A justification as to why a leave is essential to complete the proposed project

I am completing an application for a university funded one-semester research leave at full pay to work on a book related to my ongoing research with Katie Day on church security (generously funded by the Louisville Institute).

As much as I enjoy teaching, I am grateful for the opportunity to take a leave from teaching periodically in order to focus my complete attention on research and writing. At the same time, our teaching responsibilities at Wake Forest are 9 courses every 4 semesters with no graduate student advising on top of that. Which leaves plenty of time for research and writing under normal circumstances.

Because of this reality, as I was working on my leave application this past Saturday, one of the pieces of information requested rubbed me the wrong way. Although I subsequently re-wrote my response to remove the snark, below is what I originally wrote.

(4) A justification as to why a leave is essential to complete the proposed project, included justification for the timing of the leave relative to the proposed project.

Of the 27 semesters I have completed at Wake Forest, I have had 2 semesters of research leave. During that time I have published two books, completed two revisions of my sociology of religion textbook, edited a major handbook in the sociology of religion, served 7 years as editor and associate editor of leading journals in my field, published 15 articles and book chapters, and written countless reviews and other occasional pieces.

Clearly, a leave is not “essential” to completing this project or any productive faculty members’ projects. I will complete the project with or without the support of a research leave. However, there is no question that without the gift of time and space a research leave provides it will take longer to complete, create more opportunity costs in terms of other work I can do as a teacher-scholar, and (perhaps most significantly) extract a greater toll on my personal health and relationships.

Handbook of Religion and Society

As my last big project in the sociology of religion I edited a Handbook of Religion and Society for the Dutch publishing giant Springer. The book was published in 2016, but I just received a book performance report from the publisher which prompted me to mention it today.

The handbook includes 26 chapters by a distinguished, diverse, and international collection of experts, plus one chapter (on “Sport”) and an “Introduction” by me.

The contributors really did a great job of surveying the work in their respective areas and suggesting avenues for future research. It’s a great starting point for anyone who wants to get up to speed quickly on the social scientific (especially sociological) study of religion.

But don’t just take my word for it. According to the review in CHOICE:

“Editor Yamane has assembled the contributions of 26 authors who assess the state of current theory and research and expand the scope of the analysis of religion and society to include discussions of racial, ethnic, gender, and class diversity in a global context. … An indispensable resource for undergraduates and advanced scholars who seek short, cogent essays that will introduce them to the subspecialties of the sociology of religion. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.” (J. H. Rubin, Choice, Vol. 54 (5), January, 2017)

Of course, the financial model for this kind of book is to make money primarily from libraries through purchases and subscriptions. But according to the book’s website, the individual chapters have been downloaded quite a bit also.

Now that the book has been out for a while, the option to purchase a paperback copy somewhat more affordably (relatively speaking) through Springer or Amazon or Barnes & Noble exists. Of course, $100 for a book is not cheap, but having seen the effort that went into producing the chapters and the quality of the results, I would say it is worth it for someone actively involved in the field.

Sociological Key Words: Guns, Gun Culture

The American Sociological Review was founded in 1936 as the official publication of the American Sociological Society. (The ASS was founded in 1906, and was apparently unaware of acronyms until 1959 when it changed its name to the American Sociological Association.)

The ASR remains the flagship journal of the ASA, and is one of the top 2 US journals in the field (the other being the American Journal of Sociology). It is a difficult journal to publish in because peer reviewers and editors set a very high bar for acceptable quality.

Recently I was asked to review an article submitted in my former area of expertise, the sociology of religion. I responded that I did not want to review the submission because I am not longer working principally in the sociology of religion, but I would be happy to review any submissions received on the topic of guns or gun culture.

An editorial assistant kindly responded to tell me that the key word “religion” was removed from my reviewer profile so I would no longer be sent manuscripts on that topic, but no key word existed in their database for “firearms,” “guns” or “gun culture” so they could not be added to my profile.

This is telling and reflective of the reality of what is published about guns and gun culture in sociology.  To find an article in the ASR about guns that isn’t primarily about gun violence or crime, you have to go back nearly 30 years to 1988 for an article by Douglas Smith and Craig Uchida called “The Social Organization of Self-Help: A Study of Defensive Weapon Ownership” or 1980 and 1981 for articles by Alan Lizotte and David Bordua on “Firearms Ownership for Sport and Protection.”

