Am I being short changed while they try to convert me?
September 21, 2006 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Who are the key players in the current study of the Sociology of Religion

I am currently taking a sociology of religion course. My teacher has been using the sociologist Christian Smith heavily in class. He was her graduate adviser at UNC. Some off the cuff research has suggested that he is a sort of pseudo mouth piece for the promotion of evangelism.

Here is a link to his cv.

While having attended some impressive institutions later in life he started off life at Gordon College, which is a Christian institution.

Here is an interview with him where he talks about among other things why he felt the need to include a chapter on how his studies could be used by churches and youth ministers.

The book in question, that I had to purchase by him was underwritten by the Lilly Endowment's Religious Section.

Anyway, I don't attend a Christian school. I go to Clemson, which while in the south at least purports to be a modern university. Is Christian Smith really the mouth piece of the modern sociological study of religion, or are there other people I should be reading?

Wikipedia is inconclusive as the last person referenced Stark is someone whom we have studied, however Smith attacks his view point. I have been unable to find scholarly references to Smith that do not involve Christian affiliations.
posted by sourbrew to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry I was wrong he actually started out at Wheaton College, which is equally frightening.
posted by sourbrew at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had Christian Smith for SOCI 10 (Intro to Sociology) at UNC-CH. He may be a pseudo-mouthpiece for evangelical Christianity in his private life (which is doubtful--in the interview you linked, he claimed to be Anglican and not heavily involved in Christian organization), but I don't think he converted any of my 400 classmates.

What I remember most was his emphasis on the hard math side of sociology and his even-handedness when the discussion moved to religion.

It sounds to me like your professor is teaching a course that is centered around the sociology of American religion (and of course that makes sense—most of the research on the topic was probably done in the US).
posted by infinitewindow at 12:33 PM on September 21, 2006

most of the research on the topic was probably done in the US

Martin Buber would care to differ.
Also: A Comparative Sociology of World Religions.

Your question sounds like a roundabout way of asking, "This guy Smith is a pretty hardcore evangelical Christian, huh?" Yes.
posted by mattbucher at 12:41 PM on September 21, 2006


I am pretty convinced he is yes. However, what I really wanted was a list of people that I can talk about that we SHOULD be reading. My problem with Smith is that he seems to be relatively unknown outside the world of religious "acedamia," and he is essentially the main topic of interest in my class.

I am probably going to complain to the dean, and was hoping to find a list of other writers and researchers that have a broader academic appeal. I guess the most frightening thing about it all is that it is written as if there is no bias. The bias is instead hidden in adjectives describing different faiths, and in theories that promote certain methods of evangelism.

infinitewindow, that is good to hear. Although I would point out that anglican does not exclude evangelism. In fact in Smiths own writings he congratulates evangelism for incorporating many disjoint christian traditions under one mast head.
posted by sourbrew at 12:52 PM on September 21, 2006


also I wouldn't look down my nose at any critical articles saying that about Smith. ;-)
posted by sourbrew at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2006

Sourbrew, before you raise a stink about it, take a look at your motives.

Further research (like asking about other sources here) is good, if the purpose of your asking is to deepen your understanding of the topic you're studying. If you're just trying to get your professor in trouble, there are more productive things you can do.

For example, have you asked your library to get a copy of Sociology of Religion (a Quarterly Review)? What about other academic journals? Have you looked at reading lists or curricula for other SoR courses?

If you feel like there are other voices or viewpoints that should be represented in your class, bring it up with your teacher, in a one-on-one meeting, and suggest (politely) that the curriculum be expanded. That's the type of feedback that professors really want to hear. At least, they want to know that you're engaging with the material and are looking for a deeper dialogue.

If you feel like your professor is proseletyzing you or your classmates, take it up with the Ombudsman.

Thinking critically is very different from being unnecessarily critical. Don't be problematic.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:35 PM on September 21, 2006

Alt F4,

I by all means would like to make sure that I understand the field before I make any accusations. I have asked the teacher to expand the content of the class, but she is not interested in it. Attempts to expand the argument in class have devolved into her using various fallacious argument tactics.

Mostly I feel that I am not being given an accurate portrayal of the field. That journal should be an excellent place to start and I will see about whether or not it's available. Mostly though I admit that I am ignorant, and would like to educate myself before I determine if and to what extent I should be upset.
posted by sourbrew at 1:38 PM on September 21, 2006

as part of your quest to get a more accurate (and less partisan) portrayal of the field, try browsing The American Sociological Association Section on Sociology of Religion, perhaps including some of their newsletter archive. Also, look at some of the Religion and the Social Sciences Syllabi that are listed on the Wabash Center's guide to internet resources for theology and religion, and at some of the other resources listed on their Religion and the Social Sciences page.
posted by davemack at 3:14 PM on September 21, 2006

I think that Seven Theories of Religion by Daniel L. Pals might be a good place to start. I have the book and it's good. It gets cited a lot.
posted by bim at 5:43 PM on September 21, 2006

Maybe I'm missing the point--but Sam Harris is all about the (negative) sociological effects of religion on our culture and global civilization, so I'd say that counts.

He further postulates that it is a deprecated facet of humanity and...well. I'd read the book.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 9:25 PM on September 21, 2006

A basic reading-list on the sociology of religion would include some or all of the following:

John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory (2nd ed. 2005).
David Martin, Christian Language and its Mutations (1992); On Secularization (2005).
Steve Bruce, Choice in Religion (1999); Religion in the Modern World (1996).
Grace Davie, Religion in Modern Europe (2000).
Richard K. Fenn, The Death of Herod: An Essay in the Sociology of Religion (1992); (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Sociology of Religion (2003).
Martin Stringer, A Sociological History of Christian Worship (2005).

If your course reading-list doesn't include any of these books, then I'd say there was some cause for concern.

Christian Smith is a reputable scholar, not just a mouthpiece for evangelical Christianity. However, from what I know of his work, it seems to belong to the 'market research' end of sociology -- i.e. he interviews leading evangelicals, surveys their opinions, assembles the results, and draws conclusions about the present and future state of American evangelicalism. This can be a worthwhile exercise, if it's done well, but it's not exactly at the cutting-edge of the sociology of religion, and you should certainly be reading other books to get a range of different viewpoints. (Feel free to contact me if you want more advice -- e-mail in profile.)

Maybe I'm missing the point -- but Sam Harris

Yeah, if you're reading Sam Harris, I'd say you were definitely missing the point.
posted by verstegan at 2:14 AM on September 22, 2006

« Older Smartphones, Treos, and Cell Phone - Oh My!   |   Recovery from Septoplasty? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.