Do Sociology and Christianity Mix?

(Part 1 in a series of 4)

By George Yancey

I describe myself as “Just a Christian black sociologist trying to make his way in the world.” Well the black part is pretty clear but one might wonder about the Christian sociologist part. I mean can a person be a sociologist and a Christian at the same time? If not then am I just an walking living contradiction. Is my existence just a joke on rationality? Whoa. That is too heavy. Let me just look at the Christian and sociology mixture.

Now on the surface there does not seem to be a contradiction between a religious belief and an occupation. I mean as a Christian can I not be any occupation I want as long as it is legal? (I did try being a Christian drug dealer once but that just did not work out). Of course I can. So there should not be a contradiction between being a Christian who works and a sociology researcher and teacher.

Furthermore, can not a sociology have any religious belief he wants. There is not a religious test for being a sociologist is there. (Well not an official religious test. Read my book “Compromising Scholarship” for unofficial ways there may be a religious test in academia). So if there is no religious expectations upon being a sociology then where is the contradiction?

The contradiction seems to have developed because of the way sociology has historically developed. The institution of sociology developed in concert with what has been called the Enlightenment movement. This movement marshaled a great deal of resistance to the religious institutions of its day. (This is bit of an oversimplification, but hey this is a blog, not a term paper.) The early sociologist understood the social conflict between those claiming science and those claiming religion and understandably they choose to support the forces claiming science.

One has to be naive not to think that such an origin would not effect the way sociology is practiced today. The materialist groundings in much of sociology works in opposition to the otherworldly assumptions of Christianity and other religious ideologies. I felt this many times in graduate school with my fellow graduate student friends. I loved my friends but had to conceptually deal with their ideologies that operated to counter my religious beliefs. Likewise I often had to hear ideas from my Christian friends that did not comport with my understanding of sociological knowledge.

Then a funny thing happened on my way to professorship. I learned how to use my sociology to make my Christianity better and my Christianity to make my sociology better. In doing so I did become what I am today – a Christian sociologist. I do not think that Christianity and sociology are like oil and water. They can mix and even strengthen each other. My sociology can inform my Christianity and my Christianity can inform my sociology. Maybe because I allow them to inform each other is why I have become the trouble-maker that I am today. Anyway in the remaining blogs in this series I will try to illustrate how they can and do inform each other. Until then.

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  • Great post! I often feel the same tension (and, at the moment anyway, resolution of that tension) as a Christian psychologist. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • David

    George, thank you for the honest admission of the tension in the world views that inform both sociology and Christianity; most especially today are not willing to admit this tension. The related philosophies that were born out of the Enlightenment are like the many bricks that were used to built the tower of Babel on an alluvial sand plain where it is said, “let us make a name for ourselves.” Building a philosophy or way of life that reaches to the heaven (enlightens) on the sifting sand (of psychology) without the knowledge of God is a fools errand.

  • I have a bachelor’s in sociology. My problem with the field, which caused me to end my studies in that area, was the idea that “people in groups will behave like X.” That was a direct conflict, I thought, with my religious belief in free will and accountability.

  • Aida

    Thanks very much for this. I have felt this same tension as a graduate student. As a Christian sociologist
    of color, I’d love to read future posts about the racial tension that can arise in both worlds as well – if it’s applicable to your experience. Looking forward to reading more.

  • Ben

    Very brief, but nice. I am actually starting to research this issue right now myself, so that I can make it clear to other Christians all the interesting differences between Sociology and Christianity (pretty serious ones, like Comte starting his own religion). Really, I want to remind people that, as per what’s written in the King James version of the Bible, we are supposed to make a choice between the world and God. My professor, as a gender neutral (woman), ex-Mormon (from Utah), was pretty surprised at my assertion that society is at odds with Christian teachings, not flying the banner of Jesus as some people think of the ‘religious right.’

  • Omar Garcia

    I loved this one: “Christianity and sociology…can mix and even strengthen each other. My sociology can inform my Christianity and my Christianity can inform my sociology.”

    Only prejudiced or biased people would deny that Christianity and Sociology can mix. History have shown it possible.

    Many theologians and Christian philosophers were pioneers of sociology. I think of people like John Locke, (who wrote “The reasonableness of Christianity, 1695).

    In contemporary times, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had a degree in Sociology, and ye he was a baptist minister, and at the same time one of the most prominent Christians of the 20th century.

    A more recent Christian anthropologist / sociologist is the well-known French René Girard.

    I was wondering if you know more names.
    I’m thinking of studying sociology after finishing the major I’m in, but I’d like not to feel that tension you mention.