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Wade Clark Roof

Ph.D. 1971

I was at UNC from 1966 to 1970, and received the Ph.D. in 1971. Gerry Lenski chaired my dissertation. It was a great time to be there with distinguished scholars other than Gerry with whom I took courses like Blalock and Hawley, and also to be there when two stalwarts from the past, Guy Johnson and Rupert Vance were retiring. Of course it was a hectic time in the country with protests against the Vietnam War, racial struggles, and a burgeoning women’s movement. But for me having grown up in conservative South Carolina, then having earned a MA degree at Yale Divinity School and exposed to its liberal influence, my time in Chapel Hill offered a time for studying religion and race relations and shaping a sociologically informed perspective on American society. The country’s continuing unresolved issues have in many ways influenced my research agenda. Today’s Donald Trump phenomenon, Black Lives Matter, Islamaphobia, and the proliferation of guns and violence all remind us of how so many of our major national issues remain unresolved.

A short anecdote: When I applied to the department I had no idea that I would have to take four courses in statistics and methods, for which I was ill-prepared. After applying I visited the department, met Babe in the office, and she told me to go down and meet Tad Blalock to find out more about the program. He mentioned those courses but didn’t say they were required and I stupidly said “Well I doubt I’ll be taking those courses!” I’ve often wondered how I got accepted.

In 1970, I took an Assistant Professor position at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1970 where I remained for 19 years. There I taught sociology courses on religion, race relations, and American society. Amherst was a great place to live and to raise our two daughters. There, as well, I benefited from meeting scholars in the Five-College Consortium who shared my interests in religion and where my sociological interests became more focused on the changing religious and cultural landscape in the post-1960s. My research agenda ever since has focused largely on this broad topic, with specific attention to generational change, post-Protestant America culture, shifts in religion and politics, global politics, and the polarization of religion and politics in our country today, my latest book project.

In 1989, my wife and I moved to Santa Barbara where I had an appointment in the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB. That was a big move – geographically, culturally, and in teaching context. It was a good time for a career change: my daughters were in college, and to be honest I had grown somewhat discouraged by the ethos within many sociology departments that regarded religion as fairly inconsequential as a subject of study – a dependent variable, as we say. Today, this has changed somewhat in sociology departments following 9/11 in this country and the obvious role of religion today in politics within the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Also, the greater interdisciplinary focus in education has pushed universities toward more attention to religion. Indeed, this is the most exciting time to teach and conduct research on, religion, politics, and culture in my 46 years of teaching.

At UCSB, I have been lucky to have graduate students in a seminar from Religious Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, and other departments. This makes for lively discussion across the Social Sciences and Humanities, one which has benefitted me in my thinking and research on religion. Having supervised 19 dissertations here over the years focusing mostly on American topics, it appears the intellectual climate has been a productive one. Here I have also been able to create a center — the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life — sponsoring a variety of programs bringing diverse faculty and public officials together for conversation on important issues.
Recently, I have retired but my wife and I continue to live in Santa Barbara. We have six grandchildren, all on the East Coast. I remain greatly indebted to UNC Sociology for its influence upon me.

Submitted March 2016

Clark passed away August 24, 2019.  A link to a major obituary for him is