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. [Read more...]

The End of Expressing Faith in Public Spaces?

As a young college student, one of the appeals of participating in an evangelical group was the fairly humble settings that often accompanied the singing and praying and fellowshipping (it’s one of those terms I heard first among evangelicals, and I think it’s another way of saying “socializing.”). For those us that grew up Christian, I think most of us are familiar with the interiors of traditional church structures, some have steeples, stained glass, pews, some are even shaped like a cross.  

In traditional church structures you’re invited into a space that is set apart, another word for “holy.” But for many Christians, such holy spaces are not feasible or even desirable. The church is not a building, it’s a people. The location, the space is of little relevance.

 

Some evangelical Christians in college (and perhaps other groups too) embody this by setting up temporary gathering spaces in places like classrooms and auditoriums at public and private universities. For someone like me, somewhat unaware of what evangelical Christianity was enjoyed this experience because it seemed authentic. [Read more...]

John Frum and Jesus

February 15th will be John Frum day, a high holiday in one of the South Pacific’s cargo cults. In this cargo cult, adherents wait for the return of a religious figure named John Frum, an American, who will bring prosperity and wealth to those who follow him. (It appears that his name comes from a service man saying he was “John, from (some state or city).”
My first reaction to reading about it was to feel sorry for the adherents… here they are waiting for a divine being to return in glory after having visited them in person, but, at least my perspective, their beliefs have no basis in objective reality, and, if so, they are rather misguided.
My second reaction was to notice the similarities between cargo cults and Christianity. (Not necessarily a prosperity gospel, though one could make that parallel too). I profess to follow someone who came to world in rather humble circumstances, has promised to return, and, in the meantime, we should follow him. This is no more far-fetched than the cargo cults. Furthermore, their faith is, presumably, as real to them as mine is to me.

Mr. Baltzell’s Neighborhood: The Rise of Word “Mainline” and the Decline of Mainline Denominations

By John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

Since last September, Sojourners has explored the meaning of “evangelical.” Such conversations have supplemented more academic analyses by political scientists and sociologists.

After spending so much time on evangelicalism, it’s only fair to ask about American Protestantism’s other major tradition, the Protestant mainline.

In the judgment of Martin Marty, the term “mainline was and is used mainly by enemies of the mainline.” Unlike evangelical, it is a relatively recent word. Often used to designate moderate-to-liberal Protestants, its history is shrouded in mystery.

Just where did the expression “mainline Protestant” originate? In a fascinating paper delivered at the 2008 American Society of Church History meetings, Elesha Coffman traced the genealogy of the mainline moniker. Her investigations led her to the main-line suburbs of Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Railroad connected wealthy elites to Philly’s urban core. This is the neighborhood explored by patrician sociologist E. Digby Baltzell in The Protestant Establishment and Philadelphia Gentlemen.

When Coffman delivered her paper, Google Culturomics was just a glimmer in the eyes of its Mountain View, California creators. Four years later, it is now possible to trace the use of term over the past couple centuries.  As this graph shows, [Read more...]

Whatever happened to military sociology?

There’s a graduate student I know who has a significant interest in what’s called military sociology. Never having studied it, I can’t comment a great deal on what its boundaries are. I just know that it’s not exactly a thriving sub-discipline within American sociology. That’s a little strange, given that we’ve fought two wars that have spanned the past decade and Iraq and Afghanistan are never out of the news. So far as I can tell, military sociology would be located within the ASA section on Peace, War, and Conflict—also not a large section (I suspect—I’m not sure).

Charles Moskos was considered the finest military sociologist of his era, although he’s probably only known broadly for coining the term (and the now-defunct doctrine of) DADT: don’t ask, don’t tell. Apparently he was a fan of restoring the draft, which he believed would fashion a sense of common purpose among diverse groups, as compulsory military service appears to do in Israel. I suspect it’s not been considered closely because it’s not been necessary, and because a very large standing army is too expensive to maintain. And if your odds of being drafted are relatively poor, the “shared sense of purpose” becomes shared rather narrowly, thus probably defeating the point.

A veteran himself, Moskos traveled to numerous areas of conflict for research purposes. I know there have been professional anthropologists who’ve been embedded, at different times, with the US Army in Afghanistan. But I’m not aware of any sociologists who’ve done the same. (Again, I could very well be wrong—it’s rather difficult to keep track of an entire discipline, especially one you’re not a member of.)  A 2009 New York Times article suggests the embedding business wasn’t too popular with the AAA, the American Anthropological Association. A report investigating the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System [Read more...]