Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Climate change and Christianity?

A friend recently sent me this call for papers, and it reminded me of something that I don't understand. Why do people think that their religious beliefs gives them a unique insight into climate change? I was reading a book earlier this year that described Jerry Falwell and other Evangelical leaders advocating a certain position about the causes of climate change. Now, I have no problems with religious people having opinions about all sorts of things, but what I don't get is how it's tied to religion. Yes I am a Christian, and that informs a lot about how I see the world. For example, here. However, it doesn't give me a lot of insight into the effect of different chemicals in the atmosphere and their sources. Personally, I think that climate change probably results from humans activities, but that's not at all a faith statement.

Still, as long as people are bring religion into the debate about climate change, I suppose that it makes sense to study it....


Expressions of interest are requested by 15 February, 2011; Papers July 2011

Papers are requested for a special issue of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture (JSRNC) on “Religion and Climate Change” and a possible book. Anthropogenic climate change is among the most significant and far-reaching social issues of our time. Although climate scientists are near unanimous about potentially catastrophic consequences, mobilizing a meaningful response has proven to be a real challenge. Numerous statements on climate change by faith-based actors and institutionalized religious groups have occurred in recent years. However, far less research has been published about actually existing faith-shaped action by religious institutions, groups and individuals.


Thanks Mike!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A good example of using statistics in the pulpit

One of the fun things with writing a book is hearing how people respond to it. This week a pastor in St. Joseph, MI posted a thoughtful review of my book here. What impressed me in his review were his own thoughts about how to use statistics in his preaching. He describes well, so I'll just quote the relevant sections:

"One example in which Dr. Wright challenges Barna’s writing is in the off repeated statistic that Christians get divorced as often as non-Christians. I’ve bored my friends and colleagues for years telling them this is simply not true! When I ask, “Is this true among the Christians you know?” they admit it isn’t, but they assume the statistic is true because someone wrote it down. As you can imagine, that does not make it true.


I’m a preacher myself, but I refuse to use statistics unless they both make sense and can be validated—otherwise I make it clear to my hearers that I am aware statistics are only as valid as the research on which they are based."

I appreciate his thoughtfulness in using data in his teaching, and I think it's a good example for other preachers as well.

Thanks Rick!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Misinformation about Evangelicals... again

Newsweek magazine recently had an article about Amish fiction. In the midst of it, the author threw in these statistics about American Evangelical Christianity:

"The most ardent fans of the Amish romances are evangelical Christian women who buy the books at Walmart. To them, the Amish represent more than simplicity. Evangelical Christians have among the highest divorce rates in the country; single Christian mothers are often their families’ main breadwinners. For these moms the Amish books are, literally, a fantasy: a picture of the perfect environment in which to raise Christian children." [Emphasis added].

I assume the writer read them on-line somewhere or maybe heard them from someone somewhere. I was thinking of posting a comment linking to data, but I can't imagine it would make a difference.

Thanks Andy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Religion and crime... today's ecological fallacy

This post on the website cites a study that finds that crime rates in less religious countries are lower than those in more religious countries. Okay, I can accept that as plausible.

But then the post veers off-course by exclaiming that: "Atheists don't commit as much crime as the religious do."

This is an ecological fallacy. Correlations at the group level don't necessarily hold at the individual level. In fact, at least here in the United States, religion is associated with less crime rather than more crime.

How do I know? I coauthored a meta-analysis of 60+ articles on the topic.

The abstract:

Do religious beliefs and behaviors deter criminal behavior? The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime. In this article, the authors address this controversial issue with a meta-analysis of 60 previous studies based on two questions: (1) What is the direction and magnitude of the effect of religion on crime? (2) Why have previous studies varied in their estimation of this effect? The results of the meta-analysis show that religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior. Furthermore, previous studies have systematically varied in their estimation of the religion-on-crime effect due to differences in both their conceptual and methodological approaches.

I posted this on the atheism resources website, but I'm cynical enough to think that they won't correct their post. It's too consistent with what they might expect and too juicy to change. I expect this not because they are atheists, but rather because they are advocates of a particular position... and advocates often don't like data that disagrees with them.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised, though.

(Thanks Edward)

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to ask for a better grade

It's that time of year, when I'm calculating grades and students are hoping to get good grades. Each semester I get several requests asking for better grades because either the student needs it or the student really, really wants it. I suppose that in some sense these requests are silly, since all students want and see themselves as needing good grades, but I can understand the sentiment behind them.

Sometimes I want to ask the same things in my own life. Could I please have more merit pay? I really want it and need it. Could you please accept my article? I really....

I did get one request, however, that made me chuckle. Somewhere in these messages is usually a compliment of the course, which I suppose isn't a bad idea, since they are asking for something. in this request, though, the student launched right into the asking and then signed his name. Then, apparently realizing that he forgot the key compliment-component of the request, he added a postscript:

PS: Your class is nothing short of awesome!