Without the modifier “violence,” guns are simply not a key word in sociology.

Religion and Guns Research Digested in Academic Minute

For those of you who would rather listen to me explain my recent article on religion and guns in America than read it, you can do so thanks to WAMC Public Radio’s Academic Minute program, which is also available on the Inside Higher Education website.

academic-minute

Or if you are a real glutton for statistical punishment, go ahead and read the full paper (yamane-2017-journal_for_the_scientific_study_of_religion).

Robert N. Bellah (1927-2013)

This is not an obituary or remembrance of Robert Bellah. I don’t have the emotional energy to spare for that, even though it has been over a year since he passed. There are many such tributes, though, some collected on the website maintained in his name.

This is simply the text of an entry I wrote on Bellah in 1997 for the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, which I recently found posted online at the website of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. It says alot about what an amazing thinker he was, and what an inheritance (and challenge) he left behind.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Andreas and Philip Guther. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Copyright (c) 2008 by Andreas and Philip Guther. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bellah, Robert N.

(1927-) Elliott Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has been on the faculty since 1967, chairing the Center for Japanese and Korean Studies from 1968 to 1974 and the Department of Sociology from 1979 to 1985.

One of the most distinguished sociologists of the post-World War II era, a “public intellectual” seeking to address a wide audience, Bellah is conversant with sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists as well as ethicists and philosophers, theologians, and the general public. (Significantly, although he is widely known, Bellah has not held a major office in any professional association.) At Harvard, where he earned a joint Ph.D. in sociology and Far Eastern languages in 1955, Bellah was a student of Talcott Parsons. Although Parsons’s influence on Bellah’s thinking is evident, during his career Bellah has worked within several theoretical traditions.

Although his later work increasingly manifests a Weberian ambivalence toward rationalization, his early work exemplifies the “modernization theory” of the 1950s and is clearly and self-consciously structural-functionalist. A Durkheimian concern for shared symbols and the obligations they articulate runs through many of his writings. Bellah’s more recent work also has been informed by the critical functionalism of Habermas, especially the idea that economic and political “systems”—wherein the primary media of communication are money and power, respectively— invade and “colonize” the “life-world”—in which the medium of communication is linguistic and ideally oriented toward mutual understanding.

Religious Evolution

Bellah’s dissertation, published as Tokugawa Religion: The Cultural Roots of Modern Japan (Free Press 1957, second edition 1985), provides a Weber-like analysis of Japanese development, explaining the role of premodern cultural values in modernization. Against a Parsonian theoretical background, Bellah identifies the indigenous equivalent of the Protestant ethic in the motivational ethic of inner-worldly asceticism fostered by certain religious movements in the Tokugawa period (1542-1868). This early work and Bellah’s later contributions to the study of religion can be characterized as variations on a theme most clearly articulated in his essay “Religious Evolution” (1964), which he developed in a course on social evolution cotaught with Parsons and S. N. Eisenstadt at Harvard.

Bellah begins by defining religion as “a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence.” He argues that beginning with the single cosmos of the undifferentiated primitive religious worldview in which life is a “one possibility thing,” evolution in the religious sphere is toward the increasing differentiation and complexity of symbol systems. His evolutionary religious taxonomy specifies five stages: primitive (e.g., Australian Aborigines), archaic (e.g., Native American), historic (e.g., ancient Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, early Palestinian Christianity), early modern (e.g., Protestant Christianity), and modern (religious individualism). In the modern stage of religious evolution, the hierarchic dualistic religious symbol system that emerged in the historic epoch is collapsed and the symbol system that results is “infinitely multiplex.” In this posttraditional situation, the individual confronts life as an “infinite possibility thing,” and is “capable, within limits, of continual self-transformation and capable, again within limits, of remaking the world, including the very symbolic forms with which he deals with it, even the forms that state the unalterable conditions of his own existence.”

