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.

Letter of Support to Parents and Loved Ones of Wake Forest Students

Although the university’s response to threatening emails sent to 7 individual faculty and staff associated with the sociology department and 5 other units on campus was slow, the response of our department was not. In addition to the email noted in my previous post, drafted by our department chair Joseph Soares, our newest faculty member, Brittany Battle, took it upon herself to write a letter of support to parents and loved ones of Wake Forest students.

I am grateful that she did. The letter appears below.

As a two-time parent of Wake Forest undergraduates (including one currently), I was happy to co-sign.

The early morning sun rakes across the side of Kirby Hall, on the campus of Wake Forest University, Friday, January 11, 2019. Photo by Ken Bennett

Dear Parents and Loved Ones of WFU Students,

Over the past week, the university has been experiencing the aftermath of hateful emails sent to members of the university community. We have spoken with many students and many have described their fear and anger. We can completely relate to those feelings, which are shared by many associated with the university, including parents. As faculty and staff members at Wake, we want to assure you that we are here on campus to support your children and to advocate for their safety and security. We are committed to making sure that the most marginalized students on our campus–students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first-generation students–have faculty in their corner who are speaking on their behalf. We are committed to doing our very best every day to make them feel welcomed and valued here. The most rewarding part of our job is teaching and supporting your children, a job that we all hold in the utmost regard. We know you trusted the university in sending your child to get their education at Wake, in many cases hours away from home. We hope that knowing your child has the support of faculty and staff, across departments and individual backgrounds, provides you with some comfort.

In Solidarity,

Brittany P. Battle, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Saylor Breckenridge, Associate Professor of Sociology

Hana Brown, Associate Professor of Sociology

Amanda Gengler, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Amanda L. Griffith, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Economics

Kristina Gupta, Assistant Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Marina Krcmar, Professor, Communication, WFU Parent (‘17)

Jayati Lal, Visiting Associate Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Jieun Lee, Assistant Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Tanisha Ramachandran, Associate Teaching Professor, Department for the Study of Religions

Don R. Shegog, II, Instructional Technologist for Economics, Politics and Sociology Departments

Robin Simon, Professor of Sociology

Joseph A. Soares, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology

Alessandra Von Burg, Associate Professor, Communication, WFU Parent (‘14)

Ron Von Burg, Associate Professor, Communication, WFU Parent (‘14)

David Yamane, Professor of Sociology and Wake Forest Parent (‘17, ‘22)

Mir Yarfitz, Associate Professor, Department of History

Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Director—Special Collections & Archives, ZSR Library

Sociology Department Response to Hostile Emails Sent to Wake Forest Faculty and Staff

My academic home, Wake Forest University, is not innocent of the open and blatant racism of the past or the more hidden and subtle racism of the present. Many on campus, including members of my home department (sociology), have pressed for the university to address this.

Recently, Wake Forest became the target of open and blatant racism (and homophobia and anti-Semitism), particularly members of the sociology department. As has been reported in the media, sociology faculty and staff received 7 of 12 hateful emails that were recently sent by an (as yet) unknown sender.

Although the university was slow in its official response, the department responded more quickly in an email to our majors and minors. That email, written by our department chair and co-signed by the members of our department, is copied below.

An exterior view of Wait Chapel, on the campus of Wake Forest University, Thursday, August 29, 2019. Photo by Ken Bennett

Dear Sociology Students:

This letter comes to you from the entire department of sociology, faculty and staff, because we believe you have a right to know the truth about the hate emails that were sent to members of our community last week.

Wednesday, September 11, the University Police told you that there were “investigating reports of inflammatory emails [sent out Tuesday night] with racist, homophobic, and discriminatory content sent from an unknown source … to various faculty and staff members.” That’s true. But what wasn’t spelled out is that the only individuals who received these emails were faculty and staff in our department. Seven people who work in our department were singled out for a hate email that praised the white male founding fathers, dismissed our undergraduates with ugly vile language, and called for our land to be “purged” of people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.  We take this hate email as being not just racist, homophobic, and misogynistic but also as a threat of violence. The call to “purge” categories of persons, is a white supremacist call for genocide.

The safety of everyone in our community is our top priority, but we also promise you transparency and the truth. We live in a society plagued by racism, sexism, and gun violence. We will do all we can to carry forward our scholarship, teaching, and our public engagement for social justice.  And we will do all we can to keep you and us safe from harm.

All classes will be canceled for the rest of this week to enable us to fully organize our security. Our building will have for the foreseeable future a police presence and all classrooms will be on auto lock. Only faculty will be able to unlock classroom doors.

If you have questions, reach out to your faculty.  If you have information, reach out to the Wake police.

Sincerely,

Joseph Soares

With Brittany Battle; Ken Bechtel; Saylor Breckenridge; Hana Brown; Rob Freeland; Amanda Gengler; Steven Gunkel; Catherine Harnois; Robin Simon, Erica Talley; Ian Taplin; Ana Wahl; and David Yamane.