I guess that having been late in compliment, he went all out with it. Does anyone ever say something is short of awesome? "Your class was good, maybe really good, but it fell short of awesome." Now that's a compliment that could get a better grade!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The inadvertent Christmas fan

I'm not much for the Christmas season, at least how it's celebrated in the US. In fact, about my only Christmas tradition is posting the lyrics to this song. You can understand, then, why I wasn't too pleased with this event in the past week.

The other day I took the dog for a long walk, part of it in the woods. It was a cold day, so I got one of her little sweaters (she's a miniature poodle), and since it's hunting season, I got a bright red one (who knows what hunters will shoot at). Halfway through the walk, I realized that I had dressed her up in the most Christmas-y outfit imaginable. Bright red, with green sparkle hearts, white tassels, and "seasons greetings" written all over it. I tried to glare at passer-byers who fawned over her, just to let them know that I didn't mean it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

My boring celebrations

Earlier this week I sent off the last few chapters of my next book to my editor. Now, there's still plenty of proofreading to do, and it's far from done, but it is certainly a milestone in the project... one that I have been working toward since early Spring.

So, what did I do to celebrate? Took one day off to walk in the woods with the dog, cook a nice supper, and clean my office. Today I spent answering the three weeks worth of e-mail that I hadn't gotten to in the final, big push. When I was writing, I thought that getting the book off would be followed by a big, fun celebration, but when the time came, I was too tired to do much of anything.

Hopefully the book will be better than my celebrations of it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Church doing the right thing

A church that I am familiar with has had a tough couple of years. Their lead pastor stepped down amidst moral impropriety and financial mismanagement. What's surprised me the most in this difficult situation is the congregation's response to the situation. As I've heard members of that church talk about the situation, they've intentionally sought to show love and mercy to the previous pastor, his victims, and the church as a whole. Several people even made it their goal to support him personally as he transitioned to a new life situation--despite the considerable hurt they felt. Wow.

I'm sure that that church wasn't perfect in it's love, but compare it to how other organizations might respond. Imagine a bank CEO embezzling funds or a childcare worker somehow putting children at risk or a physician withholding treatment. In any of these situations the organizations response would probably be rather severe, and I can't imagine a lot of concern and support for the offending individual.

Once again, I appreciate the good work of the church.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas flash mob sings Handel

This is almost enough to get me into the Christmas spirit...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reason #62 that I'm a Christmas Grinch

I don't watch much television, but it's Thanksgiving morning at Grandmother's house, and I'm watching the Macy Parade with the boys.  The last float--singers/ dancers dressed like penguins singing Christmas carols while they did Irish dancing.  Really.

I think I'll try hibernating until December 26.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A protest slogan that we can believe in!

From the restoring sanity rally...

Thanks, John!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Maybe we're not getting dumber

David Weakliem examines changes in Americans' recognition of famous people.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My weird brain,,, Prosopagnosia

I've known for awhile that my brain works differently than other peoples', especially when it comes to recognizing things. Well, a month ago I put a name to a condition. I have a moderate case of what is called prosopagnosia, also called "face blindness."

Here's a definition of it: "an impairment in the recognition of faces. It is often accompanied by other types of recognition impairments (place recognition, car recognition, facial expression of emotion, etc.) though sometimes it appears to be restricted to facial identity.... One of the telltale signs of prosopagnosia is great reliance on non-facial information such as hair, gait, clothing, voice, and other information."

That's me. I recognize people my their hair and how they walk, more than their faces. Here are some examples:

* I have a good friend who got her haircut. I walked into a room, and saw her from the side, and didn't know who she was. Then she started walking, and I immediately recognized her.

* I had met with a student five or six times during a semester, and then she changed her hair to blonde. She sat down at my office hours, and I introduced myself to her since I thought I had met her before.

* I can scan a classroom of up to about 50 people and know instantly who changed their hair since the last class session.

It's not just faces, but also voices. I just don't recognize voices on the phone, and instead I usually guess who it is by the words they use or when they call. This actually was a bit of a problem before caller id because I would offend friends and family members who called by not knowing who they were.

I'm still thinking through how this affects my work as a sociologist. A clue: I don't remember any details about other peoples' or my own research, but I remember patterns of logic or data analysis. This is probably why I tend toward interdisciplinary work, it comes naturally to take how work is done in one field and import it into another.

Monday, November 01, 2010

When I take a few days off from writing

For the past couple of years, I've tried to write, or prepare for writing, for four or five hours a day, five days a week. (Weekends off). As such, waking up and stumbling to the computer becomes such a habit that I don't really think about it much, and the writing usually comes fairly easily.

