Main content
McDonald Lectures to focus on challenges facing American organized religion

Christian Smith speaking

The 2022-23 McDonald Lectures of Candler School of Theology will be delivered by Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. His first public lecture as the McDonald Chair will be Oct. 6.

Christian Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, will serve as Candler School of Theology’s 2022-23 Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on The Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture. In this role, Smith will present public lectures on Thursday, Oct. 6, and Wednesday, Oct. 12, and will teach the fall course “Sociology of Religion.” 

The lectures are free and open to the public, with registration required. Video recordings of the events will later be made available on Candler’s Vimeo site. 

Well known for his research focused on religion, adolescents and emerging adults, and social theory, Smith was a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 12 years before his move to Notre Dame. He received his MA and PhD from Harvard University and his BA from Gordon College.  

Smith is the author of nine monographs, most recently “Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters” (Princeton University Press, 2017) and “To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil” (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He has also co-authored and edited numerous volumes. 

Smith’s early work on social movements examined structural political opportunities and individuals’ personal moral motivations for participating in social activism. His more recent research on the religious and spiritual lives of U.S. adolescents emphasizes the interplay of broad cultural influences, family socialization and religious motivations in forming the spiritual and life experiences and outcomes of American youth.

The lectures are made possible by the McDonald Agape Foundation.


Thursday, Oct. 6: “The Future of American Churches: Is the U.S. Finally Secularizing or Just Morphing Religiously?”

Rita Anne Rollins Building, Room 252

4–6 p.m.(Register here.)

We know that Americans' religious affiliations, beliefs and practices have been changing dramatically in recent decades, especially among younger adults and youth. But what does this actually mean about where traditional, institutional Christianity is headed? What should we expect the future of churches to look like? The received sociological model predicts outright secularization. But the evidence in the American case suggests something different, more complex and arguably more challenging for churches and ministry. 

This lecture will explore these changes and what we have reason to believe the future of religion and churches in the U.S. to look and feel like. 


Wednesday, Oct. 12: “Converging Perfect Storms: Hard Hits on American Organized Religion Since 1990”

Rita Anne Rollins Building, Room 252

11 a.m.–1 p.m. (Register here. Lunch will be provided for those who register.)

Religious observers in the U.S. have noted major transformations of American religious culture in recent decades that profoundly affect Christian churches and other formal religious institutions. These include the dramatic growth of the number of “non-religious” Americans, especially among youth; the rapid spread of “spiritual but not religious” identities across many generations in the U.S.; and an alienation from “traditional” religious institutions among many Americans (again, especially among younger people). 

How do we explain these huge changes? This lecture offers a broad sociological explanation, identifying and pulling together a host of religion-undermining social forces that emerged in the 1990s and converged in the 2000s to transform the American religious zeitgeist. 


About the McDonald Chair

The Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture is supported by gifts from the McDonald Agape Foundation, founded by Alonzo L. McDonald, a longtime trustee of Emory University. The McDonald Agape Foundation “supports lectures and other public presentations that deal creatively and imaginatively with the person and teachings of Jesus as they shape and form culture.” 

Recipients are given a distinguished visiting professorship, in which they speak and teach in the focused area of Jesus’s effect on culture and, conversely, culture’s shaping of the figure of Jesus.

Past McDonald chair lecturers include Judge John T. Noonan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; composer Alice Parker; art historian Herbert Kessler; historian and documentary filmmaker Randall Balmer; author James Carroll; Episcopal priest and bestselling author Barbara Brown Taylor; Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Garry Wills; Jesuit priest and film professor Lloyd Baugh; and theological scholars David H. Kelsey, David F. Ford, Walter Earl Fluker, Roberto S. Goizueta, M. Shawn Copeland, and Luke Timothy Johnson, among others. View a full list of past chairs.

Recent News