Battling the Cell Phone Menace in Class for a Decade Now

Facebook’s wayback machine (“On this Day” app) reminded me this morning that I have been battling students using their cell phones in class for a long time now.

I know some professors don’t care if students use their phones in class. Fine by me; their class, their rules. And some are just unaware. Many Wake Forest students, including my now graduated son Paul, text me from their classes. But I find it distracting. So, I have tried to dissuade students from using their phones in class for some time.

I put a special note in my syllabus, highlighted in red(dish) so it cannot be missed (above). And I make clear in the grading rubric for class participation the penalty for using phones in class.

And still students use their phones in class, and then complain to me at the end of class when I penalize them for doing so. (Among other things they complain about with respect to their class participation grades.)

So this year I’ve decided to try to triple reinforce my expectations by having students sign and initial that they have read and understand the class expectations. We’ll see what difference it makes.

“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.

Reason Requires That You Accept You May Be Wrong

Wake Forest University’s Commencement ceremony was particularly special this year because my oldest son graduated (with a B.S. in Finance, Summa Cum Laude, if I may brag on him just a bit). It is always exciting to be present to the symbolic transition of students from their pasts into their futures. All the more so when that student is your kid and you have a front row seat and can snap a quick selfie.

This year’s commencement speaker was Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian (books on Jefferson, Jackson, FDR, and George H.W. Bush). In the era of celebrity commencement speakers — e.g., Stephen Colbert at Wake Forest in 2015, Will Ferrell at USC this year — choosing a scholar to give your commencement address can inspire reactions from yawns to disappointment (among students, especially).

Of course, choosing someone as your commencement speaker because they are smart instead of well-known or wealthy has the benefit of producing smarter commencement addresses. To wit: In my time as a faculty member, David Brooks gave one of the smarter commencement addresses I’ve seen.

Monday, May 21, 2007. Wake Forest professor David Yamane hoods David Brooks with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

I thought Jon Meacham’s commencement address this year was smart, too. In particular he talked about partisanship, reason, reflection, truth, and error in a way I found compelling. I’ve bolded the sections I found most significant in the extended excerpt below:

The great fact of America today is pervasive partisanship. Too many of us are given to reflexively reacting to whatever unfolds in the public square – not according to our reason but to our ideological and even tribal predispositions. Now I want to be very clear about this. Partisanship is not an intrinsically bad thing. The middle way is not always the right way. It’s in the nature of things and in the nature of human beings to hold fast to views and allegiances, to heroes and to creeds, to the exclusion of other views and other allegiances, other heroes and other creeds. Such is politics, which is both an emotional and a rational undertaking. What is worth avoiding, however – and too many of us are doing too little to avoid this – is reflexive, as opposed to reflective partisanship.

The point of America is not for all of us to agree. That is impossible and undesirable in any event. Autocracies are about total agreement. Or at least total submission. The American republic is founded on the notion that even the person with whom I most stridently disagree may have something to say worth hearing and heeding and that the only way I can figure out whether that’s the case is by listening to that person and by weighing the relative merits of what is said and then –only then – making up my mind.

The danger – and this is all too pervasive at the moment – lies in my reflexively dismissing a point made by a person simply because that person is the one making the point. That’s a foreclosure of reason. I’d argue that’s a sin because the human capacity for judgment – however flawed, however fallen – is the great gift that distinguishes us above the beasts of the field and the trees of the forest and the creatures of the sea. So I beg you, truly: Be reflective about our public life. Make up your mind based on facts, not alternative facts or alternative evidence.

Be open to the very real possibility that you might be wrong from time to time and people you thought were beyond redemption might be right.

I’ve learned alot about myself and others by hanging out with people whose social and political views are different from mine, so Meacham’s comments definitely resonated with me. Try it. You may not like it, but it is good for you.

My view of Jon Meacham’s commencement address at Wake Forest University, May 2017

New Course for Fall 2015: The Sociology of Guns

I am excited to be teaching a new course in the fall semester, related to my new research project on American gun culture: Sociology 384: Special Topics Seminar – The Sociology of Guns. Course description follows the flier.

Sociology of Guns Course Annoucment 3-12-15COURSE DESCRIPTION

Guns often have a spectacular presence in the American imagination, from George Zimmerman to Sandy Hook Elementary to the American sniper Chris Kyle. But guns are also a part of everyday life in communities across the United States. They are used as tools of criminal violence and self-defense, and are one of the mostly commonly owned pieces of sporting equipment in the country.

Clearly, guns are an important part of American society and culture. With more than 300,000,000 guns held by private citizens and a Constitutional amendment associated with gun ownership, the possession, regulation, meaning, and use of firearms reaches into important realms of American society, including: civil rights and liberties, identity and culture, crime and violence, public health and personal safety, and even sport and leisure.

