Study: Atheists distrusted as much as rapists. QRS #2

Here’s a provocative study, conducted by psychologists, that concludes that Americans distrust atheists as much (and actually more) than they do rapists.

I include it in my “questionable religious statistic” category because, well, it’s a real stinker.

It doesn’t work at many levels, including committing a base-rate fallacy.

If your car gets dinged by somebody, it’s much more likely to be by a Christian than an atheist, because there are a lot more Christians in the country than atheists (about 2/3rds of Americans are Christians, about 4% atheists). This is true even if Christians are much less likely to ding your car (which I don’t know to be the case).  But, if it’s between atheists and rapists, we can expect it to be an atheist, again, there are more of them. Several million atheists, but far fewer rapists (thankfully).

It’s a little embarrassing for us in the social sciences that this study got published.

“A new study finds that atheists are among society’s most distrusted group, comparable even to rapists in certain circumstances.

Psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon say that [Read more...]

Those Protestant Muslims Next Door

In a previous post I talked some about the non-Christian religious diversity among Asian Americans, and I mentioned some of the research that shows that since 9/11 most white Christian Americans still know little of their non-Christian friends be they Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim. Intrepid media makers have tried to address this problem by showcasing life in one of the densely-populated Muslim American areas in the country: Dearborn, MI. The first one (which has been very helpful in the classroom) is the 30 Days experiment by Morgan Spurlock.

David Stacy in 30 Days as a Muslim

For those unfamiliar with this series, director Morgan Spurlock asked his friend David, a white evangelical Christian from West Virginia, to try to spend 30 days as a Muslim in Dearborn. His task is to 1) act according to Muslim traditions including appearance and diet, 2) study the Qur’an daily, and 3) grow a beard. [Read more...]

Why I Love Teaching Sociology of Religion

Today after my students in Sociology of Religion took their final exam, I headed to Starbucks to read their evaluations. Just in case I needed a stiff one to get me through their comments, I ordered a dark roast. And then the fun started.

Now in my 5th year teaching this class, many of the earlier critiques were gone and all that was left were compliments. I smiled and laughed a few times as I turned over page after page of 40 very nice evaluations–the adjectives used to describe me included “amazing”, “very energetic” and “knowledgeable.”

What was different this time around? I think I found the right balance of texts and assignments. Unlike other sociology classes I teach at UNC, students who come to this class are not (for the most part) sociology majors. Many are religious studies majors, some are in biology, and many in English. All come because they are curious about religion, but not necessarily sociology of religion.

So I start them off with difficult readings from Daniel Pals’ Eight Theories of Religion on Weber and Marx, along with Karen Fields’ introduction to Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. I mix more contemporary readings for those weeks to show why those theories are still relevant. Then I have them go out and observe a religious service and apply one of those theories to what they observed.

Undergraduates are very skilled observers of the social world, and I always look forward to reading their observations about [Read more...]

Religiosity worldwide (map)

People often talk about how religious a country the United States is, and compared to many European countries this is the case.  The map below, based on Gallup data collected from 2006-2008, however, shows that there’s considerable variation in religiosity worldwide.  There are interesting patterns by wealth, type of religion, and continent.


Silence: Golden or Deafening?

My wife spent this past weekend on a silent retreat—her first. Despite what it sounds like, such retreats are not entirely silent, of course. There is spiritual direction, a variety of instruction, a book-on-CD playing during meals, and daily Mass. But you’re not expected to talk, to spend time networking, making or renewing friendships, or trying to seem interesting. It’s like the opposite of going to the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (and probably no shortage of Christian conferences, either). As a result, it can be quite disorienting at first. It’s as if you’re in a foreign place, because—in a very real way—you are. I went on one last June, with some hesitation and second thoughts, only to find it the finest few days I’d spent in a very long time.

Why is that? What is it about silence that intellectually attracts us, but in reality repulses us?

The 17th-century French mathematician, philosopher, and well-rounded intellectual Blaise Pascal—I think—observed that our miseries come from our inability to sit quietly alone in a room (I’ve misplaced my copy of the Pensées, so I can’t confirm this.) While that may be a stretch, Pascal was certainly onto something. The impulse to mitigate silence is not new. There are very few of us in this wired Western world who can truly relish unmolested quietness for more than, say, a few minutes. I work in a relatively-quiet office for hours a day, but it’s not the same. I’m working, plugged in, online, and available (but selectively responsive). Even when I’m alone at home, my tendency is to pull up a favorite Pandora station.

So while we are prone to fantasize about stealing a half-hour to just sit, or meditate, or pray—and complain about our inability to find or be afforded those minutes by a spouse or away from children—I suspect it’s often a fantasy, or a false front. We say that silence is golden, but live as if it’s deafening [Read more...]