Faith as Small as a Peanut: What One Black Christian Scientist Taught Me About My Work

At the school where I teach and research we just finished our second week of the semester, and this past Monday we (as a nation) remembered Martin Luther King Jr. and the vision that he and the Civil Rights Movement leaders imparted to the rest of the nation. When confronted with great figures whose lives end prematurely, especially at the beginning of a new semester sets my mind to the question of calling: why do we do what we do?

This question is particularly salient as I am teaching a new grad seminar on how to write in the social sciences. As I prepped for the course over the winter break it was clear to me that calling has to be at the root of what we researchers do, and maybe a little bit of madness or possibly ineptitude at most other kinds of work. But really, as I enter into conversations with the new graduate students about why research is so important not only for society but also for their careers, the obstacles to accomplishing good research in the ever-changing rules of higher education seriously lead me to ask reflectively: why would you do this? [Read more...]

Oprah, Osteen, Gaga, or Beck? Whose Celebrity Faith Do You Relate To?

Near the end of 2011, I had heard rumors that media celebrity Oprah Winfrey was visiting the Osteen family who lead the largest church in the United States: Lakewood. Lakewood is near downtown Houston and more than 40,000 attend the worship service each Sunday which is broadcast in over 100 countries to millions. This is the megachurch of megachurches in the US (still fairly small compared to Yoido and other super-ultra-mega-churches around the world. So it makes sense that Oprah, perhaps the most influential woman of color, would spend some time to get to know what it’s like to be one of the most influential Christian figures in America today.

I watched this interview recently on Oprah’s new cable channel, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network – how cool is that for an acronym brand, no wonder she’s rich!), which emerged since she stepped down from her widely syndicated show in the spring of 2011. My sociological curiosity was piqued because Oprah herself is indirectly known for her faith which these days gets dressed up in the phrase “spirituality.” Oprah was raised in a traditional African American church and is now a fairly “inclusive Christian,” a Christian who is fairly accepting of most other religions, and sees Christianity as merely one path to an integrated spirituality (or whatever term she uses).

There was nothing that surprised me in the interview I have to say, but maybe it’s because I had read a little here and there about the Osteens and their brand of Christianity. Their messages are ones that convey [Read more...]

The Top 11 from ’11: Religion Research Studies in Sociology

The new year is always a time for lists, all kinds of lists. So I decided to try a new list, and one that hopefully helps readers learn what sociology profs do with all these charts, graphs and theories when they don’t teach it or blog on it. I’m teaching a graduate seminar class on how to publish in sociology, a kind of reverse engineering of the basic “product” that academic sociologists are known for: the research article. To that end, and since it’s the beginning of the new year, I thought this might be a useful experiment to review how religion shows up in the top research journals in sociology.

Like any job that has products attached with it, some are better than others and this inevitably means there’s a ranking. Scientists of all stripes rely on auxiliary and neutral organizations like ISI Web of Knowledge (which is part of Thomson Reuters) to create databases that list the research journals where scholars get their work published. But what’s more these lists include formulas to determine which journals are “better” than others. One way to measure quality is by “impact” or the degree of influence that a journal has on other journals. Basically if more papers in journal A are cited in the references of journals B, C, and D, then that journal is said to have a greater impact. And therefore if you get published in a journal with a higher impact score, you and your research supposedly gained more visibility and consequently more prestige. You can see what the “Impact Factor” rankings look like in the Social Sciences Edition of the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) [access might be limited if you're not linked with a university library]

That said, I selected only the sociology journals and the JCR gives me 132 journals (that’s actually not a lot compared to other sciences but regardless, we read a lot of research papers). When we look at them by impact factor we get this list of “top 19” journals (as of January 2012): [Read more...]

Asian American Religion and Depression, Killing the Hope of Our Youth?

     In the Christmas season when lots of joy and cheer abound, we know that this sentiment is not always shared by those around us. I’m not talking about those who don’t believe in Santa or those who don’t believe in Jesus. I’m talking about those among us who fight the noonday demon called depression. A lot of us who skim this blog already know this: suicide attempts and depression run higher in these winter months and a number of theories have been kicked around to explain what’s going on. For sociologists, suicide and depression are matters of context: people who are disconnected, who feel like they don’t have a community feel especially ill at ease during this time when they feel set apart from those around them that are involved in a group. [Read more...]


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