However, this gets disrupted when I take time off. Last week I didn't write on Thursday or Friday due to going to a professional conference . The conference was enriching--I learned a lot and got some good ideas for future research, but this morning, when I got back to the computer, I noticed that it didn't feel as natural. The writing felt forced and more stressful than usual. If past experience holds, I'll be back in the groove by tomorrow, but it's a good reminder of how useful a writing routine is.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Jerk Club

Someone very close to me inadvertently joined the jerk club. You see, she was trying to submit a book order to a person at the campus where she works. The fellow did not respond, so she sent another order. Still no response. Finally, upset about the problems that it would cause she sent a strongly-worded message insisting that he get back to her.

She learned a few days later that he had passed away a couple months ago. Oops....

She told this to a colleague, and the colleague welcomed her to the "jerk" club for chewing out a dead guy.

This colleague then told her of other inductees, and, well, there are good stories of dumb things people do on campus.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Today's obscure religous metaphore

"Go to heaven in a wheelbarrow" To be damned to eternal suffering; to go to hell. This obsolete expression has been traced to a window in Gloucestershire, England, depicting Satan wheeling away a termagant woman in a wheelbarrow.

This oppressor must needs go to heaven, … But it will be, as the by-word is, in a Wheel-barrow; the fiends, and not the Angels will take hold on him. (Thomas Adams, Gods Bounty, 1618)


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thoughts about the Vineyard Denomination

Yesterday I received and e-mail that was encouraging and depressing at the same time. It was from a member of the Vineyard denomination, and noted that my book contains a story about the Vineyard, and he wondered, with concern, if I had had a bad experience with the Vineyard.

In the story, I tell of going to a healing meeting held by some friends at college who had gotten involved with the Vineyard. At my first meeting, I was all ready to receive the spirit, and during worship I felt a warm tingling feeling on my arm, and, to make a long story short, it was just the heating vent on the floor.

I meant the story as simply another "foolish me" story (and there are a lot of them), not at all a critique of the Vineyard. I actually was profoundly influenced by my friends' services such that I started attending Vineyard Conferences, and, upon graduating from college, moved to SoCal to be involved in a Vineyard for several years. Much of how I understand Christianity now was shaped by the teachings and my experiences with the Vineyard, and I have nothing but appreciation for the Vineyard and the people that I knew. 

So, I was depressed that I had communicated poorly, but I was very encouraged that the Vineyard person handled the situation so well. He wrote with concern and clarification--just like a Christian should. I suppose that fits with the theme of the book--that Christians very often act as they should. Well done Vineyard!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Friday, October 01, 2010

Is it true? Atheists know more about religion than Christians

Periodically I get e-mails regarding a statistic that has recently come out regarding Christianity. I appreciate these e-mails, and I got a bunch this week regarding a study recently released by Pew. In this study, Pew administered a 32 question test about different world religions to 3,400 Americans, and when the results were tallied, it turns out that Atheists, Jews, and Mormons scored the highest. Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics the lowest, White Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mainline Protestants in the middle. Here's the table from Pew:

In response, some Atheists have crowed about their knowledge, implying this survey supports the wisdom of their position. From the New York Times, the president of the American Atheists said: “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people.... Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

My thoughts about this study? Well, first of all Pew is a very reputable source of information about religion in America, and I frequently use their data in my own research. They have solid methods and present the material with a minimum of sensationalism.

For me, the more interesting data comes in the reports next table, presented here:

When broken down by type of question, it turns out that atheists and agnostics know more about other religions, but some types of Christians know more about Christianity.  Evangelicals, for example, score higher (though I'm not sure about the statistical significance of this difference).  In fact, for me the big surprise of the report was that Evangelicals scored higher than mainline Protestants (though I'm not sure why I would have expected otherwise).  This goes against the argument that atheists/agnostics reject Christianity because they have learned so much about it. As such, it might be more accurate to say that they know more about "religions" than "religion" per se.

I make this distinction because this test asks basic historical, biographical, and theological questions about religion. However, for many people, including myself, my interest in Christianity isn't one of detached fact-collecting, rather it's the practice of it. So, knowing about Jonathan Edwards, a cool 18th century Christian theologian, may be interesting, but it's not that important for me to know as a Christian.

I certainly don't fault Pew for this test... it's interesting for what it is. To illustrate what it doesn't do, imagine a test that describes various life situations and asks what a Christian should do (e.g., love your enemy, serve the poor, have faith in God, etc...). This type of test would get at the essence of Christianity in a way that factoids do not.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An interview in Christianity Today

Here's an interview with me in the magazine Christianity Today.  I really enjoyed talking with Ted Olsen, and his editing made me sound more well-spoken than I really am.  Thanks Ted!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A near-death experience

Spent a couple days in New York City last week at a symposium, and during one of the breaks I started chatting with a guy sitting next to me. He mentioned having had a heart attack several years earlier, and he had one of those see-the-light near death experiences. Apparently he was medically dead on the operating table for a bit before they could revive him, and during that time, he talked with God. He experienced God telling him something along the lines of: "You know, I've always been with you" to which this guy replied "I know". Then God said "And I'll be with your children" to which he gave the same reply.

I really enjoyed hearing this story, and after we had talked about it for awhile, I asked him how people responded to it. He said that about half were very interested, but about half felt very uncomfortable and just changed the topic.

