In Honor of My Textbook Co-Author Keith A. Roberts

On December 31st, I submitted the revised manuscript for the 7th edition of Religion in Sociological Perspective. I am Keith Roberts’ co-author on this textbook.

Keith brought me in to do the revisions for the 5th edition over a decade ago. This was wonderful for me because I had always wanted to do a textbook, but the prospect of writing one from scratch was daunting. Through 2 revisions, I was able to build on what Keith started and learn from him in the process.

Unfortunately, Keith died in July 2018. What a loss.

When I submitted the manuscript at the end of 2019, it was overdue. The publisher, SAGE, wanted it available for fall 2018, but with Keith battling cancer beginning in 2016, I couldn’t motivate myself to work it. When he died, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I actually asked 2 younger colleagues if they would come on as a 3rd author. Thankfully, they both said “no” (or perhaps “hell no”). Working on the revision has become a way for me to honor Keith Roberts’ legacy and contributions to the discipline of sociology.

RSP Book CoverKeith and I first met on the editorial board of the journal Teaching Sociology. His profound commitment to teaching and learning and professional service were evident then. Shortly thereafter he won the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award.

The same year our 1st co-authored edition of Religion in Sociological Perspective was published, 2012, Keith won the J. Milton Yinger Award for Distinguished Lifetime Career in Sociology by the North Central Sociological Association, which was appropriate because Yinger profoundly shaped his thinking about religion

Also at the start of our collaboration Keith had co-founded a teaching/professional development award program with SAGE Publications that provides funds for grad students & jr faculty to attend the ASA Sec on Teaching & Learning pre-ASA workshop each year. The award is funded by a portion of royalties given by Sage textbook authors. It is now known as the SAGE Publishing Keith Roberts Teaching Innovations Award.

Keith was not only a wonderful citizen of our profession but also of his own college. Many of us strongly connected to our professional associations often neglect this work. He served 15 yrs(!) as department chair and was also a Faculty Marshall and Parliamentarian at Hanover College.

Keith thought globally and acted locally. But he also acted globally for social justice as part of human rights delegations to Central & South America. He had hoped to do more of this work in his “retirement,” which sadly did not last long enough.

Keith remained a deep thinker and active learner to the very end, authoring a book subtitled A Theologically Trained Sociologist Reflects on Living Meaningfully with Cancer. It was published just months before his death.

I can’t say that I knew Keith Roberts well. I wish I had the chance to know him better. But by all accounts he was a good human being.

So while I hope my professional colleagues think the 7th edition of Religion in Sociological Perspective reflects well on our field, I hope even more that Keith Roberts is proud of my effort to keep his considerable legacy alive.

Bibliographic Reflections on the Sociology of Religion

The manuscript for the 7th edition of my textbook, Religion in Sociological Perspective, is due to Sage Publications by the end of 2019. Which is just days away. One of the the last major tasks I had to complete was the bibliography. This was no small task. Including the 269 new citations I added for this edition (almost 20 per chapter) and all of the old citations (many of which would eventually be deleted), the bibliography ran to 136 double-spaced pages.

Because I don’t use citation management software (to be remedied for the 8th edition for sure), I had to cross-check every citation in the 600 manuscript pages of text against the bibliography (with considerable assistance from my spouse!). In the end, the final bibliography runs 87 double-spaced pages. (A 51 page single spaced version is available as a PDF document here.)

Although time consuming (it took 6 hours), doing this by hand rather than by machine allowed me to observe some interesting patterns in the bibliography.

A core idea of the textbook is that the sociology of religion as a field involves an ongoing conversation among scholars in dialogue with existing scholarship and the social world. The field is constantly evolving as more and new voices enter the conversation and new aspects of the social world emerge or are discovered.

My textbook’s bibliography reflects my particular view of that conversation. This can be seen in those scholars I cite most, those who are up and coming, and those who have largely been excised from this edition of the text.

Most Cited

  • Pew Research Center – 21 reports cited plus 7 “Factank” blog posts covering every possible aspect of individual religiosity in the US and globally.
  • Rodney Stark – 18 citations (11 of which he is first author, dating back to the 1960s, and 6 of which are co-authored with Roger Finke).
  • Mark Chaves – 15 citations including essential work on secularization theory, women’s ordination, congregations, and religious trends.
  • Christian Smith – 12 citations on a range of topics from evangelicals to social movements to youth.
  • Robert Wuthnow – 9 citations from his work on new religious movements in the 1970s, the restructuring of American religion in the 1980s, small groups and spirituality in the 1990s, and global religion in the 2000s.
  • Darren Sherkat – 9 citations. I was a bit surprised by this at first, but his work is very empirically sound, approachable, and addresses issues that are very central to the field in a number of areas.
  • Robert Bellah – 7 citations. The number doesn’t fully reflect his influence on me as his work on religious evolution is really foundational to my understanding of religion.
  • Phil Gorski – 7 citations. One of Bellah’s students, who was a TA for Bellah’s sociology of religion course when I took it as an undergrad at UC-Berkeley, Gorski ended up serving on my dissertation committee at Wisconsin. If Bellah highlights the Durkheimian side of the Durkheim-Weber nexus that informs his work, then Gorski highlights the Weberian side.
  • Nancy Ammerman – 7 citations. If you could only read one person on congregations, start and end here.
  • Michael Emerson – 7 citations, all but one of which addresses the struggle for racial integration in religious organizations. It is that big an issue.

