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…]

Bowling alone… by preference

One of my favorite jokes goes like this: Two economists are looking at a fancy car.  One economist says “I’ve always wanted to buy that kind of car.”  The other economist says “no you haven’t.”

The point being that if we don’t do something that we say we want to do, sometimes we really don’t want to do it.  (Not always, of course).

I’ve been thinking about the concept of Mark Regnerus’ blog post earlier this week that mentioned how community life used to be stronger (Gemeinschaft if your playing along at home).

Countless times I’ve heard people lament that community ties aren’t as strong as they used to be, and it’s probably true.  Why it that the case?

At the heart of it, I think that we don’t have as strong a community ties because we don’t need to.  Many of the ties that we look back on fondly were there out of necessity.  There was no internet, so if people needed to communicate, they would call or stop by.  People had less money, so they would borrow more.  Women had less access to jobs, so they had more time to volunteer.  Etc…

Since about the mid-1990s, [Read more…]

Religion and Depression: Too Soon to Conclude about Asian-Americans

I read with great interest my colleague Jerry Park’s recent blog about Asian-American religion and depression. I am familiar with the database used, Add Health, and with the broader literature on religion and depression. Given my knowledge, I would caution against drawing strong conclusions from this study Asian-Americans youth who are religious are more  depressed.

First, as Park mentions, Christian religions generally require regular participation but Buddhist, Confucian and other Asian religions do not. For this reason, most studies of religion and mental health only look at Christians, so unless the measures of what it means to be religious take account of great differences between Christians and non-Christians, it is best to drop the non-Christians in the study.

Second, in this same study, only attending religious services, but not religious importance, made Asians more depressed (once self-esteem is controlled for). The two variables should be tested in the same model, which I suspect would erase any effect of religious participation on increasing Asian-American depression.

Third, as the study authors mention, Add Health only [Read more…]

Two Trends Worth Watching in 2012

The modal image of Christianity in America is face-to-face meetings predominately attended by families. These meetings can be weekend services, prayer meetings or small groups, but they involve interacting with other people in person. Also, there are often a lot of families and married couples at these meetings; in fact, marriage and child-bearing are occasions that prompt many people to turn to faith.

With this in mind, two societal trends worth watching regard how we communicate and how we form relationships.

People, especially the young, increasing communicate via texting, tweeting, and other forms of technology, and this affects how we as a society do social interactions. For example, over the holidays a friend of mine, who’s an engineer, bemoaned that his younger coworkers will ask him questions via texting rather than walking over to his cubicle—even if they’re only several cubicles away. While time efficient, this approach works against the long, problem-solving conversations that are integral to his type of work.

As communication becomes less face-to-face, [Read more…]

This is not my father’s world

I’m not sure if it’s age or what, but I’ve been thinking more frequently about my father lately. He died on the morning of November 23, 1999 from metastasized melanoma, at the age of 56. I was 28. He was something of an old soul. He even looked older than his age. What I’ve been drawn toward lately is thinking about where he was and what he was doing and what he seemed like to me when he was my current age—41, as of two days ago. He was grayer at 41 than I am today. He weighed a bit more than I do, though not excessively. I suspect he carried more work-related stress than I do, largely because ministers live in fishbowls while tenured professors have some freedoms, independence, and security that Protestant ministers do not.

Perhaps our parents, when we recall the past—as we should—will always seem older to us than we feel about ourselves at the same age. It certainly makes me wonder how my own children perceive me. A month after his 41st birthday, my dad moved us to northern Michigan, where he became pastor of his third and final congregation. Most children aren’t itching to move, but I think it’s fair to say my brother and I were game for a new setting, and the forests of Missaukee County were a welcome change from the pastures of Grundy County, Iowa. (However, I’m not sure there’s a better place to grow up than rural Iowa.)

Pardon such sentimentalism. Such thoughts also turn me toward reflecting on how the world has changed in 12 short years. [Read more…]