Stories like this are fascinating, and I've read some books based on them. But, theologically I'm not sure how to make sense of these kinds of experiences. Aren't they sort of Heaven's version of catch-and-release?

At least the people who experience them usually have positive messages. Imagine hearing "who are you?" or "are you ever in trouble."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A great departmental website

Now, this is how department websites should be done!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just the social facts, ma'am

My good friend David Weakliem just started a blog.  He's a master at finding obscure, interesting survey data, and here's his place for sharing his findings.  Always interesting, perhaps occasionally important.  :-)

Check it out!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I think this is a compliment?

From another e-mail, from someone who has known me for awhile...

"In our often uncertain world, your somewhat sick, sarcastic, make-me belly-laugh sense of humor is commended for its almost droid-like consistency!"

I think this is good?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I decided that having a Facebook account, blog, e-mail, phone, and stamps for letters simply didn't not give me enough ways to communicate with others, so I've started twittering as well.

More and more my ideas and thoughts about life don't exceed 140 characters, so Twitter seems like a good idea. :-)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A critique from an Asian Christian

One of the interesting things about writing a book is seeing how people react to it. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received from a self-identified "Asian-Christian" (Chinese judging from the name). S/he starts out with some nice things to say, and then offers these corrections. Basically, they boil down to 1) I shouldn't tell jokes about sacred things and 2) what I perceive as discrimination might be acceptable. Not that I agree with these comments, but they highlight for me some very real cultural differences in how Christians think.


On P77 - Don't blaspheme using the term "holy trinity" in a joke; it must not be used other than describing the Godhead in a respectful way. I have seen frequent misuse of the word "Trinity" even among Christians. Has blaspheming become a trend among Christians in N. America?

On P20 - You should not have used a femine pronoun for a pastor since the Bible clearly prohibits female's spiritual authority over males and in fact the vast majority of ordained pastors are males. It's a mockery to male pastors.

On P69 - No Christians will try to find the future by the crystal ball; i t's a demonic sorcery.

On P178 - Christians MUST oppose gay speaking. Why should any Christians support or be neutral regarding perverts speaking in public? What do those humans who feel sexual desires for the same sex have anything worth to say? They are out there to promote perversion. Does American society force us to hear child molesters or the criminals of incest? Not yet. The question must be if Christians could dine with perverts and share the Gospel. Nothing more. We don't need peace when the society is so accepting of immorality. Immoral, pervert civilization won't have peace, since it doesn't deserve it. Christianity is for righteousness, not peace alone.

Next are my questions for you to ponder

On P 178 - Why is it wrong for whites to oppose kin's marriage to blacks or colored? Nothing is wrong with that!! I'm an Asian myself and we usually never favor inter-national marriage, let alone inter-racial merriage. Opposing inter-racial marriage is a natural inclination of mankind to preserve a race and order, not always racism. Of course we expect exceptions, but they are exceptions nontheless.

I have a personal question here for you. Why do white people nowadays so harsh on themselves or their ancestors? It looks ridiculous to outsiders. A picture of self-destruction. We colored people respected white people a lot more 30, 40, even 50 years ago and before. Whites don't need to be bash themselves to maintain respect. Colored people have plenty racism, vicious nature and horrible pasts(and current goings); I hope more white Americans could master some non-European languages so they can find more wholesome reality of the world.

On P 193 - Nothing is wrong for Christians to have negative opinion on cults and pagans and anti-God groups. It'd be a real problem if we don't have low opinion on them! They have outright serious theological and ethical and other problems. The right questions would be "Would you host a dinner for them?" Or "talk with them kindly and help them?" That's as far Jesus went, nothing beyond. Christians have been really compassionate throughout the history and the barbaric mankind learned to accept others through Christianity.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Article about religion and education

Yahoo, a paper just got accepted on which I'm a coauthor. It's written by a student, Michael McFarland, who is now working on his PhD at Texas.

It's entitled: "Educational Attainment and Religiosity: Exploring Variations by Religious Tradition," and it will be coming out in Sociology of Religion.

Here's the abstract:
This study examines the relationship between educational attainment and various dimensions of religiosity. On the basis of a network closure argument, we hypothesize that the relationship between education and religiosity varies by religious tradition. Analyzing data from the 1972–2006 General Social Survey, we found that educational attainment predicted increased attendance at religious services, decreased levels of prayer, increased inclination to view the Bible as a book of fables, and decreased inclination to view the Bible as the literal word of God. These relationships, however, significantly interacted with religious tradition. Increased education largely resulted in greater religiosity among evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, and Catholics but not among mainline Protestants and the nonaffiliated. Overall, this study shows that education does not uniformly decrease religiosity and highlights the importance of considering religious tradition in future research.

