God and Suffering: Remembering the Haitian Earthquake of January 2010

January 10, 2012, marks the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti. Having spent much time in Haiti and among Haitian migrants, the tragedy struck me in the heart. Tears rolled down my face when I heard the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince had been killed in the collapsed cathedral.

One of the major themes of my Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora was about Haitians’ resilient faith. In my initial reaction to the tragedy, I doubted my own confidence in Haiti’s ability to recover, my own hope for Haiti’s future.

Then I saw on the news that the Auxiliary Bishop of Port-au-Prince celebrated Mass outside the ruins. The songs they sang reminded me of the same church songs I sang in the Haitian choirs during my research and brought back my hope, my ability to imagine a better future for Haiti.

Just a few months later, in March 2010, I visited [Read more...]

Why I’d Rather Do Research than Publish

For whatever reason I get stuck at the same point with many of my papers–right before a submission (or resubmission) to a journal. From a rational perspective, this makes no sense in that a little extra work will get the manuscript to a journal where it might be published. In thinking about why I have this tendency, I realized that what I enjoy about sociological research happens *before* submission to a journal–formulating the ideas, analyzing the data, and putting together in draft form. From there out it’s just work. The problem is that the professional rewards don’t start until *after* journal submission (and acceptance).

Here’s a graph that illustrates what I mean:

I love research because I’m very curious about the world, but when it comes to getting things out the door, then it’s more just plain-old-discipline.

Sigh.

When it comes to Death, we’re the Biggest Liars

I’ve always been the kind of person who reads the obituaries in the local newspaper. I don’t believe I have an unhealthy curiosity about death. I just think it registers and I pay attention to it. It could be that being a PK provided me with elevated exposure to the reality of death. And I lived for 12 years about 50 feet from a cemetery, next to the country church in Iowa that my father served from 1972-1984. It didn’t much bother me, except of course on those nights following a burial. (For the record, nothing ever happened.) Regardless of the exact etiology of it, I’m an obituary reader.

Obituaries often hide the cause of death, leaving readers to speculate (sometimes wildly) about the nature of the death and life of the deceased. And, to be honest, whether their own choices played a role in bringing about their death. As I get older, this part interests me more than it used to. Most of the time, we’ll never know. We say they “passed away,” as if death is typically painless and gentle. Hardly—having witnessed it twice. (Even my mother-in-law, God bless her, was telling a slightly different story about it within hours of my father-in-law’s death.) Now many people just say “passed,” as if they’re not even “away” at all. In the local newspaper yesterday, there were at least three references to passing away “peacefully” or “quietly.” While preferable no doubt for the dying and grieving, I’m not sure this is information for the public. Nor have I ever read of someone dying “painfully” or with considerable aggravation, even though it’s a safe bet that those occur with a great deal of regularity. Speaking of peaceful, suicides are sometimes subtly indicated by phrases like, “John is finally at peace.” (Is he? How would we know?)

So obituaries tend to lie, or at least harness the truth and run off with it. Sometimes they report that the deceased “never met a person he didn’t like.” (Obviously he didn’t get out much.) I recall a student here who died a few years ago in a car wreck; while his obituary spoke of [Read more...]

The distribution of mega-churches in the US (map)

Here’s an interesting map of where mega-churches are located in the U.S. There are 1,300 churches with at least 2,000 in weekly attendance.

Compare this map with a US population map

I was struck by how similar the maps look. I would have expected more regional differences.

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...]


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