This course explores the multifaceted role guns play in the U.S. from a sociological perspective. From a firm foundation of understanding the history and technology of firearms, as well as the historical and constitutional origins of the 2nd Amendment, the course will focus on a range of topics, including: the prevalence and distribution of guns; attitudes and opinions about gun ownership; lawful possession and use of firearms; illegal and legal gun markets; gun crime and injuries; and the varieties of responses to gun injuries and crime.

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.

Reflections on Walter Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library” on the Occasion of Unpacking My Library

I spent my winter break this year packing up my office and moving to a new building. The biggest part of moving offices for me is always packing and unpacking my hundreds of books acquired over the past 25 or so years.

232 Carswell Hall

16 boxes of books in 232 Carswell Hall

Each time I move offices, I read Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.” The essay was first published in 1931 in Literarische Welt. I read it in a collection of Benjamin’s essays and reflections called Illuminations that I purchased primarily to read his more famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

As the subtitle suggests, the essay is not really about his library per se, but about book collecting and, in essence, about a people’s relationships to their books. He insists that it is a “relationship to objects which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value—that is, their usefulness.” Instead, he uses words like “love” and “enchantment” to describe the relationship. When unpacking his library, Benjamin says he is filled with images and memories he associates with the books. Cities he visited, rooms he occupied. In this way, to paraphrase Benjamin, our books do not live in us; we live in our books.

Unpacked library in Kirby Hall

Unpacked library in Kirby Hall

Every book I have, I have for a reason. They embody the places I have been, people I have known, classes I have taken, research projects I have undertaken (or have wanted to undertake or may yet undertake). So unpacking my library allows me – indeed, forces me – to re-live my past, evaluate my present, and consider my future.

Perhaps because I have parted with those books that have negative associations for me – e.g., those on Catholic higher education – I have overwhelmingly positive feelings while unpacking my library. I have a shelf reserved for my teachers over the years: Bellah, Blauner, Bonnell, Burawoy, Camic, Epstein, Gorski, Joas, Kornhauser, Lembo, Lichterman, Voss, and others. I have a shelf reserved for friends and colleagues: Baggett, Bartkowski, Byrne, Flake, Hancock, Marti, Wood, and others. And interspersed throughout the rest of the shelves are the books, too many to name, that made me and sustained me as a scholar. Every book on every shelf is there for a reason.

That said, for the first time ever, packing and unpacking my library has been a bittersweet experience. Each of my previous 4 major moves involved getting a bigger office and more space for my books. So I accumulated and accumulated, easily owning over 3,000 books at one point. In my new office, I was only given 3 bookshelves and so I have had to pare back to just 1,000ish books between work and home.

Donating box after box of books was like tearing out and throwing away pages from a photo album or diary. I only hope that someone will see in these orphaned books what I saw in them when I had world enough and time to collect without limit.

Title IX at Wake Forest University

I find Title IX endlessly complex and fascinating. I am teaching the Sociology of Sport this fall and the more I dig into the issue, the less I feel like I know and the more I want to know. In response to a class discussion, a student forwarded me the following email from our university president. I know I got this email also, but can’t find it.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Nathan O. Hatch <>
Date: Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 1:16 PM
Subject: Action required on Title IX training
To: broadcast-all@xxxxxx

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
On April 4, 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” Letter (DCL) addressing issues of sexual violence and misconduct on college campuses. The DCL gave colleges and universities guidance on how they should address these issues on their campuses. One of the DCL recommendations is that schools implement preventive education programs regarding sexual violence and misconduct, including information about available resources and the school’s policies and procedures for responding to complaints. We have created a website that includes educational materials for faculty, staff and students that can be found at http://go.wfu.edu/sexualassault.
The Wake Forest Sexual Misconduct Policy includes information about how to report incidents of sexual misconduct, resources available to students and information about sexual misconduct hearings that occur on campus. We take these matters very seriously, and there are a number of programs and resources in place to support our entire campus community.
We have also recently named a new Title IX Coordinator, Angela Culler, Assistant Vice President for Employee Relations and Compliance, who is available to speak to victims of sexual misconduct. There are also several Title IX Deputy Coordinators available to assist in these matters, including Charlene Buckley (Office of Dean of Student Services), Betsy Hoppe (Schools of Business), Barbara Walker (Athletics), Shonda Jones (Divinity School), Ann Gibbs (Law School), Brad Jones (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) and Doris McLaughlin (Human Resources).
Wake Forest believes in the importance of making all employees and students aware of this information and the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. We ask that you make time in the next two weeks to visit the following website, review the information and complete a short test to certify that you have read and understood this important information.

Please provide your Wake Forest network username and password when prompted. (For assistance with your user name and password, please visit the Information Systems Service Desk located at The Bridge in the Z Smith Reynolds Library.) Every employee and student must complete this training as promptly as possible, and no later than March 9, 2012.

Wake Forest University is firmly committed to providing all individuals with an environment that is free of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Thank you so much for your assistance in achieving this important goal.
Sincerely,
Nathan O. Hatch
President