Can Sociology and Christianity Mix? Part 4

By George Yancey
(Part 4 in a series. Part 1, 2, and 3)

If we are holistic beings then all parts of who we are must interact together as we strive to understand our world. I am not just a sociologist. I am not just a Christian. I am not just black. I am all of those things. This is not to say that all of those things are equal in their importance to me but all of them, and other identities I have, matter in how I approach my life and understand my world.

You might guess that as an African-American that I would have special concern about the racial issues in the United States. You would be right in that assumption. In fact, for most of my academic career I have published in the area of race and ethnicity. I have done work on topics such as interracial romance, racial identity, residential segregation and racial diversity in religious settings. Like most people of color, I have had to think about racial issue seriously from an early age and so when I gained the methodological tools to understand those issues more deeply I used them to the best of my ability.

With such an effort at understanding the social scientific literature on racial issues you would think that I would have found a lot of fantastic answers to the question of how we overcome the perilous effects of our racialized society. However, I have been dissatisfied with the answers I found in my reading of the current literature. As I have established in previous blogs my sociological training is great for helping me to see what is happening in society, but less useful for helping me to understand the nature of humans. The idea that we are perfectible and that education will eliminate racism is not sufficient. In my last blog I discussed the work of Emerson and Sikkink which strongly suggests that education merely aids us in hiding our racial preference, rather than curing us of that bias.

My faith, and the notion of human depravity connected to that faith, is relevant here. Human depravity explains that humans, both whites and non-whites will manipulate racial situations to their advantage. Whites will come up with solutions to racial problems that better suit what they want. People of color will come up with solutions to racial problems that better suit what they want. As a result we spend more time arguing with one another than finding solutions that work.

It was this insight, given to me by my faith, which led me eventually to develop a mutual accountability approach to racial issues. That approach is one which seeks commonality rather than contention. To totally flesh out this approach in the small space a blog provides is not feasible. I am fortunate to have published Transcending Racial Barriers (Oxford University Press) which discusses the approach more completely. Basically we argued that to deal with racial issues we need to take proactive steps of recognizing our bias for solutions that help our own group, listen to the perspectives others may have, and then work to find a solution that people of all races can live with.

Simple huh? But surprisingly I have previously found no such approach in the literature of race and ethnicity. It was my faith and understanding of human depravity which allowed me to think through racial issues in a way to develop a balanced approach. Most people do not think about racial alienation as an issue that religion has something to say about. This is especially the case if we are supposed to be scholars who understand society. But my faith has been indispensable in thinking through racial issues.

I have gone this far into racial issues to illustrate a larger point. My sociology or faith does not operate in a vacuum. They reinforce and inform each other. They make each other stronger. I am a Christian and a sociologist. Those are not contradictions in terms. They are only contradictions when we create ridiculous definitions of Christianity and sociology. They are only seen as direct oppositions when vested interest groups among Christians and sociologists decide that it is to their advantage to have a convenient scape goat to blame the world’s problems on. But when applied in the right way my Christianity and sociology can work to solve those problems instead of merely finger point at those we disagree with.

  • Maryana Drok

    Thank you so much for these blogs! Currently I’m choosing my future profession and had been wondering whether it’s possible to stand firm on my Christian beliefs and study sociology. The way you consider these two issues to cooperate is very inspiring. May God bless you!


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