The Superbowl as an American Holiday

By Jeremy Rhodes

The most American of holidays is upon us once again. No, I’m not confusing February with July or November (though I could go for a good Honey-Baked Ham right now). I’m talking, of course, about the Super Bowl. This weekend, millions of Americans will gather around their enormous televisions and equally-enormous bowls of queso to watch the New York football Giants take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI (the one time each year when I have to remember how to read Roman numerals). Storylines abound. Will Tom Brady win his 4th ring, extending the Patriots’ reputation as a true sports dynasty? Will little brother Eli eclipse the greatness of his big brother Payton? Will New England enact brutal revenge on the Giants for their bitter loss to them back in Super Bowl XLII? As a sports fan, I’m interested in all of these storylines.

As a sociologist, my thoughts are elsewhere. I’m currently teaching an undergraduate course in the sociology of sports for the first time. It’s been a fun course to teach. Few cultural institutions can shed as much light on American values as the institution of sport. [Read more…]

The Real Taboo: Forget Sex, Let’s Talk About Money (and How Much We’re not Giving)

As the 2012 campaigns are under way, we sociologists are paying close attention to the rhetoric and public responses to the rhetoric. Of particular note are the religious overtones in that rhetoric as the most likely Republican candidate (from what I can tell) is a religious minority (Mormon or Latter-Day Saints) and the Democratic candidate is still viewed as Muslim in some quarters (also a minority religious group). Recently Mitt Romney’s charitable donations were under question and as it turns out he gives a heckuva lotta dough to charity, somewhere on the order of $3 million LAST YEAR ALONE. As the New York Times article shows, that’s a whopping 13.8% of his income that went to charity. For his part, Barack Obama gave 14.2% of his income to charity, which amounts to about $245,000. Its a lot less than Romney’s donation but still, could you imagine letting go of that much money in your account?

This brings me to the bigger point. [Read more…]

A Humorous, Insightful Taxonomy of Sin

We’ve heard of the seven deadly sins, of course, but if we look at all possible pairs of them, we get 21 new possibilities for sin.  Jessica Hagy, at her site Indexed, has done just this, and it gives a new, and humorous, take on the nature of sin.  Enjoy!

Christian-Muslim Dialogue: My Conversation with Islamic Scholar Mohsen Kadivar

Mohsen_KadivarAlthough he is known by many as a political dissident, Islamic scholar Mohsen Kadivar emphasized to me over lunch recently, “I never wanted to get involved in politics. I just wanted to be a scholar of religion.” But when the intelligence service in his home country of Iran killed at least four dissidents accused with apostasy and claimed a fatwa of unknown religious authority to justify the killings, Kadivar objected. In articles he wrote and speeches he delivered at a mosque to several thousands of believers during the holy nights of Ramadan, Kadivar argued that according to the Qur’an and the authentic tradition of the prophet Muhammad “terror is forbidden in Islam.” Punishment, he argued, is only the job of the court, not anyone else. It is not lawful, he argued, to kill dissidents for religious crimes.

Because he was already a well-known scholar by that time, his statements were interpreted as a challenge to the regime’s authority. In punishment for what he wrote, the regime sent him to jail for eighteen months.

“I had lots of time to read while in jail,” he explained, “When I got I had all the notes I needed to write another book where I further argued why Islam should not be used to justify violence. I also argued that in contrast to traditional Islam, where there is no separation between religious law and the civil law, Islam need a reform that would separate religious law from civil law and separate crime and sin.”

I first heard of Mohsen Kadivar, now a visiting professor of religious studies at Duke University, on an NPR interview in early January 2012. Based on his name and biography, I realized [Read more…]

Can Christianity and Sociology Mix? Part 3.

By George Yancey
Part 3 in a series (Read part 1 and 2)

It may not be a surprise that a social scientist can allow his studies to inform his faith. Science is often seen as “truth” while faith is seen as “opinion.” But I do not agree with that viewpoint. I see both science and religion as different, but valid, ways of accumulating knowledge. So if my Christianity can be informed by my sociology then my sociology can be informed by my Christianity.

My sociology often provides me with an understanding of how society, and the individuals in it, works. But my Christianity is helpful about informing me on the nature of humans. It gives me a perspective that I would not necessarily see as a pure social scientist. In fact, I think a lot of social scientists have missed the boat as it comes to understanding the nature of humans. My faith tells me about human depravity. It talks about being born into sin and our innate selfish nature. In contrast to the notion of human depravity is the idea which I see among so many social scientists which is human perfectibility. Many of my colleagues believe that we are not innately depraved and that with enough education and training that we can develop a healthy morality. I guess it makes sense that they would have such a perspective since it allows scholars and educators to gain status as those who will play a key role in perfecting humans and society. But the evidence I see supports the idea that we are born with an innate selfish nature not easily changed through human efforts.

It is rather easy to show that we are born with a selfish or self-centerness in our nature. Ever watch a baby? A baby merely wants more and more. He or she has no concept of giving to others. A baby, as cute as he or she may be, is a great example of human depravity. [Read more…]