This argument foresaw the reflexive individualism that characterizes both the intellectual culture of post-modernism and the “new religious consciousness” of the 1960s and 1970s. With Charles Glock, Bellah undertook a project in the early 1970s to investigate the latter, the results of which were published as The New Religious Consciousness (University of California Press 1976). In his concluding remarks, Bellah foreshadows the argument of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life —written with Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton (University of California Press 1985 [second edition 1995], hereafter Habits )—in arguing that the deepest cause of the 1960s counterculture was “the inability of utilitarian individualism to provide a meaningful pattern of personal and social existence.” The crisis of the 1960s therefore was “above all a religious crisis.” As a response to the sterility of the utilitarian worldview, the counterculture turned to the American tradition of expressive individualism in the form of a spirituality grounded in the primacy of individual experience and the belief in nonduality, exemplified by the appropriation of Zen Buddhist practices. Again foreshadowing the argument in Habits , Bellah highlights the danger that expressive individualism may come to articulate with utilitarian individualism, to which it was originally a response. When expressive individualist-inspired religious symbols and practices “become mere techniques for ‘self-realization,’ then once again we see utilitarian individualism reborn from its own ashes.”

Thus, by the 1970s, Bellah’s positive embrace of the “wide-open chaos of the post-Protestant, postmodern era” in Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World (Harper 1970) had grown more cautious as the full consequences of the “modern” religious epoch became more evident. By the 1980s, the relationship is clearly strained. Understanding that the treatment of religion in Habits is an elaboration of the fifth “modern” stage of religious evolution makes clear that the “infinite possibility thing” he lauds in “Religious Evolution” has become the hyperprivatized “Sheilaism” (“my own religion”) he laments in Habits . Particularly troubling about the personalized and privatized modern religion examined in Habits is that it is underwritten by what Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue (1981) calls an “emotivist” view of ethics that reduces the foundation of moral claims to the subjective feelings of individuals and renders the development of common moral understandings difficult if not impossible.

Civil Religion

Bellah’s strong position that “any coherent and viable society rests on a common set of moral understandings” is a Durkheimian thread that runs throughout his work and draws attention back to his work in the 1960s. While his guiding theoretical framework is encapsulated in the “Religious Evolution” paper, Bellah is best known for his landmark “Civil Religion in America” (1967), an essay that, according to Bellah, he has “never been allowed to forget” and that “in important respects changed” his life. Alongside church religion and distinct from it, Bellah argued, is an elaborate and well-organized civil religion . It is actually a religious “dimension” of society, characteristic of the American republic since its founding. It is not Judeo-Christianity but grows out of the American historical experience, which is heavily influenced by Protestantism. Civil religion is “an understanding of the American experience in the light of ultimate and universal reality” and can be found in presidential inaugural addresses from Washington to Kennedy, sacred texts (the Declaration of Independence) and places (Gettysburg), and community rituals (Memorial Day parades). It is especially evident in times of trial for the nation such as the Revolution and Civil War.

In Varieties of Civil Religion (coedited with Phillip Hammond, Harper 1980), Bellah ties this argument to the religious evolution framework, arguing that every society has a “religio-political” problem, and that in premodern phases the solution consists either in a fusion of the two realms (archaic) or in a differentiation but not separation (historic and early modern). Civil religion proper comes into existence only in modern society, where church and state are separated as well as differentiated. A civil religion that is differentiated from both church and state is possible only in a modern society.

Although Bellah concludes his 1967 essay by declaring American civil religion to be “still very much alive,” he also warns that the nation is facing a third time of trial centered on “the problem of responsible action in a revolutionary world.” Decrying U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Bellah claimed America to be “at the edge of a chasm the depth of which no man knows.” Just as his hope in “Religious Evolution” became more cautious in Habits , so too does his concern at the conclusion of “Civil Religion” turn somewhat despairing in his American Sociological Association Sorokin Award-winning book, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (Seabury 1975 [second edition, University of Chicago Press 1992]) in which he famously declares American civil religion to be “an empty and broken shell.” Written at the time of Watergate and the continuation of the Vietnam War, there was little to temper Bellah’s pessimism in the mid-1970s. By the 1980s, however, some hope began to emerge once again.

Although he never uses the term civil religion in Habits , the “biblical and republican traditions” championed in Habits are a new and more dynamic conceptual response to the same substantive issues. A public focus on commitment to the common good as opposed to the excesses of utilitarian and expressive individualism is possible, for Bellah, if the once-dominant cultural language of the biblical and republican traditions—relegated in contemporary America to the status of “second languages”—are reappropriated by citizens actively pursuing the good society in common. The obstacles to forging a national community based on common moral understandings are considerable—they are institutional as well as cultural, as Bellah states in The Good Society (Knopf 1991)—but as any Durkheimian would argue, surmounting them is essential.

