Saturday, May 31, 2008

Saturday stuff

Floyd and I were watching Indiana Jones (the first one) on video, and Floyd had a funny moment of disbelief. In an early scene where Indy is first going off to find the ark, he shows his boss how ready he is for trouble by packing a gun in his suitcase. In the next scene he gets on an airplane. Floyd's started response: "Dad, he's taking a gun on an airplane!"

A fundamental lesson in hang gliding is to always strap yourself in to the glider before you launch. (Bad things happen when you don't). French skydiver Michel Fournier was going to set a world altitude record by jumping from 130,000 feet. Problem is, the balloon took off with out him. Oops.

Over the past few years, I have been regrading our yard with a shovel and wheelbarrow. It's a pretty big yard, so it's taking awhile. At this point, I've had 100+ cubic yards delivered, and a couple dozen more dug up from one place and dumped to another. Well... I got 14 more yards delivered last week, and the only thing that surprised me was how happy it made me to have more dirt. Another sign of aging?

Ben Byerly continues to post good stuff about race and religion and culture and religion.

Brian Jones, a remarkably prolific blogger, has a series worth reading: Blog Series Pastors Gone Wild-- most of them are things I hadn't really thought of (plus, a great title!)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Do Christians give more to the poor?

One of the pastors at our church is doing a (very good) sermon series on finances, and he asked me to look up some data for him. That got me to thinking again about money and Christianity...

Periodically people ask if Christians are more generous with their money, and one of the stonger answers to this question comes from Regnerus, Smith, and Sikkink (1998, "Who gives to the poor).

They examined data from a study of about 2,000 Americans, and the study asked respondents who much money they gave to organizations which help the poor.
There were three possible answers: “A lot”, “some”, and “none.” They found that Christians gave more than non-religious, and the more that Christians attended church, the more they gave. Members of other religions gave more, though it's unclear which religions are represented in this category.


Gave a lot some none


Fundamentalist 22.6 67.8 9.6

Evangelical 28.7 62.4 8.8

Mainline 21.9 68.5 9.6

Liberal 24.6 59.9 15.6

"Other" 20.6 56.6 22.9

Lower-attendance 19.0 69.2 11.8


Higher-attendance 22.4 71.7 5.9

Lower-attendance 7.5 73.7 18.8

All other religious 44.6 49.0 6.4

Nonreligious 9.5 77.7 12.9

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A small thing...

Gus showed this to me yesterday, and while I realize that it's not significant in the larger scheme of things, it's had me chuckling all day.

1) Go to Google

2) Type "French military victories"

3) Hit the "I'm feel lucky" button. (Doesn't work with the "Google search" button).


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Um, I think that you have something to tell me...

Under the heading of things that really, really scare me:

I was talking with a couple students at the end of the semester. They had stopped by my office to drop off their papers, and we ended up chatting for about an hour. (It made me realize how rarely I get to talk with students more than about the immediate concerns of the class). Not surprisingly, for college students, they started talking about romantic relationships.

One of the students told of this strategy that she uses in her relationships. Periodically, she will put on a disapproving face, be very serious, and tell the guy that they need to talk. She then says: "I think that you have something that you need to tell me."

The guy, being a guy, figures she knows everything, and he immediately starts confessing everything he's done wrong.

Here's my question: Is this legal? Aren't there rules about what can and can't be done in relationships? It's like the superpowers agree not to use poison gas in war because that's just going too far.

I am deeply thankful that 1) I've never encountered this strategy, and 2) my wife is busy at work this week, so she won't see this post.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I am now officially middle-aged

Well, it finally happened... I am not officially middle-aged. This weekend I changed clothes to work outside, and I put on a pair of shorts. I noticed that I had dark brown dress socks on, and instead of changing socks or wearing sandals with no socks, I thought "you know, they look okay" and put on my sneakers and headed out the door.

I think that at this point there is no going back. It's not just wearing the dark socks and shorts, it's thinking that it's okay. What's next? Bermuda shorts? Dorky hats? Sigh...

