Phil Hammond, 1931-2009

One of the good guys is gone. Phil Hammond, one of the most prolific and influential sociologists of religion in the late 20th century, died Christmas eve. I wasn’t close to Phil, but we had several wonderful talks, and he had a strong impact on my view of editorial decisionmaking. I was envious that Phil got a chance to do a thorough and novel study of the Nichiren Shoshu/Soka Gakkai Buddhists in the US. It was late in his career, and probably didn’t mean much to a guy of his stature. But it was a project that Julian Groves and I had dreamed about in graduate school, and Phil executed it to perfection, while we were denied access (being the loser graduate students that we were). On top of his many influential works on American religion, Soka Gakkai in America is the premiere study of the largest Buddhist movement in the US.

When Chris Ellison and I became editors of Review of Religious Research, Phil provided some quite cogent advice, and it wasn’t something I was prepared to hear. He said that sometimes you can’t listen to the reviewers. That you have to think about the importance of a study on its own merits. Really good stuff is often dismissed by run-of-the-mill reviewers. Don’t be afraid to make your own decisions, Phil said. I was a bit taken aback. I was still relatively naive, and thought that people would give an honest effort when reviewing a scholarly work. I was wrong. Phil was right. I’ll miss him.

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3 Responses to “Phil Hammond, 1931-2009”

  1. larry Says:

    Wow, this was the first nice piece I read on your site, the guy must have really rated in your book. You absolutely win hands down the snark award for bloggers.

  2. Van Says:

    So is Nichiren Shoshu still active in the US? I was briefly a member back in the mid 70s. Even had a gohunzen. Their whole schtick was you can chant for anything you want. A girlfriend, a new car, a job. I was a non-materialist hippie so I realized it wasn’t for me.

  3. sherkat Says:

    Yes, however they changed a lot. There was an organizational split with the Nichiren Monks and some funny business with funding. But, they’re still going strong as a more lay-led devotional form of Buddhism. Phil’s book covers much of the transition.

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