Always gratifying when journals say "yes"

Monday, September 06, 2010

A statistic about Christian pastors mutates

Here's a nice discussion about some stats about christian pastors that are floating around the net. It claims that thousands of pastors leave the church each month, and it attributes the stat to Barna (though I read somewhere else that Barna doesn't claim it).

Either way, yet another cancerous stat.

Thanks Mike.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Things people do when they are texting

For awhile now, I've been noticing that people text while doing just about anything else. Yesterday I was driving across campus, which has lots of construction underway, and a police officer directing traffic almost caused an accident because he didn't see two cars coming into the intersection at the same time. Why? Because he was texting.

I've also seen gratuitous texting while people are:
* Driving (of course)
* Walking across the state highway next to UConn, amidst traffic
* During one of my lectures (who wouldn't want to)
* Using a urinal at a Notre Dame football game, while also holding a big cup of beer
* Scolding their child in a supermarket parking lot
* Playing with their children in a park
* Riding a roller coaster at Six Flags
* Talking to me during office hours

Any to add to this list?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Gen X kids are more loyal to religion

From the Scientific American website: (Thanks Jay!)

"Research published this week reveals a surprising trend among the American generation X—the group who came of age in the late 1980s and 1990s and are known for their rejection of all things conventional. It appears that in comparison to the baby boomers, Gen-Xers are significantly more loyal to religion.

Scientists analyzed survey responses from more than 37,000 people between the years 1973 to 2006. Their results are published in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. They found that boomers are 40 to 50 percent more likely to abandon their religious faith, than gen-Xers.

Interesting to note, from those surveyed, the number of Americans with no religious affiliation doubled in the 1990s and continues to increase through the first decade of this century.

The researchers attribute this drop off to the boomers who were likely to have abandoned religion in young adulthood perhaps due to the rejection of organized authority or what the researchers call the “1960s effect.”

So what’s up with this newfound loyalty in the younger generation X?

Well the authors note that it probably has to do with the expansion of the “religious marketplace” in recent decades, and suggest that instead of this trend watering down religious faith, they say that more choices is influencing the increase in affiliation and commitment to religion."

—Christie Nicholson

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bob and Audrey Meisner

Earlier this summer I had the chance to spend a couple days with Bob and Audrey Meisner, Christian Broadcasters up in Winnipeg, Canada.

I've spent some time thinking about and analyzing Christians' behavior that break their moral beliefs. In talking to Bob and Audrey, I realized that I've missed half the story. It's not just whether Christians act immorally (or, how much, I should say), but how they respond to it.

Bob and Audrey had a very public ministry for years, three kids, and all seemed well, except Audrey had an affair and got pregnant. In response, they fought hard for their marriage and incorporating the child into their lives, and they now use the whole situation to teach others about marriage.

From their website:

"She had an affair,
They kept the baby,
Through pain they were rescued,
Their life now exceeds their wildest dreams"

I appreciate how hard they've worked to bring beauty out of pain.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why do adults become Christians?

Here's a very interesting article about the adult conversion process.

In it the author, Mike Fleischmann, a pastor from Southern California, sets out to learn how many Christians become so in adulthood (rather than childhood), and what is the process they take.

He speaks of the 85/18 rule which is an axiom that 85% of Christians become so before age 18. He concludes that:

"I must admit that the "85/18 Rule" was partially confirmed in my research. In fact 84.5 percent of evangelicals do accept Christ before that age. However, the statistic only holds true if they were raised in a home where both parents were Christians with either a high or moderate level of spiritual activity. If, however, they were raised without that benefit, the percentage drops by two-thirds. The rest of the unchurched make their faith decisions throughout the course of adulthood and even into retirement."

He also has some interesting observations about the conversion process for adults.

Thanks Ed!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why I went to the hospital during our family vacation

For the first time in years, we got away for a family vacation. We only had five days, so we took our pop-up camper to the Rhode Island coast, near some fun beaches. (By the way, when we pulled into our camping spot, I noticed that the amazing pop-up camper in the camping spot next to us was a lot nicer than our $500 1970s era off-Craigs-List tent. When I got home, I looked it up, and I estimate that their camper alone cost about ten times more than our camper and car combined. No wonder they looked at us funny when we completed the camper set-up using duct tape.)

Anyway, I managed to spend the last several days of the vacation in the local hospital, and rather than just tell you what happened, I'll make it a multiple choice test (in preparation for the upcoming semester).

I was in the hospital because:
A) The clam cakes we ate were too greasy, so they had to remove my gall bladder
B) We set up our tent at night, so I didn't see the patch of poison ivy that I was crawling around in, and they had to treat me with steroids via an IV drip
C) While swimming I got entangled with a large jellyfish and had to be pulled out by the lifeguards. The hospital treated the second- and third-degree burns I had on my legs.
D) I really wanted some peace-and-quiet.

Give up?  Here's a hint. I'm home now, but very sore, and it may take a couple more years to be ready for another family vacation.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Research on Religion Podcast

Tony Gill, out at U. Washington, has done us a big favor by starting the Research on Religion podcast.  On a regular basis, he uploads extended discussions with religion scholars about their work.  Through good fortune, I got to be one of his guests, and he podcast was just posted recently.  You can listen to it here.