Up and Coming (Alphabetical)

Here I list not the TOTAL number of citations to each scholar, but the number of additional citations added in the 7th edition (which may but does not necessarily equal the total number of citations).

  • Amy Adamczyk: +3 citations on religion and LGBTQ-related issues
  • Orit Avishai: +4 citations on religion and gender
  • Kelsey Burke: +3 citations on religion and sexual behavior
  • Ryan Cragun: +5 citations on nonreligion/atheism and sexual/gender minorities
  • Kevin Dougherty, Mitchell Neubert, Jerry Park: +5 citations on religion, work, and entrepreneurship
  • Gerardo Marti: +5 citations. His 8 total citations actually puts him on the “most cited” list but I put him in the up and coming section because of the large number of new citations in this edition.
  • Samuel Perry: +4 citations on 3 different topics (pornography, bivocational clergy, and Christian nationalism)
  • Landon Schnabel: +3 citations on gender and sexuality
  • David Smilde: +3 citations on research programmes in the sociology of religion
  • J.E. Sumerau: +3 citations on the cisgendered reality of contemporary religion
  • Andrew Whitehead: +3 citations on sexuality and Christian nationalism

Missed Friends

Not really an analytic category, but I was surprised when I was surveying the changes to the bibliography and saw that some old friends of mine didn’t get as much play as they deserved in previous editions. The following individuals had +2 new citations added to this edition of the textbook: Joseph Baker, Courtney Bender, Tricia Bruce, Lynn Neal, Melissa Wilcox, Melissa Wilde, Richard Wood, and Bradley Wright.

Excised from the 7th Edition

Looking back at previous editions of this textbook (the first of which was published in 1984) is like looking at time capsules of the field at different points in time. To avoid bloat, I deleted about one old reference for every new reference I added to the bibliography.

Rather than naming names, I will indicate what subjects I have scaled back on considerably in this edition of the textbook. In no particular order:

  • Sects: Sect-formation, sect-development as part of church-sect theorizing
  • Mystical/ecstatic/religious experience, including the paranormal
  • “Why conservative churches are growing,” the “circulation of the saints,” and related debates
  • The changing shape and future of mainline Protestantism
  • Promise Keepers, Satanism, violent cult stuff
  • 1950s/60s era racial prejudice work
  • Televangelism
  • Magic (as distinguished from religion)

Some of these deletions are not because I find the areas unimportant, but simply because it is impossible to fit everything into a single textbook. The material on religious experience is a case in point.

Excluded from the 7th Edition

If the sociology of religion as a field is like a mighty river roaring by me, this textbook reflects my attempt to pull a bucket of water out of it.

I have consciously attempted to diversify the content of the 7th edition, including trying to get beyond Christianity, congregations, beliefs, borders, and even beyond religion itself. I do this to the extent possible given limitations on my time, energy, and intelligence, and existing scholarship, but know I can do better.

If you look at the bibliography for the 7th edition, who and what am I missing? Revisions for the 8th edition start on 1/1/2020.

 

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.

“The Sociology of U.S. Gun Culture” Article Published and Available Free Online

In case you missed the announcement on my Gun Culture 2.0 blog, I am very happy to report that my second academic article on gun culture was published recently in the journal Sociology Compass (my first was on religion and gun ownership).

Thanks to a generous grant from Wake Forest University’s ZSR Library and the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs, “The Sociology of U.S. Gun Culture” is available as a free download from the journal’s website.

In the paper I argue that social scientists have been so concerned with the criminology and epidemiology of guns that there is no sociology of guns, per se. To help develop a sociology of guns that is centered on the legal use of guns by lawful gun owners, I give a brief historical overview of gun culture in the United States, review the small research literature on recreational gun use, highlight the rise of Gun Culture 2.0, and offer some thoughts on directions for future research.

Trying to Put My Writing on a Diet

Like many academics, I write alot. Books, book chapters, articles, book reviews, lectures and lesson plans, manuscript reviews, letters of recommendation, my blogs (this one less than my Gun Culture 2.0 blog), emails, and more.

