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.

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.”

 

Three Blog Posts on Initiation in the Contemporary Catholic Church

Oxford University Press was good enough to allow me to write three blog posts this Easter weekend with my thoughts on initiation in the contemporary Catholic Church. Here are links to the three posts:

  1. Initiation into America’s Original Megachurch (18 April 2014)
  2. Reinventing Rites of Passage in Contemporary America (19 April 2014)
  3. Easter Rites of Initiation Bring Good News for American Catholics (20 April 2014)

The posts build on my recently published study of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and hopefully build some interest in it.

You can order it from Barnes & Noble at a 20% discount, and also get it as a Nook book or for the Amazon Kindle (Amazon.com was recently sold out of the book, but hopefully it will come back in stock there, too.)

Becoming Catholic Cover

Questions and Answers

Yesterday was the first day of classes for the semester, and my first day of classes ever, at Wake Forest University. Which raises a number of questions that I’ll try to answer quickly. Further observations will no doubt be posted as I make them.

How’s the weather?

It depends on what you like. You probably wouldn’t like it unless you like 60-70 degrees and sunny during the second week of January. Tennis, anyone?

How was the first day of class?

OK, the first day of class was not without its challenges. Monday night, because I was nervous/excited about my first day of classes at Wake Forest, I couldn’t fall asleep right away. So, I turned on the TV and got caught up in a bizarre episode of “The Surreal Life” with Peter Brady and Mini-Me and one of the non-famous women from the Go-Go’s. So, I didn’t log many hours of sleep before my first classes, but the adreneline carried me through.

I am teaching introductory sociology and a sociology of religion course, both of which I’ve taught many times before, so there won’t be too much heavy lifting involved in terms of the course material. Of course, there’s a great expenditure in energy in actually conducting class. I have a 9:30 am class, then two hours of office hours, then a 1:30 pm class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Right after my afternoon class dismisses, I go and meet Chipper and Beth at the bus stop. Which is just as well since I am totally spent after that much time teaching. (How teachers who teach all day, five days a week do it, I am not sure!)

Not surprisingly, I’ve encountered various technical problems related to being a new faculty member starting in January, rather than August like most of the new folks. For example, I was told to save on copying expenses by emailing my syllabi to my class roster, but I couldn’t access my class roster until Tuesday. Students in my intro soc class told me they couldn’t get the textbook at the bookstore, so I called and was told that only 14 of 35 copies had arrived. It apparently didn’t concern anyone at the bookstore until I called. They ordered another 21 copies, to arrive today or tomorrow (hopefully), but because the students have an assignment to do for Thursday, I had to make photocopies of the first chapter. Of course, a student then pointed out that the assignment for Thursday requires them to consult another chapter of the textbook, so I had to find the graphic I refer to and put it up on the course web site. For my religion class, I assigned five books, so I can only imagine what sort of mess awaits me there. A couple of students have already said that two of the books are sold out. With my luck, it will be the book we are using next week!

On the positive side, both of the classrooms I teach in are in the same building as my office, so I just need to walk around the corner to get there. And both have good technology. I can bring my laptop to class and easily project images or videos, and I can play music, which I love. In both classes we listened to Petey Pablo’s “Raise Up” (homage to North Carolina). In my religion class we also listened to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (for obvious reasons), and in intro we listened to Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn” (stresses that learning an active and relational process).

Now, if I could just get a replacement battery for the piece of crap they put in my third generation iPod, I can just leave my computer behind and play music directly from that.

What are the students like?

I haven’t had too much direct interaction with the students yet, but they are similar to students at Our Lady’s University in some ways and different in others.

The biggest similarity I immediately noticed is that the students travel in packs. Almost everyone in class, it seems, is taking the class with a friend, roommate, teammate, or frat/sorority brother/sister. The students also wear “hang dog” faces in class. I mean, the atmosphere just feels so heavy when I walk in the classroom. Maybe I need to play some more raucous music at the start to pep things up. I’ll experiment with Trick Daddy’s “Let’s Go” and Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” on Thursday. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

The feeling I get in class raises a question, though, which I also had at OLU : why do people who live such privileged lives seem so somber? Like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, when their biggest concern of the day isn’t how to eat but what to eat. (I should add that I am guilty of this same thing myself.)

Among the differences I’ll be watching are:

(1) Regional differences. The three best represented states so far are Florida, New Jersey, and North Carolina. At OLU, I had the most students from Indiana, Illinois, and New York.

(2) Religious differences. At OLU, I had 80-90% Roman Catholics. Here, the predominant religious group is Baptist, followed Episcopalians. I was surprised by the Episcopalians, but it makes sense if the university draws from rich, Southern families. Here at Wake Forest, I also have a diverse group of other religions represented (Jewish, Christian Science, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, nondenominational, Methodist, Lutheran, and even a couple of stray “Romans”).

(3) Fraternities and sororities. I had pairs of sorority sisters in my classes — evident from their t-shirts — which definitely got my attention. There are no greeks at OLU and greek life was not big at my alma mater, UC-Berkeley. All I really know about them is that two of my friends at Berkeley lived in a sorority because the house had extra rooms. Not exactly a center of campus life, at least not back then. So, we’ll see what effect that has on campus life.

Well, that is all that you need to know about my first day of class at Wake Forest University — and more.