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...]

An interview with Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling has a blog worth reading on Patheos, and he’s interviewed many thoughtful, interesting people.  He’s also interviewed me… and you can read it here.

Thank you, Daniel!

Why It’s Difficult to Derive Political Affiliation from the Bible or Why I’m a “Political Agnostic”

With presidential elections coming up, we’ll hear a lot more about every aspect of politics, including its link to religion—especially Christianity.  I would like to step back and ask a very simple question: Is it possible to derive a distinct political position or affiliation from the tenets of the Bible?  My answer is “probably not.”

Trying to fit Christian beliefs into a specific political stance seems to be putting a square peg into a round hole—it just doesn’t fit.  There are two major problems in trying to translate Christian faith into politics.

The first problem is which aspect of the faith do you want to emphasize? [Read more...]

The Media and Research on Religion

Well, it looks like there is a ranking for everything. A USA today report recently ranked colleges for how well they use social media.

The report is informative, yet focused mostly on social media as outreach, rather than social media as a research tool. In the several years I  have taught undergraduate sociology of religion, I have realized that students get most of their information–including information about religion–from the internet. Although it is my job as a scholar to lead them to scholarly books and articles on religion, how can I as a scholar learn to embrace social media as a research tool for my students?  How can I teach my students about the strengths and weaknesses of using the media–including social media–as a research tool?

This year, for the first time ever, I will allow students to include newspapers, magazines, and online media in their research papers. To do so, however, they must follow several strict guidelines. First, they must only use [Read more...]