Like some academics, I enjoy writing. Although I enjoy writing, it is hard. Or perhaps, I enjoy writing because it is hard. The most rewarding things in life aren’t easy.

As legendary writing teacher William Zinsser puts it, “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

Unlike most academics, I sometimes actually think of myself as a writer. That is, I try to think of myself not as someone who is just reporting research findings, but someone who is trying to present ideas in an clear, interesting, and compelling way.

To that end, I try to read and think about not just the substance of what I am saying but the writing itself. Zinsser’s On Writing Well  is a book I return to often.

Among his advice is to write what you think you want to say, then cut it in half (or something like that). There are so many wasted words in writing, some due to poor mechanics, some due to poor thinking.

Here’s an example I came across recently in my work on concealed carry laws:

BEFORE: What permits are called can sometimes be meaningful.

AFTER: Permit names are sometimes meaningful.

In this case, I am clear about what I want to say but I just say it poorly. Poor mechanics. My work is replete with such problems.

My writing accountability partner recently recommended Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing  to me.

In the “Things to Try” section of her chapter on “Smart Sentencing,” Sword recommends a free diagnostic tool available on a web site she has created called The Writer’s Diet. You cut and paste a section of your writing into the tool and it tells you how “flabby or fit” your writing is.

I put some of the sections of the introduction to my book on Gun Culture 2.0 through the test and here is what I found.

The catchy story that begins the chapter: FIT AND TRIM!!!!

 

The analytical framework, mid-section of the chapter: NEEDS TONING!

 

The descriptive final section of the chapter: FIT AND TRIM!!!!! But needs some work with the prepositions.

This is not to say that I am a good writer, but it is a reflection of the fact that I take writing seriously and try to put in the work to make my writing better. It is an ongoing process.

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).

My Blogging Year in Review for 2015

Because most of my blogging these days is at my Gun Culture 2.0 blog, this personal blog gets relatively neglected. So I was surprised that I still had nearly 6,000 visitors to the site in 2015.

2015 Year in Review

On the Ideal of Ethical Neutrality in Research on America’s Culture Wars

I am not sure what it says about me, but in my career as a sociologist, I have been drawn to some of the more controversial issues of my time. What James Davison Hunter way back in 1991 called “culture wars.” Culture wars, according to Hunter, are “struggles to define America,” and have been fought in recent years over the family, education, media and the arts, law, and politics.

Hunter Culture WarsMy earliest work looked at one aspect of the culture wars over education: the struggle to incorporate multiculturalism into the curriculum. I then examined the intersection of religion and politics – two topics to be avoided in polite conversation and potentially explosive when considered together. And now I am studying one of the most controversial and divisive issues of all: guns.

Because my topics are part of ongoing culture wars in America, it is common for people to want to situate me on one side of the battle or the other. From multiculturalism, to religion and politics, to guns, I find myself repeatedly coming back to the question of objectivity in research.

I recognize that there is no perfect standpoint of objectivity (“Punctum Archimedis”). As philosopher Leszek Kolakowski once observed, “there is no well so deep that leaning over it one does not discover at bottom one’s own face.” But this does not mean that everything is completely relative and the quest of objectivity should be abandoned.

In the appendix to my first book, I wrote at some length about the ideal of ethical neutrality in research. Re-reading that appendix, I realized that I could with some minor editing, say the same thing about my research on guns as I did about my research on multiculturalism. So what follows is my adaptation of the words I originally wrote back in the late 1990s.

Student Movements for MulticulturalismThe battle over guns in American society is a culture war. The two sides in this battle not only have different positions on guns, they have different views of what American is fundamentally. Much of the discourse over guns, therefore, is shaped by the ideological positions people bring to the debate. Given this reality, in my study of Gun Culture 2.0, am I not simply substituting one ideologically-based analysis for another?

This is a very significant question, and one which I need to address immediately and directly. There is absolutely a difference between my social scientific analysis of Gun Culture 2.0 and the advocacy research of groups like the Violence Policy Center, the applied research of public health scholars like Arthur Kellerman, the journalistic muckraking of Dana Loesch or Tom Diaz, and the like.

The difference is in my aspiration to and the methodical pursuit of “value freedom” or “ethical neutrality” in scholarship. Of course, a full consideration of the question of whether social science is, can be, or should be “value free” is beyond the scope of this work. Whether dealing with important issues of epistemology or ontology, the philosophy of science or sociology of knowledge, such a treatment would fill a volume in itself. I can only briefly offer my own position on the question, one I derive from my engagement with the great German social scientist, Max Weber, and his famous essay on “value freedom” (Wertfreiheit, sometimes rendered as “ethical neutrality”) in the social sciences. [Source: Weber, “The Meaning of ‘Ethical Neutrality’ in Sociology and Economics” (1917), pp. 1-47 in Max Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Edward Shils and Henry Finch, eds. (New York: Free Press, 1949.]

