Sociology 384: Special Topics Seminar – The Sociology of Guns

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.

Photo credit: Lauren Carroll/Winston-Salem Journal
Photo credit: Lauren Carroll/Winston-Salem Journal


Sociology 151: Principles of Sociology: Sociologists like to watch people do things with and to one another, and then try to explain how and why they do them. We are the voyeurs of social life. This course invites students to become part of this sociological enterprise of observing and explaining the social world. It presumes no previous exposure to sociology as an academic discipline, though we all bring with us a life’s worth of experiences of living in society and we will draw upon those experiences throughout the course.

Sociology 270: Sociological Theory: This class is an introduction to sociological theory, specifically the individuals whose work forms the intellectual core of sociology as a discipline. We will study both those theorists who are known as the “founding fathers” of sociology (“classical theory”) and those who have sought to build on the founders and extend sociological theory to new social circumstances and issues (“contemporary theory”). For each theorist we consider, we will examine their social and intellectual backgrounds, the problems (social and intellectual) they sought to address, and how their work helps us to understand the world around us.

Soc301 Class Photo

Sociology 301/Religion 351: Sociology of Religion: This course will survey the sociological study of religion. Religion is a complex phenomenon. It involves a meaning system with an interrelated set of beliefs, rituals, symbols, values, moods, and motivations. Each of these interacts in diverse and complex ways with one another, sometimes being mutually supportive and sometimes conflicting. Religion is also a social structure with established statuses, organizational patterns, and even bureaucratic dilemmas. This structure is itself diverse and multifaceted, characterized by both conflicts over self- interests and strains toward coherence and integration. Finally, religion is a system of belonging, with friendship networks, group boundaries, and informal norms that may be quite independent of the formal structure or official meaning systems. These three aspects of religion are themselves interdependent, forming a larger system that is in some ways coherent and in some ways in tension and discord. Further, religion is part of a larger social system, and as such it both affects and is affected by this larger system. It is precisely this complexity of religion, including the complexity of its relationship to the larger society and to the world system, that we explore in this class.

Sociology 347: Society, Culture, and Sport (i.e., Sociology of Sport): In this course we will examine the interrelationship of sport and other social institutions (for example, religion), social processes (for example, globalization), and social outcomes (for example, race, gender, and class inequality). The course will emphasize both the structure of sport and the functions of sport for society. It will include a mandatory service learning component.


First Year Seminar 100: Sociology of Vocation: This course is a sociological examination of the concept and practice of vocation. Vocation, understood from a Judeo-Christian perspective, is God’s call and plan for our lives and our response to that call. As Quakers say, vocation involves “letting your life speak.” Although it can be difficult to understand vocation without a religious dimension, we might provisionally say that from a secular perspective vocation is simply our understanding of and answer to the question: “What must I do with my life?” We will combine reflection on the concept of vocation and our sense of personal vocation with sociological analyses of the constraints we face in American society as we attempt to discern and realize our vocations in domains such as education, work, family, and public life.