Did the Religious Right Lose 10 Million Christians?

In the 1990s, a seismic shift occurred in religious America. During that period, the percentage of Americans who did not affiliate with any religion more than doubled. In the 1980s, about 7% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated, and by 2000, this was up to 14% (and has since increased to about 17%). To be clear, many of these religiously unaffiliated still believe in God, but they don’t associate with any particular religion or denomination.

What happened, and why did it happen in the 1990s? Micheal Hout and Claude Fischer, sociologists at Berkeley, published a study that links part of this substantial drop of religious affiliation to politics. They examined what type of people left religion in the 1990s, and they found it closely tied to political beliefs. Unaffiliation among liberals increased 11 percentile points; among political moderates it increased 5-6 points; and among political conservatives it increased an insignificant 1.7 points.

So, why would liberal or moderate politics move people away from Christianity in the 1990s? Well, that was a time in which [Read more...]

Moving Forward the Science & Religion Debate

As a graduate student, I remember reading Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on Faith and Reason and reflecting on his claim that science, for all of its great advances, is insufficient by itself to answer questions about the meaning of life, questions better left to philosophy and theology. As he wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” Reading Cardinal John Henry Newman’s book The Idea of a University communicated the same message: the intellectual life, the life of a student, a scientist or a university professor, is a search for truth, and all sincere search for truth leads us to God.

If faith and reason are like two wings of a bird, and if the pursuit of scientific knowledge can help us in our search to know God, then why do we read so much about religion and science being in conflict? As I often tell my students, public debates about many topics related to religion are dominated by extremes. As Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund shows in her book Science Vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, two of the most outspoken intellectuals in the religion and science debate, Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, do not fully represent the views of either non-religious or religious scientists.

[Read more...]

5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds

I’m a sucker for maps, and this is one of my favorites.  It charts the rise and fall of world religions over the past 5,000 years.  It’s striking to me how relatively late it was that Christianity truly spread throughout the world.



Beauty and the Beast

This week I find myself thinking and writing once more about my late colleague Norval Glenn, a versatile and thorough scholar whose work will long outlive his physical presence. Norval held that the family was, and remains, a cornerstone of the social order and a central element in fostering the common good. Unlike many, he felt no particular compulsion to bow down to emerging sacred cows.

In preparing remarks for his memorial service several months ago, I stumbled across an article he wrote for SmartMarriages, an organization long popular among marital and family therapists. It was the kind of piece he wouldn’t get much credit for professionally, and yet it’s one of those contributions that tend to far outweigh a dry, academic journal article in its reach, impact, and importance. It was on “exogenous match quality,” or rather finding the right match in a potential spouse.

Ever the sociologist, Norval focused on the social stuff at stake when someone looks for a mate: the shifting market dynamics, the optimal settings for circulation of possible partners (in other words, where you’re most likely to meet the widest variety of people), and the risk of premature entanglements (that is, going too far too fast). One of his conclusions made me smile: “The most stable and successful marriages are likely to be those in which the spouses are substantially more desirable to each other than they are to most other people.” That’s a nice way of saying that [Read more...]

Heard in the Hallways at SSSR

I just returned from the annual  meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, where among other things, I met with “collabloggers” Regnerus, Park and Wright. I wanted to share some quick highlights of the meetings, topics you I will likely elaborate on more on this blog.

No one in recent memory who sat next to me on a plane has ever known the sociology, theology or philosophy authors I tend to read in flight, but this time was an exception. Shortly after takeoff, I pulled out a book by Henri Nouwen, and I was quite surprised when the 40-something year old gentleman next to me said he had heard of Nouwen and the organization, L’Arche, that forms the setting and inspiration for much of his writing. Turns out that gentelman is  the pastor of an Evangelical church and a chaplain for a major-league baseball team. We chatted about what Nouwen’s insights into the human condition have to offer the rich and famous on the field and those struggling in today’s economy. I hope he reads our blog every once in a while, and I promise to write more about Nouwen sometime soon.

“Hey, I’ve seen your blog, nice job.” I heard that many times from people I didn’t know and people I do know; thanks for noticing, reading us, and introducing yourselves to us :) And don’t forget to “share” us online if you like us!

If you got to talk to me for more than 5 minutes, you probably heard me talk about [Read more...]