SSSR 2019 Wade Clark Roof Memorial

Given by Dusty Hoesly at the SSSR+RRA 2019 Annual Meeting

Thank you all for being here tonight.

Our friend and colleague, Wade Clark Roof, died on August 24 of this year at the age of 80. He was a giant in our field, and for those who knew him, he was also a thoughtful collaborator, an insightful commentator on our work, and a genuinely warm, kind human being.

I’d first like to give you a brief overview of Clark’s life, scholarly achievements, and contributions to the sociology of religion, then offer some brief personal reflections.

Clark grew up in rural South Carolina, raised on his grandparents’ dairy farm and sometime bootlegger hideout. He attended Wofford College and then Yale Divinity School. He served two years, 1964-1966, as a Methodist minister in a South Carolina congregation fraught with conflict over his support for racial integration. Inspired by theological liberalism and the sociological work of Peter Berger and James Gustafson, he enrolled at UNC, where he studied under Gerhard Lenski and graduated with a PhD in Sociology in 1971. From there, he taught at U Mass Amherst, where he attained the rank of full professor, and then at UC-Santa Barbara from 1989-2013, where he became Rowny Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religion and Society. Over his career, he supervised 28 doctoral students who completed their PhDs.

Clark’s work described mid-to-late 20th century shifts in American mainline Protestantism, Baby Boomer spirituality, the contemporary spiritual marketplace, and religious pluralism. He sought to contextualize religious change within broader social dynamics. Clark trained sociologists to attend to fluidity in religious identity, to see reflexivity, experimentalism, self-expression, and questioning authority as central to the contemporary American religious experience. Based on his findings, he coined or popularized terms like “new voluntarism,” “spiritual seeking,” “quest culture,” and “reflexive spirituality.” In all of his work, Clark combined large-scale, national surveys and refined statistical analysis with in-depth personal interviews, biographical portraits, and congregational studies. This mixed-methods approach influenced other sociologists of religion and built bridges with scholars in religious studies and the humanities.

Clark authored or co-authored 5 books, including game-changers like American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future (1987) (with W. McKinney), A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation (1993), and Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (1999). A Generation of Seekers, in particular, generated a wide amount of media coverage and Clark made many appearances on TV, radio, and in newspaper interviews, including a profile in the New York Times. Clark was particularly proud that President Bill Clinton asked to use the title of this book in a commencement speech Clinton gave at UCLA in 1994. This book helped shape a national conversation about religion in American public life.

In addition, Clark edited or co-edited 6 other books, 2 multi-volume encyclopedias, and 5 special issues of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. He published 60 journal articles, 45 chapters in edited volumes, and over 55 book reviews in academic journals. 

Clark won over $2.2 million as principal or co-principal investigator for over 20 research grants, including from Lilly, Pew, Luce, Ford, NSF, and SSRC. He presented over 100 times at major academic conferences, theological centers, universities, and public policy forums, including at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fulbright Lectures, German Marshall Fund Lectures, John Foster Dulles Lectures on Religion, and the Brookings Institution.

In his work, Clark combined rigorous scholarship with a storyteller’s gift to reach beyond the halls of academe and impact how Americans think about religion. He demonstrated this in many media appearances, including as a regular guest on PBS’ “The MacNeill-Lehrer NewsHour” and “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”

Clark made sociology of religion matter also through two major initiatives involving public and global engagement.

From 2002-2017, Clark directed the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life at UCSB. He secured over $4 million from Congress, the NEH, and local donors to develop the Capps Center, which offers a range of programming for the California Central Coast community. This includes bringing in major speakers, hosting conferences, and facilitating undergraduate governmental service opportunities.

From 2002-2016, Clark served as director of an annual summer institute, “Religion in the U.S.: Pluralism and Public Presence,” part of the U.S. State Department’s Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI). This program educated foreign scholars, civil servants, journalists, and NGO leaders about religious diversity, church-state issues, and the study of religion in the U.S. Over 250 people, representing over 80 nations, participated in this program under Clark’s leadership.

In 2018, Clark won the ASR Lifetime Achievement Award and this year he won AAR’s Martin E. Marty Public Understanding of Religion Award. The last time I spoke with him, about two weeks before he died, he told me how much he was looking forward to the panel this November.

This conference held a special place in Clark’s heart. His first journal article was based on a paper he delivered here in 1971. He published 9 articles in JSSR. He served as executive secretary (1978-1983) and president (1995-1997) of SSSR, president of RRA (1990-1992), and vice president of ASR (1986-1987).

I was Clark’s last doctoral advisee. When I chose an unusual topic for my dissertation, the Universal Life Church, which ordains people online so that they can officiate weddings for friends and relatives, Clark enthusiastically supported my research and provided advice for research design and comments on chapter drafts. But he was so much more than an advisor. He was a dear friend. From my first days on campus at Santa Barbara, Clark always greeted me gregariously, making me feel welcome. Clark and his wife Terry were famous for hosting dinners and other events for graduate students at their house. For many of us, Terry, who passed away in April of last year, was a second mother, sharing with us her grace, compassion, wisdom, and humor. I spent a lot of time with Clark and Terry during the last stages of final her battle with cancer, and with Clark after she passed. I learned so much about the meaning of a life well lived, a life of service, and living with joy even in the face of adversity. It was during this difficult time that I finished my degree. Despite the circumstances, Clark was generous with his time and feedback on my dissertation.

This year I got a job at Southern Mississippi. Having grown up in Oregon, and spending the past nine years in Santa Barbara, I knew it would be a big transition. Clark, who grew up in South Carolina, was keen to give me some sage advice. First, he said, you’re going to want to get some dark sunglasses because it is very hot and bright in August. Second, you’ll want to learn about the local culture. He proceeded to share stories and guidance. And with a boyish grin, he told me he’d bought me a copy of a book called How to Speak Southern, a corny joke book that left him in stitches as he read aloud passages to me, inflecting them with a light drawl. I loved hearing his full-hearted joy and laughter. I loved spending time with him. I’m going to miss that the most. While his work lives on in his publications and in our scholarly citations, the warmth of his life remains in our hearts, in the stories we share, in our collective chain of memory.

Thank you.