Archives For Sociology

 

“The Right Book for the Right Time
in the Right Spirit

A Review of
The Bible Made Impossible:
Why Biblicism is not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

by Christian Smith.

Reviewed by Michael J. Bowling.


The Bible Made Impossible - Christian SmithThe Bible Made Impossible:
Why Biblicism is not a Truly
Evangelical Reading of Scripture

by Christian Smith.
Hardback: Brazos Press, 2011.
Buy now:
[ ChristianBook.com ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

When the churches of Asia were struggling under the weight of first century Roman imperialism, God gave to them letters and a Letter (Revelation) to encourage continued faithfulness and to give particular direction for that faithfulness. At the end of each letter (found in Revelation 2 and 3), one finds the familiar words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Whether in perceived crisis or not, churches need to listen for the voice of the Spirit. Appropriately, churches today listen for the voice of the Spirit in the words of the Bible. However, what is being heard and that which is being lived out together by church members is stunningly diverse and visibly contradictory. When these differences among various congregational expressions of the one Church of Christ are probed, one finds many sincerely held convictions which are defended tenaciously as precepts which are rooted deep within the Bible.

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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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A Brief Review of

Why Africa Matters.
Cedric Mayson.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

I have always been intrigued with the continent of Africa.  From the silly and false stereotyping days of Johnny Weissmuller and Tarzan (for those under 30 you’re probably asking “Who?”), to the days of “Amistad” and “Roots”, to the amazing Wildlife Parks and reserves, to the more recent developments in Rwanda and Sudan, there’s been much about Africa to think about.   Africa’s incredible and breathtaking beauty, its fascinating mix of peoples and cultures, its sometimes violent and almost unbelievable history are all powerful draws to the mind, heart and imagination.  Certainly there is much we can learn from all human history in all places  –  but I do think that maybe author is correct in thinking that in some ways there might be some particular things that can be seen and learned from the story of Africa, its history, its people, its ancient beginnings.

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An excerpt from one of the books to be featured in our
first print edition…  (Have you subscribed? )

America’s Four Gods:
What We Say about God–and What That Says about Us.

Paul Froese and Christopher Bader.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


 

“Shaping and Being Shaped

A Review of
The Shallows:
What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

By Nicholas Carr
.

Reviewed by Jonathan Schindler.

The Shallows:
What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

By Nicholas Carr
.
Hardback: W.W. Norton, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE SHALLOWS - Nicholas CarrIn The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr fittingly quotes John Culkin: “We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us” (210). Culkin’s observation and Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” provide the thesis for The Shallows: The Internet is changing us for the worse.

Carr’s argument begins with anecdotal evidence. After frequent Internet use, he suspected that his mind was changing. He could no longer read lengthy articles and books with the same attention he was once able to devote. Was the Internet really causing this?

Carr provides several neurological studies and historical examples to prove the first part of his thesis. The neurological studies were especially fascinating, illustrating “neuroplasticity,” our brain’s ability to adapt to new situations and stimuli. (For example, people who have lost use of one of their senses often have their other senses heightened. The brain rewires itself, forming new connections, so that what was formerly used for the now-dormant sense can be used to boost the other, still-operating senses.) Another aspect of neuroplasticity is that the more an action is performed, the more connections between neurons are formed, and the skill is solidified. Repeated actions form habits, basically. From these more modern studies, Carr moves on to historical examples (the map, clock, and book, as well as others) in which new technologies changed behavior and the way people thought. He paraphrases Marshall McLuhan in saying that “technologies numb the very faculties they amplify. . . . alienation is an inevitable by-product of the use of technology” (212). By becoming used to a tool that makes things easier, we risk losing the skills and relationship with the work that we had before the tool.

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A Brief Review of

Battling to the End:
Conversations with Benoît Chantre.

René Girard.
Paperback: Michigan State Univ. Press, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.

For several years now, I have been intrigued by René Girard’s mimetic theory and the way in which it portrays our human proclivities to violence.  Thus, I was excited to hear about his newest book Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre, which captures a conversation about a little-known military text of the nineteenth century, Carl von Clausevitz’s On War, and its relevance for understanding the world today.  Although this book does require that the reader have some background understanding of Girard’s mimetic theory, Battling to the End is, in its conversational format, perhaps the most readable of Girard’s books.  This new volume is also a divergence from Girard’s previous work in that it examines mimetic theory in the context of recent historical events, whereas Girard’s previous works have focused on developing mimesis within literary or biblical texts.  Girard’s keen exposition of recent history, makes this book essential reading for those of us who seek to understand the place of Christianity in a world of escalating violence.  Consider, for instance, the following passage:

In a French newspaper I said concerning September 11 that Muslims and Westerners were twins.  That was nothing new.  In fact, we can wonder to what extent the excesses of the Crusades in the thirteenth century were not mimetic responses to the Jihad, of which we are now suffering the consequences in Europe and the Middle East. … We need to undertake historical studies, both longitudinal and at different levels, of the conditions for the trend to the extremes.  This would show that it is against that baleful tendency that the institution of war (as we know it today) was gradually established in an attempt to control what was less and less controllable.  The rise in violence happens behind the actors’ backs (41 – parenthesis added for clarification).