Symbolic Realism

As should be evident, Bellah has always been a cultural sociologist, taking seriously the causal efficacy of values, the centrality of meaning, and the sui generis reality of symbols. His famous definition of religion in “Religious Evolution” is unmistakably cultural. This perspective on religion is also evident in his major methodological statement on behalf of a nonreductionist perspective in the social scientific study of religion, the perspective of “symbolic realism.”

In the essay “Between Religion and Social Science,” Bellah criticizes the “Enlightenment myth of secularization . . . the view that there is only a mechanical relation between science and religion, namely, the more of one the less of the other.” He argues that the theories of Marx, Freud, Durkheim, and Weber contribute to this myth because of their reductionist view of religion. Even when they correctly see the symbolic (nonrational, noncognitive) dimensions of human life and hence religion (Freud’s unconscious, Durkheim’s collective effervescence, and Weber’s charisma), they end up explaining religious symbols away as expressing some other more fundamental “reality.” Bellah, in contrast, advocates a position he calls symbolic realism in which religious symbols are seen to express a nonreducible reality, a reality sui generis. While not denying that rationalistic and reductionistic approaches have something to tell us about religion, he refuses to allow them to be the only voices.

Social Science as Moral Inquiry

That the social sciences regardless of their empirical focus must have a moral voice is a point Bellah has made in various essays, but nowhere more clearly than in the Appendix to Habits , “Social Science as Public Philosophy.” Against those who would place social science firmly on the former side of the allegedly unbridgeable divide between “is” and “ought,” Bellah argues for a reappropriation of the larger, synoptic view of a social science that is at once philosophical, historical, and sociological. Such an approach would embrace the ethical aims of social inquiry: holding a mirror up to society, being a form of social self-understanding, discerning the good society from actually existing societies, or, as any good Durkheimian would say, distilling the ideal from the real. A social science that ignores its ethical meaning not only fails to live up to its highest calling but also can more easily be put in service of manipulative ends by those with political and economic power. For Bellah, then, the social sciences must always be moral sciences.

In conclusion, it must be said that the meaning of Robert Bellah’s work cannot be fully understood without recognizing that he is a man of faith (see 1991). At Harvard, he came under the influence of the Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich during the period when Bellah was “reappropriating” his Presbyterian religious upbringing on his own terms. Indeed, there are as many references to Tillich in Beyond Belief as to Durkheim and Parsons. The question Tillich posed in The Theology of Culture (1959) is the one with which Bellah seems to be wrestling: “How can the radicalism of prophetic criticism which is implied in the principles of genuine Protestantism be united with the classical tradition of dogma, sacred law, sacraments, hierarchy, cult, as preserved in the Catholic churches?” As Bellah himself has said, “Discipleship and citizenship and the relation between them have been my enduring preoccupations.”

David Yamane

References

R. Bellah, “Religious Evolution,” American Sociological Review 29(1964):358-374

R. Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 96(1967):1-21

R. Bellah, “Between Religion and Social Science,” in Beyond Belief (New York: Harper, 1970): 237-259

R. Bellah, “Comment,” Sociological Analysis 50(1989):147

R. Bellah, “Finding the Church,” in How My Mind Has Changed , ed. J. Wall and D. Heim (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991): 113-122

A. MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981)

P. Tillich, The Theology of Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1959)

Religion on the PGA Tour

Although I am not a sociologist of sport, I have enjoyed those times when my work in the sociology of religion comes into dialogue with the world of sport.

Here is some material I am working up for the 6th edition of my sociology of religion textbook:

When Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open – one of professional golf’s four major championships – he joined an illustrious group of golfers who played collegiately at Wake Forest University. But unlike his fellow Wake Forest alumns and U.S. Open Champions, Arnold Palmer and Curtis Strange, Simpson (born in 1985) is a “digital native.” So it is not surprising that he maintains a regular presence on social media, including posting from his Twitter account @webbsimpson1.

What may be surprising to some is that Simpson (a religion major in college) is well-known for his Twitter posts of Bible verses, quotes from religious thinkers, and other faith-related content. A quick sampling of his Tweets reveals statements such as: “Where sin runs deep, Grace is more.” “#Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important” (C.S. Lewis). “Hebrews 4:14-16 is more than comforting to the Christian.”

In a November 2012 story in Golf Digest magazine, “The Soul of Pro Golf,” writer Max Adler observes that Simpson is not alone in making his Christian faith very public. Although the story begins with Simpson telling interviewer Bob Costas how much he prayed during the final holes of the 2012 U.S. Open, Adler goes on to discuss a dozen other professional golfers for whom faith is central to their identity.

