Thoughts on the Sociology of Religion

I have a student taking a sociology of religion course right now, and she asked me for some advice on how to integrate what she’s learning in class with her faith.

I thought this might be of interest to more students than just her, so here’s what I had to say (slightly modified from the email):

We need to meet face-to-face to talk this through, but I have some initial thoughts for you:

1) Many times we confuse description with explanation. To explain how something works is not to explain why it is. Clearly everything must work some way, and so interesting descriptions of everything ought to abound — I should be able to describe thinking, love, humor, and gravity. But that does not mean that I have understood the things I am describing interesting aspects of. For instance, I can describe the physics of golf in great detail, and then another scholar can come along and describe the rules of golf in great detail, and then a third scholar can come along and describe the history of golf in great detail. All of these descriptions may be accurate, but none of these descriptions will explain why I play golf. And none will capture what it feels like to play golf. And likely none of them, if written for a scholarly audience, will be of the slightest use to golfers desiring to hone their craft. Remember that there is a sociology of marriage, but should you become married one day you will discover that there is a level of reality that the sociological descriptions never adequately communicated.

2) If you assume there is no God at the beginning of your analysis then your analysis will not persuade me that there is no God, for how could it conclude anything else? It reminds me of a story Francis Collins told us last year: “A marine biologist casts a net into the lowest part of the ocean, brings up the catch, and analyzes it. He makes an amazing discovery: there is no creature at the bottom of the sea less than two inches in diameter! The problem, of course, is that his net has two inch holes. It is incapable of discovering anything smaller than its mesh.” In the same way, a methodology that rules out the supernatural from the beginning will never discover evidence of the supernatural. This should not be surprising at all.

3) There are some faith-friendly sociologists out there. Three worth
investigating are Rodney Stark free fear house

sea of love dvd , Bradley Wright, and Christian Smith. Read some of their writings, particularly Stark’s. You can find him in the library. Maybe even email one of them and explain that you’re an undergrad and you have some questions about how to relate sociology to your faith (do not be offended if they do not reply — they are busy people). Also, check out some of the books at

Hope that’s useful to some of you. Much of it applies to the social sciences in general. lamictal orange starter watch barbie mermaidia online making waves divx movie online

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