Archives For Society

 

Our Many Misunderstandings
of the World Around Us

A Review of

Scienceblind:
Why Our Intuitive Theories About the World Are So Often Wrong
Andrew Shtulman

Hardback: Basic Books, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [  Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Alisa Williams

 

In an age where scientific information is readily at our fingertips, why do so many people resist or flat-out deny scientific explanations for everything from pasteurization and immunization to geology and genetics? This is the question Andrew Shtulman, a cognitive and developmental psychologist, seeks to answer in his book Scienceblind.

The quick answer is intuitive theories, our “untutored explanations for how the world works,” get in the way of reality (4). These intuitive theories are pervasive and indiscriminate – even scientists with years of study subconsciously resort to false intuitive theories when tested. This alone seems cause for alarm, but Shtulman offers hope. If we can understand why our minds insist on carving “up the world into entities and processes that do not actually exist” then we can also course correct our minds by dismantling those pesky intuitive theories so we can “rebuild them from their foundations” (5).

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Seven Societal Lessons
We Need to Learn

A Review of 

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
Heather Ann Thompson

Hardback: Pantheon, 2016
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by John Hawthorne
 

This review originally appeared on
the reviewer’s blog
and is reprinted here with permission.

 

I tell my students that there were five radicalizing events that led to me being a sociologist, although I didn’t know it at the time. It started with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. I was old enough to have been following the civil rights movement and understood how the killing was a reaction to a quest for justice. That was followed just two months later by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Because I was Kennedy campaign chairman in my eighth grade history class, I’d gotten my Very-Republican grandmother to drive me to Kennedy headquarters to pick up campaign paraphernalia. And now he was dead. In May of 1970, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War Protest. That introduced me to the idea that government officials might act badly. Between 1972 and 1974, I watched in fascination as the President of the United States had his illegality exposed and resigned the presidency in disgrace.

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If Neighborhoods Are Destabilized

 
A Feature Review of 

Evicted:
Poverty and Profit
in the American City

Matthew Desmond

Hardback: Crown Books, 2016
Buy:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Kristin Williams
 
 
When the housing market was as close to the bottom as it would get, my husband was offered a perfect job in another state.  Our only hesitation came when we looked around the small town we would be leaving and saw many homes for sale or standing empty and very little movement in the market.  Thinking we could wait until the market rebounded, we decided try renting our house for a while.  Today, nearly 8 years later, we are still renting our house out and still learning exactly what that means.

It was from the perspective of a landlord that I picked up Matthew Desmond’s devastating new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.  Desmond, a Harvard sociologist and recipient of a MacArthur Grant, combines personal insight gained during years living in inner city Milwaukee and data collected as part of his Milwaukee Area Renters Study to create an eye opening portrait of poverty and racial inequality.  These problems are not unique to Milwaukee, they can be found in every large American city.

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The most important new book release this week is likely…
 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond
Hardback: Crown Books, 2016
Buy:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 
 
Here are two brief videos that introduce the book…
 

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts - Susan CainAgainst the Extravert Ideal

A Review of

Quiet: The Power of Introverts
in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain.

Hardback: Crown, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Jessica A. Kent

Chances are, you’re probably familiar with the terms “introvert” and “extrovert.”  Our tendency is to think of  shyness and withdrawal when we think of an introvert, and a kind of robust people-person quality when we think of an extrovert.   If you’ve taken any kind of personality test you’ll find yourself placed upon the introvert/extrovert spectrum somewhere.  Or maybe you’ve heard that we each get “recharged” in our own way, some alone and some with others.  In Susan Cain’s new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she goes about clarifying what we know about the introvert and extrovert personalities, adding cultural substance to the psychological definitions against which we frame ourselves.

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The End of Sacrifice - John Howard YoderA Brief Review of

The End of Sacrifice:

The Capital Punishment Writings of John Howard Yoder.

John C. Nugent, Editor.

Paperback: Herald Press, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith

John Howard Yoder’s work is well known for its emphasis on non-violence, and yet until recently little was known about his writings on the important issue of capital punishment. He had written a number of pieces on the topic, but they were scattered in Mennonite publications with limited distribution, in a section of an evangelical book on the issue and in unpublished papers.  Thankfully, Yoder scholar John Nugent – the author of The Politics of Yahweh, one of our 2011 Englewood Honor books – has collected these writings in one new book entitled, The End of Sacrifice.  The book’s title is drawn from Yoder himself, as Nugent notes in the introduction:  “It is the clear testimony of the New Testament, especially of the epistle to the Hebrews, that the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant find their end – both in the sense of fulfillment and in the sense of termination – in the high-priestly sacrifice of Christ.”

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“Religious Violence
and Social Order”

A Review of
Princeton Readings in
Religion and Violence

by Mark Juergensmeyer
and Margo Kitts
Paperback: Princeton UP, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Adam Ericksen.

In their introduction to Princeton Readings in Religion and Violence, Mark Juergensmyer and Margo Kitts claim that “Violence in the name of religion, plentiful in our time, is an enduring feature of religion.” The fact that religion and violence mingle in a sacred nightmare plagues our modern mind. We are left asking: what is the relationship between religion and violence?