Weber Methodology Book CoverAlthough Weber’s specific concern was with the “sciences of culture” (Kulturwissenschaften), his principles seem to me applicable to all the social sciences which aspire to be empirical sciences of concrete reality, or what Weber called “sciences of actuality” (Wirklichkeitswissenschaften). [Source: Weber, “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy” (1904), in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, p. 72.]

Weber argues for a particular relationship between “facts” on the one hand and “values” on the other. He holds that although “the problems of the social sciences are selected by the value-relevance of the phenomena treated,” these problems “are, of course, to be solved ‘non-evaluatively.’” Social scientists, therefore, should heed “the intrinsically simple demand that the investigator and teacher should keep unconditionally separate the establishment of empirical facts . . . and his own practical evaluations, i.e., his evaluation of these facts as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. . . . These two things are logically different and to deal with them as though they were the same represents a confusion of entirely heterogeneous problems.” [Source: Weber, “The Meaning of ‘Ethical Neutrality,’” pp. 21, 11.]

Thus, while the values and interests social scientists hold necessarily affect the questions we pose, the phenomena we choose to study, and our modes of investigation, these values and interests should not affect our application of widely-accepted protocols for the collection, analysis, and presentation of evidence.

To be sure, these protocols and their enforcement through peer review of work prior to publication are imperfect. Ideologies, we know from Marx, Freud, and other “hermeneuticists of suspicion,” often operate unconsciously or subconsciously, and so the ability of methodology to bracket motivations may be limited. [See: Irving Louis Horowitz, “Social Science Objectivity and Value Neutrality: Historical Problems and Projections,” in Professing Sociology: Studies in the Life Cycle of Social Science (Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1968), p. 40.]

Hence, ethical neutrality is an ideal we pursue; even Weber himself was not able to attain it. That we pursue neutrality nevertheless is, in my view, a characteristic which most distinguishes social scientific research from journalistic speculation and advocacy. The Violence Policy Center’s “research” on concealed carry killers, for example, would never see the light of day in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

This is not to say that social scientists should never make normative claims, be involved in the public sphere, or seek to influence public policy. Social science, as my teacher at UC-Berkeley Robert Bellah often said, can be a form of “moral inquiry” and “public philosophy.” [See especially the position outlined in the Appendix to Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven Tipton, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), a book which itself exemplifies social science as public philosophy.]

But, Weber implores us, in moving from “judgments of fact” to “judgments of value” we must try to be “absolutely explicit” about our movements and intentions (as Bellah is in his work). [Source: Weber, “The Meaning of ‘Ethical Neutrality,’” p. 10.]

Reinhard Bendix (1916-1991)

Reinhard Bendix (1916-1991)

Another UC-Berkeley sociology professor, Reinhard Bendix, provides a useful summary of the position I am outlining when he writes, “Social research is characterized by an interplay between identification and detachment, of subjectivity and objectivity.” [Force, Fate, and Freedom: On Historical Sociology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 28.]

In my case, my identification with the issue of guns came not until my 43rd year of life, when a combination of circumstances led me to learn to shoot a handgun under the guidance of my future wife and a trainer for the state police. From there I had the opportunity to do more fun shooting: plinking with .22 handguns, trap and sporting clays with shotguns, and destroying plastic bottles with a .50 cal rifle. I also came to identify with armed self-defense after a very dangerous encounter with a drug addict and criminal in the parking lot of my apartment complex.

Thus, before I even began studying Gun Culture 2.0, I had already formulated certain answers to questions such as, “What are guns for?” and “Why do people need X/Y/Z gun?” and “Why carry a gun?” I necessarily approach empirical questions about guns with these pre-scientific intuitions and ideas in mind. It is this “value-relevance” which shapes my choice of phenomena to study. But in seeking to understand Gun Culture 2.0, I turn not to speculation or advocacy but to my disciplinary training as a professional sociologist which stresses the aspiration to detachment and objectivity in the analysis of empirical data.

I believed when I began this work a couple of years ago, and I continue to believe, that my distinctive contribution to the question of guns in American society is to examine the issue empirically using established methods of social scientific inquiry. My aspiration in this work was best summarized for me by the late Reinhard Bendix, a Weberian sociologist who I had the good fortune to meet at Berkeley not long before his death in 1991. Bendix referred me to a quote from the philosopher Baruch Spinoza which I will always remember as embodying the social scientific ideal to which I still aspire: “I have sedulously endeavored not to laugh at human actions, not to lament them, nor to detest them, but to understand them” (Tractatus Politicus, i, 4).