Girard emphasizes throughout his work that Christianity is distinct among the faiths in the way that understands violence.  In our age of ever-escalating violence, the time has come for the Church to reflect on Girard’s work.  When read in conjunction with one of his earlier works in which he more clearly defines mimetic theory (e.g., Violence and the Sacred), Battling to the End would serve as an excellent guide to lead us into conversation about the meaning of our faith in a violent world.  Maybe, just maybe, Girard’s work will serve – to use the words with which he concludes this volume – to “wake up our sleeping consciences”!

 

“The Closeting of Religion?”

A Review of
Science vs. Religion:
What Scientists Really Think
.
By Elaine Ecklund.

Reviewed by David Anderson.

Science vs. Religion:
What Scientists Really Think
.
Elaine Ecklund.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Elaine Ecklund - SCIENCE VS. RELIGIONThe TV medical-crime series Bones is about a forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, who works at a Smithsonian-like institution and helps FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth solve gruesome murders. Brennan also writes best-selling crime novels when she’s not confusing Booth with medical terminology. The series’ writers make Brennan and some members of her team into almost a parody of rational, just-the-facts-and-no-assumptions scientists, and Brennan’s own complete lack of social graces combined with high intelligence comes close to savantism. Booth, on the other hand, is a former Army Ranger sniper, has a son he adores, wears funky ties and socks, and is a believing Catholic. And herein lies the seed for many of the conflicts of this pretty average guy with the rationalist scientist Brennan.

“Where’s a guy, a normal guy who believes in intuition and the soul and good and evil and God, Where’s a guy who doesn’t believe in all this arithmetic supposed to stand?” (Booth)

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“A Citizen In Search of a City

A Review of
Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.
By Leo Damrosch.

Reviewed by
Mark Eckel.

Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.
By Leo Damrosch.

Hardback: FSG, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Leo Damrosch - Tocqueville's Discovery of AmericaEveryone claims and quotes him, but not all understand him.  Tocqueville has been lauded in multiple circles, snippets of writing heralded as revelation for one cause or another.  Like other famed authors, name-dropping, quote-swapping present day promoters project their point of view through past figures, whose personal life is largely unknown.  Thankfully, the task of understanding the French sociologist is now benefited by Leo Damrosch’s brilliant study, Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.

His own country in an uproar for some two score years by his lifetime, Tocqueville sought another, more stable form of order.  Always on his mind was his homeland.  Comparisons to the French way of life were consistently being made.  Whereas in America “free association” (116) often took place without incident the French relied on soldiers to keep order.  So, a unified yet decentralized government mystified Tocqueville.  He constantly voiced a wish that the American mindset could eradicate French authoritarianism.  He ogled local governments where people ruled themselves.  Competition of ideas gained power without force.  The Federalist Papers showed “how abstract ideas could be given life in practical institutions” (191).  Voluntary associations were a result of positive individualism leading to small government and large community commitment.  An important theme Damrosch establishes is how much local American voices are transposed into Democracy.  The observations belong to Tocqueville but the origin of ideas often came from the mouths of Americans.

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A Brief Review of

Souls in Transition:
The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.
Christian Smith with Patricia Snell.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

Swiss authorities studied how religious traditions are passed from generation to generation.  The results published in 2000 were staggering.  When the father of the home attends weekly services, 4 out of 10 children will regularly follow his example as adults.  But when dad’s participation is taken out of the equation, only 2% are committed to church or synagogue later in life.  Adult relationships in the life of a young person’s religious commitment can be described in simple “make or break” terms.

Christian Smith’s latest research advanced in the book Souls in Transition, confirms both the Swiss findings and biblical foundations.  Perhaps the most important statement in the book appears not in the text but in a footnote.  “One of the most common, if not the most common, among the variety of answers that teenagers offered was that they wished they were closer to their parents” (344).  Over and over again qualitative and quantitative sociological analysis reached the same conclusions: “Parents matter a great deal . . . in shaping religion during the emerging adult years” (246).  Of course, Solomon was ahead of the curve.  Timeless truths are drilled deep into ancient Scriptural practices.  The fear of Yahweh provides a family refuge when the righteous man sets the standard for his children (Proverbs 14:26; 20:7).

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