R. "Religion as a community resource." Perspectives on Culture and Society" vol. 1 (1988): 81-100
  • Wilson, Bryan R. "American influences on the development of religion." Perspectives on Culture and Society" vol. 1 (1988): 101-118
  • Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honour of Bryan R. Wilson. Contributors: Eileen Barker — editor, James A. Beckford — editor, Karel Dobbelaere — editor. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of Publication: Oxford. Publication Year: 1993.
  • obituary

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