Unlike some of the other interviews that I've done, this one is a conversation with a fellow researcher, so we're able to go into a little more depth about the research.

Enjoy, and check out his other guests too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hey, it's me on almost-TV

FoxNews has a web channel called The Strategy Room, and one of their segments is GodTalk.  I got to talk about my book on it this morning, down in NYC. I think it came out okay?

Here's the link for the video

Monday, August 09, 2010

Monday, August 02, 2010

Depressing stats for pastors

I've not studied surveys of Christian pastors, but from the sounds of this article, it's a tough profession. That doesn't surprise me, because it has so many diverse demands. A good pastor has to be a theologian, psychologist, CEO, accountant, speaker, and lots of other things, all with a smile on his or her face.

I think that I'll stick to the cushy life of a professor.

(thanks Eric)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Should survey researchers of religion go to seminary?

Here's an interesting idea: Religious survey researchers should go to seminary to increase the accuracy and usefulness of their survey questions. This idea is put forth in an article by Pete Enns, discussed on Scot McKnight's blog.

Now, after 5 years undergrad, 7 years grad, and 2 years post-doc, there's no way I'm going back to school, but the article makes a good point. My neighbor, who is a retired pastor, has pointed out a couple of theological ambiguities in my book, and it would have been better for me to have known about them.

Maybe there's a market for MDiv consultants in survey research?

(Thanks Ed)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Christian Post article about my book

Here's an article in yesterday's Christian Post that does a good job of describing my book. The writer, Lillian Kwon, did well at describing its main themes and capturing the spirit of it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hi, I'm Brad and I'm a conehead

There's a reason why we should be patient with others... it helps keep us from looking really stupid.

Several times a week I go to the gym at our town's community center. In front of the center is a fire lane and about 20 feet further a loading zone. Drivers regularly stop in the fire lane to let people out or wait for them, but this blocks traffic and can be dangerous. This has bugged me for awhile now, especially since the official loading zone just yards away.

Earlier this week, I went to the center and, sure enough, a van was parked in the fire lane, making it hard to get into a couple parking spaces. The driver came around the back of the van, and I asked in a polite but firm voice that she not park in the fire lane. She responded kindly and said she would be done quickly, as soon as the gentleman she was dropping off got going. I looked, and saw a very old, disabled man struggling with his walker toward the front door. The exact kind of person who should be let off as close as possible.

I felt so, so dumb (a place that I have been before), and I apologized to the driver. Doh-h-h-h.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Evangelicals vs. Mainline Churches and youth ministry

Mark Chaves, a professor at Duke, studies American churches. He recently wrote about Evangelical vs. Mainline churches in their ability to keep young people in the church, and he found that Evangelicals do a better job, in part due their investing more money and effort into youth ministry.

He also summarized work by James Wellman on different expectations of the church. "For evangelicals, if children and youth are not enjoying church, it is the church's fault and evangelical parents either find a new church or try to improve their youth ministry," Wellman said. "For liberals, the tendency is the reverse; if youth do not find church interesting it is their problem. Evangelicals are simply more interested and invested in reproducing the faith in their children and youth and their churches reflect this priority."


(Thanks Mike)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The moneymaker water pump

Also from Michael Kruse's blog: a fascinating report about an engineer who is trying to help poor people in Africa by selling, and not giving away, water pumps.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Research on religion podcasts

In case you didn't know of it already, there's a great new website,, that podcasts of religion scholars discussing their research. It's run by Tony Gill, a political scientist at U. Washington, and it has some very interesting speakers on it, including Rodney Stark. The most recent podcast, for example, covers religion and health. Cool!

Tony kindly interviewed me for an upcoming podcast, and I hope that I don't pull down the curve too much.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One of these things is not like the other....

Do you remember the Sesame Street song... "One of these things is not like the other" in which multiple objects are presented with one being different in some way.

Well, let's play that game now. Here's a picture from the recent Leadership Network newsletter. Which one of these things just doesn't belong.

(Hint: Three of the books are written by famous, clean-cut Christian leaders who remember when they're supposed to be somewhere)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stupid subconscious!

This week I start teaching a summer school class on social psychology--one of my favorite classes to teach.

Earlier this summer, however, I had a number of dreams about the class, and in all of them I just showed up at class, completely unprepared, not ready to teach it, and otherwise confused. I would wake up from these dreams bewildered because why would I stress out about a small summer school class that I've taught several times before?

Well, I had written down that it's a Tuesday-Thursday class. It's not. It's Monday Wednesday. So, today, about 1:30, I got a call from the department secretary asking why I wasn't in my 1:00 class (a student had called her). I had been outside, so I threw a shirt on, got a quick ride to the classroom, and at 1:40 I was standing in front of the class completely unprepared, not ready to teach it, and otherwise confused. No syllabus, no lecture outlines (which I was going to do tomorrow)--all from memory.