I suppose that the only way out of this is to convince people that I'm European.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Blogging New York style

The New York Times Magazine featured a story yesterday on blogging. Now, in general, most blogs--especially mine--struggle to be interesting, but writing about blogging--that that can be a snore-fest. A self-indulgent treatment of self-indulgence?

Still, the article raised some interesting questions about the motivation for blogging. The author cast the "will to blog" very dramatically in writing:

"The will to blog is a complicated thing, somewhere between inspiration and compulsion. It can feel almost like a biological impulse. You see something, or an idea occurs to you, and you have to share it with the Internet as soon as possible. What I didn’t realize was that those ideas and that urgency — and the sense of self-importance that made me think anyone would be interested in hearing what went on in my head — could just disappear."

Her blogging reads like a cross between reality TV and Entertainment Tonight with a little bit of Sex and the City thrown in. Somehow in a big city like New York, small, personal details become important and interesting in a way I don't experience out here in the rural-burgs of NE CT.

At this point it would be logical for me to figure out my motivations for blogging and how I would characterize the blog, but... blogging about blogging is usually boring, and I would certainly not be an exception.

Thanks David for the link.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday stuff

Ah, I've been busted. Cathy buys after-school snacks for the boys, and she told me this morning that Gus is selecting his primarily on the criterion of what he thinks I won't eat. Now I've got to misrepresent my true preferences, lest we only have snacks that I don't like!

Floyd was assigned to draw a five-panel cartoon for his first-grade class. His artistic decision: Somebody named "Fred" falling off a cliff in the first panel and continuing to fall until he hits bottom in the last panel. I thought it was hilarious!

Chris Uggen on UMinn's new evaluation forms. There's talk of doing something similar here at UConn, and as far as I can tell, the primary goal is to keep students from actually evaluating us.

We usually have family devotions on Monday night (prayer, Bible), but this Monday everyone was beat, so we did the next best thing--watched a Three Stooges DVD.

So long Dan Myers at BlueMonster!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Affirmative action for conservatives?

Some years ago, the department here launched into a discussion of affirmative action. One faculty member, who has since retired, and who defined himself as a libertarian, argued that it would be consistent with the principles of diversity to hire a politically conservative sociologist. Half the department chuckled, the other half was more than a little upset.

While... turns out that Colorado U. is looking to hire a political conservative under the banner of diversity. As with our department, some are responding in outrage there. I'm not actually that engaged with this type of culture wars, but I find the proposition and the reaction to it amusing (again).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What are the patterns in church seating?

Based on yesterday's post, and anticipated by one of the comments, let me ask a question: Who sits where for church services? If, in the classroom, the best students sit toward the front and the slackers sit in back, is the same true in church services?

Unfortunately, my church has seating-in-the-round, which complicates this issue. But... in a regular old front-back, side-to-side church seating configuration, what are the patterns?

I think the people upfront are usually people who have been there a long time, not sure why they want to front, though?

Perhaps those in back include visitors and people with small children (who want to make a quick exit if needed).

What else?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The meaning of classroom seating

Here's a comic from PhDcomics about which students sit where in the classroom. It's mostly right--the best students tend to sit about 1/3 back, and the back row has the close-to-door or really-need-sleep types.

Thanks Ben!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why do professors become department heads?

Here's a mystery: Why do professors, who have about the best job in the world, become administrators (e.g., department heads)? I was talking to a friend who might have to serve as a head, and he's trying to figure out how to get out of it. Basically, you take one of the best things about being a professor--autonomy--and give away for a management position with very little power (managing tenured professors = herding cats) or increased pay.

Here's a comic in honor of my friend:

Monday, May 19, 2008

BYOG (Bring your own God)

A recent survey asked people which religion affiliated with. For those who didn't fit into a standard category, the survey asked them to write out their religion. Here are the rather interesting collection of answers:


Thanks David!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday stuff

I believe that this is a varsity sport in many Wisconsin high schools.

Gus had three tests on Tuesday, so he spent a full 8 hours studying after school. That about equals how much I studied at home during my whole 9th grade year. He's certainly going to a better school than I did!