As sociologist of religion Mark Chaves notes in the story, the visible religion in golf, as in American sport generally, is distinctively evangelical Protestant. Through their fellowship with one another and a strong theology rooted in “Muscular Christianity,” evangelical Protestant golfers maintain a strong plausibility structure which supports them in their public expression of their faith.

Thus, Christianity on the various professional golf tours is not free-floating. It is supported by formal sport-based ministries like FCA Golf – run by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (fcagolf.org) on the minor league Web.com Tour – the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour Christian Fellowship, and the PGA Tour Players’ Bible Study, led for over 30 years by “tour chaplain” Larry Moody. Attendance at Moody’s Wednesday night traveling fellowship can range from a dozen to over 100, depending on the size and location of the tournament, but the largest and most consistent attendance is at the Champions (Senior) Tour fellowship, which was led by Tom Randall of World Harvest Ministries from 2000-2013.

Perhaps because it comes from a particular religious point of view, the public sharing of that faith is not embraced by all. A Golf Digest survey asking people their “reaction when you hear a tour pro in an interview thanking God after winning a tournament” found:

  • 8% Completely fine with it. Tells me who this player really is.
  • 4% OK, but move on.
  • 1% It’s a little awkward.
  • 7% I’m offended by it. Doesn’t belong in a sports contest.

Although not a scientific survey, these results show the very different perspectives people have on the issue of religion in sports. [If anyone knows anything about this survey, please let me know. Max Adler won’t Tweet back at me!]

Golfers like Bubba Watson, who thanked his “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” after winning the prestigious Masters Tournament, are sometimes ridiculed for thinking that God has nothing better to do than to get involved in a mere sporting event. But the theology that animates many athletes, including professional golfers, is more subtle than that. “The Lord couldn’t care less whether I win or lose,” Adler quotes Watson as saying. “What matters to Him is how I play the game.”

SOURCE: Adler, Max. 2012. The soul of pro golf. Golf Digest (November), 102-108.

Lecture on How People Become Catholic at College of the Holy Cross

I was fortunate recently to be asked by my old friend Tom Landy to deliver one of the Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

My talk, “How Do People Become Catholic?” was based on my book, Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape.

I’m excited to note that the lecture was videotaped and is being made available by the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at Holy Cross.

 

Mencken and Froese on the Sources and Strength of America’s Gun Culture

As I noted in my last post, scholars associated with the 2014 Baylor Religion Survey held a session at the recent annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion unveiling their data. (Of course, this is more of a tease since the data will not be publicly available for a year or two.)

Although there were four presentations, the one by Paul Froese and Carson Mencken on gun culture garnered the most interest – including mine!

Professor F. Carson Mencken (left) courtesy of Baylor University Media Communications

Photo of Professor F. Carson Mencken (left) courtesy of Baylor University Media Communications

Photo of Paul Froese courtesy of Baylor University Media Communications

Photo of Paul Froese courtesy of Baylor University Media Communications

Froese and Mencken noted, rightfully so, that accessing the symbolic and affective nature of the gun itself for gun owners is something that is done well in qualitative studies (by Kohn, Taylor, Floyd, Burbick, and Carlson, as noted in my previous post), but not in studies based on nationally-representative samples.

The authors of the Baylor Religion Survey hoped to bridge this gap by posing the following question:

Q72. If you own a gun, please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: Owning a gun makes me feel: (a) Safe. (b) Responsible. (c) Confident. (d) Patriotic. (e) In control of my fate. (f) More valuable to my family. (g) More valuable to my community. (h) Respected.

Response categories for each subpart were: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree. The authors see the first four Likert items (“a” through “d”) as measuring a dimension of power and the second four (“e” through “h”) as measuring a dimension of morality. Taken together, responses to these questions constitute a Likert scale of intensity of attachment to guns. The authors reported a scale reliability statistic of alpha = 0.86, which is very good for social scientific scales.

Using multivariate statistical modeling, the authors attempted to identify the factors associated with higher levels of attachment to guns. Using a question on the survey about economic despair, Froese and Mencken find that higher levels of economic despair are related to higher levels of attachment to guns. This finding, however, holds only among white gun owners. They surmise that black gun owners may be more accustomed to economic deprivation given America’s history of racial inequality, and so they are less likely to exhibit the “substitution effect” of replacing economic empowerment with empowerment through guns.

