In the late twentieth century, Neil Smelser was one of the few powerful voices in the field of sociology to emphasize autonomy and interrelation of the three fundamental levels of social organization: emotions, social structures and beliefs. Smelser's approach is distinguished because of his insistence that beliefs are significant. While deeply related to emotional hopes and social structural strains, beliefs are continuously generalized and thus attain a life of their own. Smelser's approach to how beliefs work in society was guided by “state-of-the-art” theory during the years of his intellectual transformation. This was a period before philosophy had taken a linguistic turn or before this turn had become a matter of self-conscious intellectual reflection. This was also a period before cultural turn in social sciences, when the insights of literature, linguistic methods, hermeneutic and theories transformed sociology's theoretical terrain. Smelser applied “value analysis” to his study of beliefs, drawing on the approaches of literature, myth, cultural history, religion, and popular culture. The chapters in this section cover a wide ground yet, all have relevance to Smelser's studies of beliefs.
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