What these guys do makes hang gliding seem like tiddlywinks:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Leaves in vernal pools (pics)

Doesn't "vernal pools" sound more artistic than "puddles"?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Using typologies of Christians

(Part 4 in a 4-part series)

In the last post, I put forth that it's sometimes useful, both in practical planning and academic research, to distinguish between types of Christians. In this post, I give some caveats in doing so.

When typologies are created from data, they reflect decisions made by the researcher.

1) Content of groups. Foremost among these decisions are which variables to analyze in creating groups. For example, suppose we had a large data set with lots of religion-related variables. One researcher might create a typology using measures of religious affiliation, and the resulting typology would emphasize denominations and other group measures. Another researcher, however, might look at variables in which people describe their relationship to God, and that researcher might end up with a typology similar to that used by the Reveal Study. A third researcher might emphasize behaviors and come up with a typology of religiosity.

2) Number of groups. Another issue regards how many groups to identify. Researchers specify various thresholds in their statistical software that guide the formation of groups. Different thresholds would give different number of groups. For example, the study described earlier in this series by Christianity Today identified four groups. Changing around the default settings in their statistical package could decrease or increase that number.

3) Naming groups. Once groups are identified, they are usually described by their characteristics on various characteristics. At this point, the researcher usually assigns some sort of snappy name for each group, to make it more understandable. For example, Barna labeled a group "revolutionaries." Another researcher, however, might look at the same data and give that group a different name. For example, perhaps "revolutionaries" could also be named "cutting-edge" Christians or maybe "highly-committed" Christians. While various labels would fit any given type, each label has its own connotations, giving subtly different meaning to the taxonomy.

What's the main point here? Typologies are inherently arbitrary. Two very competent researchers could look at the same data and create two very different groupings of Christians.

As such, presentations of typologies miss the mark when they present the types as the "true" types or the "real" types found in the data. In reality, there are hundreds of possible different groupings of Christians, and so any presentation of typologies should emphasize the usefulness of those types but not claim any unique reality of it.

Properly used, typologies certainly have a place in analysis of Christianity.

Thanks David & Stacey!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Empire Strikes Barak (video)

Here's a very well done political spoof, merging Star Wars and the democratic nomination.

It seems that Obama's supporters are much more likely to do this kind of techno-video stuff than Clinton's... wonder if that makes for some small advantage. At least it gives a laugh.

Thanks Paolo!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Should we analyze "types" of Christians?

(Part 3 in a series)

There are probably hundreds of typologies that we could create to classify types of Christians, both in the Church as a whole and in local churches.

Should research of Christians use types?

I would say a positively, definite "it depends" (spoken like a true academic, no?). It depends if the person making or using the typology finds them useful for the purposes that they have at hand.

There's no inherent reasons to use "types" over "traits" when describing people, but it can be useful for presenting information to people not used to dealing with statistics. Most people understand different types of people more readily than different levels of peoples' characteristics. Converting continuous data into discreet types loses information (typically a bad thing in research), but it might be worth it to make the information more accessible to a general crowd.

Types might also be useful in devising church programs or outreach. Suppose a church wants to tailor specific programs to specific groups of people. Well, even if the congregation or community is most accurately described in terms of continuous characteristics, it's impractical to make endless number of programs. As such, dividing people into several different groups and aiming programs at each group makes sense. Again, simplifying the information might have practical benefits.

As an aside, I think this is a noteworthy achievement of the Reveal Study. Though I think that they are over-interpreting their data, the general thrust to come out of their work is to get away from a "one-size-fits-all" approach to church, which just makes sense. (In statistics, this would represent an interaction effect).

When shouldn't typologies be used? Since they involve losing information, I would say, generally speaking, that unless there is a compelling reason to use types, it would be best to stay richer, continuous measures of people when appropriate. Why throw away data? Now, obviously some characteristics are initially measured as separate groups, e.g., paid clergy or not, so these would lend themselves to types without losing information.

Perhaps it's less important whether we use types than it is that we use them well. I will blog on that in my next post on this topic.

Next post.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday stuff

Well, it's Mother's day, and the boys each spent time yesterday getting their presents ready. I pitched in with the present that says romantic love--a 40 pound bag of manure, complete with bow. (It's accompanied by a trip to the nursery and a couple hours of pledged garden work).