This confirms in a nationally-representative sample of respondents what Jennifer Dawn Carlson found in her ethnographic study of gun carriers in Detroit, Michigan, to be published as Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline next spring by Oxford University Press.

Also for white gun owners, there is a strong positive effect on having a judgmental image of God on attachment to guns, though for both whites and blacks a higher level of importance attached to religion is associated with a lower level of attachment to guns. The relationship between church attendance and attachment to guns seems to be curvilinear, with individuals who are very low church attenders and very frequent church attenders having the least attachment to their guns.

By their own admission these findings are preliminary, but even this initial take on the data suggests much to look forward to from the analysis of the gun questions on the Baylor Religion Survey. I will continue to watch with envy and report with interest on the work of these scholars.

Faith and Firearms in the 2014 Baylor Religion Survey

Having begun my sojourn from the sociology of religion to the study of American gun culture a couple of years ago, I was excited to make a “homecoming” of sorts by attending the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Indianapolis this past weekend.

I was there to present my first paper on guns in America, an analysis of the relationship between faith and firearms ownership based on the General Social Survey (about which, more later).

I was excited to find another group of scholars – from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion – working on the issue as well. For the first time, the nationally representative Baylor Religion Survey (fielded previously in 2005, 2007, 2010) included questions about gun ownership and attitudes toward guns. (See end of post for methodological details.)

Baylor Religion Survey 2011

These questions go beyond what is typically found in national surveys like the General Social Survey, and in combination with extensive questions about religiosity, makes for a promising set of data.

Specifically, in the section on “Guns and Society,” five questions are posed (each with a number of sub-parts):

Q68. For each item, please tell us how much, if at all, each of the following contributes to gun violence in the country: (a) The availability of guns. (b) The absence of God from our public schools and places. (c) Irresponsible gun owners. (d) Media violence such as in movies and video games. (e) Inadequate treatment of mentally ill people. (f) Inadequate background checks on gun purchases. Response categories are: a great deal, not so much, not at all.

Comment: I always try to approach the issue of “gun violence” cautiously, because I am not yet convinced there is something distinct about “gun violence” that merits its designation as a single entity, as opposed to “violence that involves guns” or “violence and guns.” But violence that involves guns is a serious concern among a large part of the American population and so it is good to ask about what people think its causes are (and are not).

One oversight here, I think, is the most significant contributor to gun violence in American society: criminal activity, especially drugs dealing and use, and gang activity (including respect killings related to the “code of the street.” (I made a presentation on this issue recently, which I will blog about soon.)

If I were a respondent to this survey, I would not be able to express this view – unless I counted criminals as “irresponsible gun owners,” but I don’t think that is what the survey authors intended for that response. I know media violence is not a major cause, and more extensive background checks are not going to stop criminals from shooting people.

Q69. Have you, or anyone you are close with, ever been threatened with a gun or shot at? Response categories are: yes or no.

Comment: What is the extent of people’s direct experience of violence with guns, and how might this affect their outlooks? I believe this is what this question is trying to get at.

Obviously, it would be interesting to distinguish between the respondent herself vs. others, and also being threatened vs. being shot at. But there are limits on how many questions you can ask on a survey like this (there were 99 total questions on the survey already), so combining several questions into a single question like this is not uncommon.

It would also be interesting to know whether the respondent, or anyone the respondent is close with, had ever brandished or shot a gun in self-defense, or found themselves in a situation in which they wished they had a gun for self-defense.

Those on the pro-gun side of the great American gun debate often accuse those who focus on the harmful effects of guns of not giving due attention to the beneficial effects of guns. This type of question will certainly be seen as coming from a position that is less sympathetic toward guns in general.

Q70. Please tell us whether you oppose or favor the following: (a) A ban on semi-automatic weapons. (b) Expanded gun safety programs. (c) Putting armed security guards/police in more schools. (d) Better mental health screening of gun buyers. (e) A ban on high-capacity ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets. (f) More teachers and school officials having guns. (g) Banning the possession of hand guns except by law enforcement. (h) Laws that allow citizens to carry concealed guns. Response categories are: favor or oppose.

