February 10, 2010
To Sociologists: Duh!
It's tempting to roll our collective eyes when someone recognizes the obvious. Now we learn that sociologists have got religion. They have made the absolutely amazing discovery that religion is actually important.
In December the American Historical Association released results of a survey among its members indicating that religion is the most popular theme studied by historians. Now my colleague Al Hsu has alerted me that Inside Higher Ed has reported on a new study that the once embargoed topic of religion among sociologists is gaining steam. They have recognized religion as a topic worthy of independent study, not something that is ultimately under the sway of other forces.
Of course, one might argue that the reasons sociologists ignored or demoted religion in the past were (wait for it) sociological. If religion wasn't part of the personal lives of sociologists, of course they would be less likely to see it as important in their discipline.
That's been the case with news media for decades. Many reporters had little or no personal history with religion and so could only interpret action by religious groups through the only grids they knew anything about--politics or money. The motivation couldn't actually be religious in and of itself. Reporters and news executives should have been talking to their mailroom staff or janitorial personnel. Now they would know about religion, being much more likely to go to church, synagogue or mosque. That's why Get Religion has been so helpful all these years.
It's easy to deride the obvious blind spots of the media and the academic establishment. They are, ironically, so parochial and insular. They just don't get out of their own closed circles very much to see what the world is really like.
Unfortunately, the same can be said about us. Well, OK, it can be said about me. I tend to hang with people who are like me, who think like me, value the things I value, who have a background like mine. I occasionally read something by someone I really disagree with, and that's good. But it's just not the same as encountering real live people who are very different.
So what are my blind spots? What's completely obvious that I just don't get? Other people, different people can help.