Gus bought and put together a loft bed, something that he's always wanted. It's really cool, though it's bit high. He has scarcely two feet from the ceiling when he's in bed--reminds me of the beds in a submarine. Still he's happy.

When he brought his old bed downstairs, he carefully carried the frame. But, when it was time for the mattress, he put it on its side and rode it down the stairs like a sled. There was quite a crash into the front door but even more laughing.

Floyd went 3 for 4 in his first tee-ball game yesterday. Not sure any balls made it out of the infield, but he did make it to first base.

I finished grading yesterday. Every semester I'm surprised by how much time it takes, along with calculating and entering grades--better part of a week with big classes. It's so exhausting, that I may have to take 3.5 months off from teaching. :-)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mill window (pic)

This being New England, there are a lot of old mills around, some still in pretty good shape. Here's a picture of a window from a grist mill on the Fenton River. With a polarizing filter, it turns all sorts of cool colors.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Random samples for sale!

I came across this advertisement on, and I got a good laugh out of it. Since it doesn't specify the population sampled, would any sample work?

"Okay, here's your 1/3 off sample. A stapler, a book, and a picture off the wall."

or maybe numbers from a random number generator?

Hm-m-m-m, if I can sell samples, maybe I can actually pay for my kids' college!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Types vs. traits of people

(Part II in a series of types of Christians)

In thinking about types of Christians, it's worthwhile to be clear on what a "type" is and what are some alternative concepts.

As I'm using the term, a type of Christian is an individual identified by certain characteristics. There are usually multiple types, and any one person fits into one type. For example, in the Christianity Today study mentioned yesterday, sample members are either active, professing, liturgical, private, or cultural Christians. Likewise, in Barna's typology, people are either Revolutionary or not.

(Typically, this kinds of classifications have a small number of groups, but that's not necessary. We could classify types of Christians with an almost-continuous measure. For example, we could define types of Christians by how many minutes they pray, on average, a day. You have the zero minuters, the one-minuters, two-minuters, all the way up to many, many minutes. Now this approach isn't used that often because it's cumbersome, but knowing it helps us to think about how people use types.)

An alternative to types would be traits. These are characteristics that all people have, but at different levels. For example, we could say that all self-professed Christians have some belief about the Bible, and they have it at varying levels.

Any given type of Christian may have multiple characteristics. For example, Barna's revolutionaries have seven distinctive passions.

Any given person has multiple traits, but at different levels. So, we might say that each Christian has some level of Bible-reading, praying, tithing, etc....

To make this distinction clear, let's consider an everyday example--the weather.

As I write, on the shores of beautiful Mirror Lake, it's a beautiful spring day out there. The four seasons (the weather, not the music group) are "types" of weather. For me, spring means a certain time of year with it's own pattern of weather. By saying it's a spring day, I convey information about temperature, plant growth, water levels, etc... Some days are spring days, most (sadly) are not.

I could also describe the weather describing its traits. I could say that it's 76 degrees out, low humidity, with the dogwoods in bloom. Each day all year has some level of each of these characteristics.

Do you see the difference?

As a methodological aside, disciplines in the social sciences vary in their use of types vs. traits. Sociologists typically use traits--variables measuring specific characteristics (e.g., income, education levels, perceptions). Psychologists, on the other hand, are more likely to use types--e.g., personality types of introvert versus extrovert. I'm not sure if these disciplinary differences are due to the subject matter being studied or just tradition.

In my next post I'll discuss which I think is best for empirical studies of Christianity.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Are there different types of Christians? A several-part series

Several recent studies of Christians have taken the approach of using data to create "types" of Christians, and this seems like a good issue to go into depth with, so I'll post a several part series on it. Basically: Is it worthwhile for empirical studies of Christians to differentiate between different types of Christians.

Today I would like to review several studies that have done so.

1) The Reveal Study identifies six segments of growing in Christ, and these segments are discussed as types of people.