So, I guess that my subconscious was trying to tell me something after all. I figure that it should either speak loud enough to be heard or just let me sleep peacefully.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Guns in church?

Louisiana recently passed a law allowing guns in church.

I suppose, if nothing else, this will keep sermons from going on too long...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A hypocrite comment....

A friend and neighbor of mine, a retired pastor, read my book, and he told me a story about the use of the term "hypocrite" that puts it into good perspective. He wrote:

Over the years I have called on more than one unaffiliated couple who have claimed that my church was full of hypocrites. I have always been tempted but have never replied: "We always have room for one more."

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Thoughts from Ortberg

Also from John Ortberg, more ideas of how to do Christianity.

"Instead of making vows about how my spiritual life will be perfectly well organized until I die, I seek to surrender my will for just this day. I look for small graces. I try to engage in little acts of service. I pray briefly to accommodate my limited attention span. I look for ways of being with God that I already enjoy. I try to go for half an hour without complaining. I try to say something encouraging to three people in a row. I put twenty dollars in my pocket that I will give away during the day. I take a five-minute break to read a page of great thoughts." (P. 71).


Saturday, July 03, 2010

The best laid plans...

This evening I was working hard getting ready for our big fourth of July pool party tomorrow, and at one point I was carrying an old clay pot.  It shattered, and cut my thumb quite well.  Off the emergency room to have it sewn up, and the doctor's instruction: no swimming for a week.  :-(

So, tomorrow, I will watch others enjoy the pool that I got ready....  (I suppose that it would be small of me to cancel the whole party).

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Henri Nouwen

Something that I like about Christianity is that it turns people's priorities upside down. From John Ortberg's great book, Me, becoming God's best version of you, here's info about Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen:

"Henri Nouwen, a priest and teacher who moved in the exalted circles of Harvard and Yale and Notre Dame, came to believe that those settings did not--for him--call forth the person God intended him to be. So this famous writer spent the last decade of his life caring for physically and mentally challenged residents of a small community called L'Arche."

Very cool (and much easier to appreciate in abstract than to do something like that myself).

Monday, June 28, 2010

My blog turns 1,000 posts old

I just noticed that my blog is now 1,000 posts long (or deep?). I started it on a bit of a lark, and who would have thunk, but it's still going.

It has served me very, very well, ultimately leading to a book contract and lots of useful contacts in academics and the media.

When I started the blog, I was writing more extensive essays, sometimes based on data. Now, however, I spending so much time writing for publications (in part, due to the blog), that the blog is more talking about whatever I've happened to notice.

Still... 1,000 posts, that's a lot more than I thought it would be.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How I'm going to promote my book

This coming Thursday my book will be officially released (though Amazon is already shipping it).  I've been wondering how to help promote it (though my publisher has already lined up a series of interviews), and then my son, Gus, suggested the approach shown in this video.  I think that he's on to something:

Monday, June 21, 2010

How many stops is a book tour?

My book comes out this week,and my publisher has set up various publicity things, like articles and interviews. In two weeks I'm going to Winnipeg, Canada to tape an interview on a television show.

Here's my question. Since I'm going there to talk about my book, does that count as a book tour? You see, I've always thought that it would be cool to go on a book tour, so I'm keen to know exactly what constitutes on. If so, maybe I'll get t-shirts printed up, and on the back they will say "Tour Dates" listing the one stop to Winnipeg.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bad news regarding education

I don't study education, but I have seen these kinds of statistics before, and it always depresses me....

"Research indicates that persons entering the teaching field had lower SAT scores than their non-teaching, college-graduating peer and those leaving the profession had higher scores than those remaining as teachers. In addition, the scores of those majoring in education were lower than those of graduates who majored in another field. Those who came to teaching without prior preparation, such as student teaching, had higher scores."  Source: Social Change in America, The Historical Handbook 2004.  Edited by Patricia Becker.

K-12 teaching is as difficult as it is important, so it's a shame that we can't keep the smartest teachers. I've read before that this is an argument for raising their salaries... to keep the best people (who are presumably also the smartest, though, perhaps not).


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mark Edwards, professor extraordinaire

Here's a nice article about my good friend and fellow sociologist Mark Edwards. He takes both his faith and teaching very seriously...

Friday, June 11, 2010

When I'm writing....

I've started working at home a lot more this last year, and it works out well for a number of reasons, but one problem has been my my distraction and disengagement when I'm working, even when I take a short break from it. I've tried to deal with this by having set hours when I work, so that Cathy and the boys can know what to expect.

I was reading a book by Orson Scott Card, and in his afterward, he thanked his daughter for having to "deal with a father who haunts the house like a distracted, irritable ghost during the writing of this book."

