Gerhard Emmanuel "Gerry" Lenski, Jr. (August 13, 1924 – December 7, 2015) was an American sociologist known for contributions to the sociology of religion, social inequality, and introducing the ecological-evolutionary theory. Gerhard Lenski spent much of his career as a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he served as chair of the Department of Sociology, 1969–72, and as chair of the Division of Social Sciences, 1976-78. He was also President of the Southern Sociological Society, 1977–78 and elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1976. In 2002, he was awarded the Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award by the American Sociological Association. Gerhard Lenski defined religion as "a system of beliefs about the nature of force(s) ultimately shaping man's destiny and the practices associated therewith, shared by the members of a group.
Gerhard Lenski's findings supported basic
hypotheses of Max Weber's work Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism. A former
president of the American Political Science Association, Heinz Eulau, described
Power and Privilege as a "masterpiece of comparative social analysis" and Ralf
Dahrendorf referred to it as "an imaginative and substantial work, and an
indispensable guide." Gerhard Lenski figures among
eminent sociologists of the world.
According to Lenski, "the contributions of Protestantism to material progress have been largely unintended by-products of certain distinctive Protestant traits. This was a central point in Max Weber's theory." Lenski noted that more than a hundred years prior to Weber, John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist Church, had observed that "diligence and frugality" made Methodists wealthy. Lenski's earliest work dealt with the sociology of religion and culminated in the publication of The Religious Factor. - Lenski, Gerhard (1961). The Religious Factor : A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life. Doubleday U.S. Robert Wuthnow has referred to this volume as "arguably one of a handful of 'classics' among contributions by American sociologists to the social scientific study of religion." Lenski's empirical inquiry into "religion's impact on politics, economics, and family life" in the Detroit area revealed, among other insights, that there were significant differences between Catholics on the one hand and Protestants and Jews on the other hand with regard to economics and the sciences.
One feature of Lenski's work that has won fairly wide acceptance among sociologists, as reflected in its incorporation into leading introductory textbooks in the discipline, is his ecological and evolutionary typology of human societies first proposed in Power and Privilege and enhanced later in Human Societies and other publications. - Gerhard Lenski (1966). Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0807841198. Gerhard Lenski; Patrick Nolan; Jean Lenski (1970). Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. McGraw-Hill, Paradigm Press, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199382453.