Comment: I hope my readers who are part of one of America’s gun cultures will overlook the use of the term “clip” and “bullets” in subpart “e.” The scholars who put this survey together are experts in religion, not guns. But if you can get past that terminological issue, here you find an interesting mix of questions about laws or policies that address guns and safety. Some represent what are conventionally understood as “gun control” (subparts a, e, and g), some are ideas that come more from the pro-gun side (subparts c, f, and h – and I’m especially happy to see the question on concealed carry), and some could be interpreted in different ways depending on where the respondent is coming from (subparts b and d).

It’s good to have some survey questions available that go beyond one side’s definition of “common sense” gun laws. And perhaps having these different questions asked at the same time will allow us to see for the first time the diversity and complexity of people’s views about the various roles that guns can and should play in our society.

Three handguns

Q71. Do you happen to have in your home (or garage) any of the following: (Please mark all that apply.)

(a) Hand gun/revolver.
(b) Long gun
(c) Automatic/Semi-Automatic weapon

Comment: Here is a conventional gun ownership question, with a bit of a twist. The main question is the same as the General Social Survey, but the follow-up options differ. The GSS asks whether the person who owns a gun owns a handgun/revolver, a shotgun, or a rifle. Here shotgun and rifle are combined, and an additional response of “automatic/semi-automatic weapon” is added. The potential benefit of this approach is the ability to distinguish those who do NOT own automatic/semi-automatic weapons from those who do. Perhaps these are collectors of historic arms or true “Fudds” who would never hunt with anything other than a bolt action rifle or sporting gentleman who only use side-by-side shotguns.

With due respect to my colleagues, though, someone with some firearms experience should have looked these categories in advance because the qualitative and quantitative difference between ownership of “automatic” and “semi-automatic” weapons is ENORMOUS. Consequently, to the extent this question is used, I think the assumption will have to be that respondents who say “yes” to this question basically own semi-automatic weapons (since it is hard to imagine someone who owns a fully automatic weapon who does not own a semi-auto).

I would have been much more interested in knowing how many people own AR-15 style “modern sporting rifles” (a.k.a., “assault weapons”). Combining long gun and automatic/semi-automatic ownership categories doesn’t get at this, though, since it would also include a semi-auto shotgun, a Ruger 10-22 rifle, a Tommy Gun, and an M2 Browning, to name just a few.

Dianne Feinstein Assault Weapon Ban 1994

Q72. If you own a gun, please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: Owning a gun makes me feel: (a) Safe. (b) Responsible. (c) Confident. (d) Patriotic. (e) In control of my fate. (f) More valuable to my family. (g) More valuable to my community. (h) Respected.

Comment: This promises to be some of the most interesting information that comes from the Baylor Religion Survey, because it goes beyond simply whether people own guns or not to get at some of the symbolic and affective meanings that people attach to gun ownership. We know something about this through qualitative studies like Abigail Kohn’s Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures, Jimmy Taylor’s American Gun Culture: Collectors, Shows, and the Story of the Gun, Joan Burbick’s Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy, Nancy Floyd’s She’s Got a Gun, and Jennifer Dawn Carlson’s forthcoming Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. But it will be nice to have nationally-representative data on some of the things that are cultural causes and consequences of gun ownership. I think it will be particularly interesting to see what gender differences emerge in responses to these questions.

I am also working up a separate blog post specifically on Baylor sociologists F. Carson Mencken and Paul Froese’s presentation of some early analyses of this last question at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion meetings. Stay tuned for that.

In the end, the questions asked about guns on the Baylor Religion Survey are not perfect – which is to say, they are not what I would have asked. But some of them are quite ingenious – which is to say, they are smarter than what I would have asked. And they will contribute considerably to our understanding of American gun ownership and attitudes.

Unfortunately, the data will not be public for a year or two while the Baylor University researchers do their analyses. I for one will be anxiously awaiting their release, and looking forward to reports from Baylor in the meantime.

METHODOLOGICAL DETAILS: The 4th wave of the Baylor Religion Survey was fielded by mail (in English and Spanish) in collaboration with the Gallup Organization between January and March 2014. In the end, there were 1,572 respondents. The 15% response rate at first blush seems low, but comparisons with the General Social Survey show strong similarities on demographic characteristics (age, gender) and religious characteristics (religious attendance). Weights are also provided to correct for known differences between the survey sample and the American population. 40% of questions concern demographics and religious affiliation, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors. 60% topical modules, including 5 questions (with many subparts) on “guns and society.”