That’s the critical question this book brilliantly explores. The question has perplexed modern anthropologists and philosophers for the last 200 years. The answer has proved elusive as theory after theory has been promoted. Scholars continue to debate and explore that question. This relatively short (222 pages) book is a great introduction to anyone who is interested in the debate and exploration.

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“In Search of a Third Way

A review of
An Evangelical Social Gospel?:
Finding God’s Story in the Midst of Extremes
.
by Tim Suttle.

Review by Tim Høiland.

An Evangelical Social Gospel?:
Finding God’s Story in the Midst of Extremes
.
Tim Suttle.
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Papaerback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

Over the course of the past decade, as a member of a fairly large, conservative evangelical church in a part of the country fairly saturated with other conservative evangelical churches, I have become increasingly interested in and committed to the sort of faith the prophet Micah describes: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

If we’re honest, though, that’s not what evangelicals have been particularly known for. Rather, we have often been caricatured — with varying degrees of accuracy, to be sure — as just the opposite: unkind, unconcerned, and yes, just a wee bit holier-than-thou. Why is this the case?

One way to answer the question would be to say that we are sinners, just like everybody else, and God knows that justice, kindness and humility don’t come easily for any of us. Another approach would require looking back at the past hundred years, back to a seismic split in North American Christianity, between theological conservatism on the one hand and theological liberalism on the other. Broadly speaking, the conservatives emphasized the need for personal faith in Jesus Christ, to the exclusion of what were considered “worldly” concerns. The liberals, meanwhile, guided by the so-called “Social Gospel” movement, taught that Christ’s mission and ours was to transform society, not individuals.

Like many people my age in recent years, I’ve been grappling with this split, in search of a better way, one that embraces the best of both without falling prey to the traps of either. For these reasons I was fascinated when I heard about Tim Suttle’s new book, An Evangelical Social Gospel?: Finding God’s Story in the Midst of Extremes (Cascade, 2011).

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“Economics as a Truly Social Science”

A review of

The Economics of Enough:
How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters
.
By Diane Coyle

Review by Matthew Kaul.


ECONOMICS OF ENOUGH - CoyleThe Economics of Enough:
How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters
.
Diane Coyle
Hardback: Princeton UP, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

At few points in American history has the intersection of politics and economics featured so centrally in the news, in our discussions, in the ways we live our lives day to day. Internationally, we watch as the Greek debt crisis spirals down and down, drawing Portugal, Spain, Italy along with it, and threatening the very existence of the European Union. Domestically, we listen to pundits repeat platitudes and slogans ad naseum as the divided federal government carries itself ever closer to default while the unemployment rate, when it’s not stagnating, continues to rise. Locally, we’ve been reminded of the possibility of protest and civil disobedience as political acts (a possibility much more easily forgotten in American than in most of the rest of the world), as protests engulfed a capital (Indianapolis) that some state legislators had fled. In all these events, in the continual lingering of a crisis that doesn’t seem to quit, we see just how deeply the economy is politicized, and likewise we come to recognize the economic costs of poor political decision-making.

If you’re like me, you frequently throw up your hands in despair over the mess in which we find ourselves—a global mess provoked in the first place by the egregious greed and recklessness of a few. Add to that concerns over global warming and our abuse of the environment, a population in the West that’s aging and hasn’t properly planned for the financial costs of that aging (even as the developing world’s population explodes at an equally unsustainable rate), wars that seem never to end, etc.  The sheer scope of and complex connections between these problems begs for some assuring voice of reason to simply explain to us what is going on. How can we hope to understand something as complex as contemporary political economy? If we can, how should we do so?

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“Breaking  Down the Dividing Walls of Hostility

A review of
American Grace:
How Religion Divides and Unites Us
by Robert Putnam and David Campbell
.

Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

American Grace:
How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Robert Putnam and David Campbell.
Hardback: Simon & Schuster, 2010

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

AMERICAN GRACE - Putnam / CampbellStudents from junior high through high school to undergrad to graduate programs have heard me incessantly intone this mantra: we must know both what and why we believe.  The person who parrots a point of view without reason is simply doctrinaire.  The person who can explain their belief, on the other hand, better understands their doctrine.  Everyone holds to certain dogma, guiding principles, or an accepted canon of thought.  If one gains no other information from American Grace, it might be this: one’s conduct reflects one’s commitment.

Putnam and Campbell have added their exceptional research skills to divine how faith functions in American life.  Statistical research, based on huge amounts of data, demonstrate their expertise.  Blended research methods tighten threads of interpretive fabric.  Academics needing to validate findings can easily follow the flow of approach and argument.  Internal corrections and limitations are in evidence throughout the book.  Chapters covering broad historical changes set the stage for understanding the present.  Crosscurrents of thought are overlaid on multiple categories within a number of religious affiliations forecasting future developments.  Conclusions are, for the most part, carefully drawn.  The reader is consistently given caveats within which to read the sum of data found at each chapter’s end.  Interpretation of data show general American trends.  But in the end, the average, interested religious person in America would not be at all surprised by any of the broad findings.

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