Exploring Christianity - "I believe in God but I'm not sure about Christ"
Growing in Christ - "I am working on getting to know Jesus"
Close to Christ - "I feel really close to Christ and depend on him daily"
Christ-Centered - "Everything that I do is a reflect of Christ"
Stalled - "I believe in Christ but I haven't grown much lately"
Dissatisfied - "My faith is central to me, but my church is letting me down"

2) Christianity Today, via Leadership Journal, produced a study creating a five-part typology Christians.

Active Christians 19%. Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ, Committed churchgoers, Bible reader, Accept leadership positions, Invest in personal faith development through the church, Feel obligated to share faith; 79% do so.

Professing Christians 20%. Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ,Focus on personal relationship with God and Jesus, Similar beliefs to Active Christians, different actions, Less involved in church, both attending and serving, Less commitment to Bible reading or sharing faith

Liturgical Christians 16%. Predominantly Catholic and Lutheran,Regular churchgoers, High level of spiritual activity, mostly expressed by serving in church and/or community, Recognize authority of the church

Private Christians 24%. Largest and youngest segment,Believe in God and doing good things, Own a Bible, but don't read it, Spiritual interest, but not within church context, Only about a third attend church at all, Almost none are church leaders

Cultural Christians 21%. Little outward religious behavior or attitudes,God aware, but little personal involvement with God, Do not view Jesus as essential to salvation, Affirm many ways to God, Favor universality theology

3) Barna has identified a group of 20 million or so Christians that he labels Revolutionaries. According to Barna, "These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church." This group has seven passions: Intimate worship, Conversations, Spiritual Growth, Resource Investment, Compassionate Servanthood, Spiritual Friendships, and Family

Each one of these typologies has its own implications for the church, usually implying that the church needs to deal differently with each group.

In my next post, I'll lay out the general, methodological logic of using typologies as well as identifying some alternatives.

P.S., Thanks Stacey for suggesting this as a topic.

P.P.S., If I had to make a typology, it would be: Christians who like ice cream and Christians who really like ice cream.

Next post: Types vs. traits


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Saturday stuff

Thursday was my last day of class until Fall semester. I am somewhat ambivalent about it being done. On one hand, teaching takes up a lot of time and, even more so, energy. I enjoy teaching, but I'm really glad to have that time/energy to put to research which I *really* enjoy. In that way, the semester ending is a plus.

On the other hand, I spend 15 weeks getting to know my students, and I am sad to say goodbye to them. College students are funny, smart, energetic, and overall very interesting people. It's a pleasure and a privilege to get to interact with them--a big plus of the job.

Some of my students have asked me to be their "friend" (I think it's actually used as a verb--to friend someone) on Facebook, and that's fun because it's a way of keeping in touch with what goes on in their lives.

Gus in finishing up his ninth-grade year at the high school, and he's having to figure out how to manage his time and energy for studies. He sort of skated by middle school on being smart and doing assignments at the last minute, but that isn't working now. I'm convinced that he's taking harder courses in 9th grade than I did in 11th or 12th (though my school wasn't all that good academically).

Floyd started t-ball, and so we're playing a lot of catch. His throwing motion reminds me of 'Nuke' LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) in the movie Bull Durham, a big, exaggerated wind-up, lots of velocity, and the ball going who-knows-where.

A list of pollution levels of major cities in the U.S. Sorry John, you've spent most of your life in two of them--Fresno and the LA Basin. Connecticut has low levels of pollution--the millions of squirrels in everyones' yards may have something to do with it.

An interesting post on Scatter Plot about what Sociologists would be doing if they weren't sociologists.

I just read that Sarah over at Stone Parliament of Art is calling it quits. Like many, I have enjoyed her blog and will miss it. Good bye!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Floyd's waterfall (pic)

Here are two pictures of a local waterfall under a full moon. I went to take the picture, and Floyd came along to help me (it was about 9 pm). He brought a flashlight since it was dark, then he started goofing around with it. Me, being the brilliant photographer and loving parent was simply annoyed with the light changes, until he suggested lighting up the bottom of the waterfall. (It was in shadow). So, his good idea made for a nice picture.

BTW, which do you like better?