What a great phrase... captures who I am when I'm writing.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Christians and judgmentalism

On a post last week, I got the following anonymous comment:

"I believe that you have unwittingly touched upon one of the most significant evils within the Christian culture today - the idea that we can judge whether a person we have never met will or will not go to heaven.  I wonder how many people gave the proper answer of "I have no idea. That's for God to decide and not me"?"

I've been thinking about this comment, and I absolutely agree that it's a bad idea for Christians to think that they know who is or isn't going to heaven. Some things God is just better at than us, and this is one of them.

While the comment didn't make this comparison, it got me wondering if Christians are more judgmental than others. It seems that we have that reputation, but I'm not sure it's correct. For one, we're warned in scripture not to judge others (e.g., Matthew 7). Also, we spend a lot of time confronting our failures (called sin), so it makes us perhaps more hesitant to think we've got it all together. Finally, non-Christians can show moral judgmentalism as well. For a rather sad example.

What do you think?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Who is the one person most likely to go to heaven?

This one is easy... among all people, who is most likely to get into heaven? (After Mother Theresa, that is)... you.

When asked "How likely...are get into heaven?"
54% of respondents said Very likely
34% Somewhat likely
3% Somewhat unlikely
3% Very unlikely
4% Don't know
3% Refused

88% think they're likely to go to heaven... that's more than actually believe in an afterlife/heaven.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Who is going to heaven among 1990s celebrities?

The poll that I've been posting about this week also asked respondents about the heaven-prospects for famous people (circa 1997). Specifically, it asks "Assuming there is a heaven, please tell me, in your opinion, how likely each of the following individuals is to get into heaven"

Here are the percentage of respondents who answered "very likely" for the following celebs:

OJ Simpson-7%
Howard Stern-10%
Newt Gingrich-11%
Rush Limbaugh-14%
Bill Clinton-18%
Hilary Clinton-19%
Al Gore-21%
Princess Diana-22%
Magic Johnson-24%
Pat Robertson-25%
Colin Powell-32%
Oprah Winfrey-36%
Mother Theresa-74%

I'm not sure what the trends are here, other than most celebs are best known for something other than doing good.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Who is going to heaven among regular people?

The US News and World Report 1996 poll mentioned yesterday also asked questions about other people getting into heaven. Specifically, it asked "Please tell me, in your opinion, about how many of each of the following groups you think will get into heaven"

The answers:
* 31% of respondents said that most or all Americans will get into heaven
* 42% thought that most or all of their neighbors will
* 55% thought that most or all of their close friends will

This illustrates a larger principle that we tend to think more positively about those near us than those far away. Similarly, many surveys have found that people think that their local life circumstances are fine, but those of the world and nation are terrible.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

What does it take to get into heaven?

I just came across a really interesting poll collected by The US News and World Report in 1997 about who will get into heaven and why.

One question is: Which do you think will count more toward getting into heaven...good deeds and moral behavior or religious faith and observance?  (U.S. News & World Report Poll, Mar, 1997)

51% Good deeds and moral behavior

28% Religious faith and observance

13% Both or depends (vol.)

6% Neither or other (vol.)

I'm surprised that more people didn't choose both...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Prom night for Gus

Well, I just got back from dropping off Gus at his junior prom... a proud moment with such a handsome young man.

For reasons that I don't understand, however, he declined to follow my advice to wear a baby-blue tuxedo, and he didn't even seem to pay attention when I showed him some disco moves.  Kids these days.

Pond (pic)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Today's sign that I'm getting old and cranky

Twice in the last two weeks, I've walked into a store and had a clerk (both young guys) shout out, as a greeting, "Hey buddy."  Now, I didn't know these clerks nor am I a regular customer there.  Instead, it's the new "may I help you".  I just ignored their greeting on the grounds that we're not yet buddies.  The greeting bothered me a bit, but I was probably more bothered that it bothered me.  Getting old...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The first review of my book

This review, from Publisher's Weekly, is a nice summary of the book (and the publicist at Baker was really happy it's not negative).

"A sociologist at the University of Connecticut, Wright examines recent survey data on Christian evangelicals to see if they substantiate the often misguided and hyperbolic public perceptions of this faith group. Separating the wheat from the chaff, he explains how some poorly worded, ill-sampled statistics give the wrong impression of evangelicals and why people should avoid giving them credence. Though he often blames the media for gleefully reporting bad news about devout Christians, he doesn’t spare evangelical polemicists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for their false exaggerations of evangelical shortcomings. His biggest target may be the pollster George Barna, whose surveys on Christianity have generated intense controversy. Wright’s colloquial writing style gives this volume the feel of a folksy college lecture series. The abundant use of graphics adds to the impression the book’s genesis was cribbed from introductory sociology of religion classes. The conclusions drawn here--no surprise--are that the most committed Christians practice what they preach, performing better than the rest of the population on a host of social measures including divorce, domestic violence, sexual misconduct, crime, substance abuse, and everyday honesty. The book would have been more interesting if it were about pirates, though (July)"

(Okay, I added the last sentence)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Family Dinner Hour

I just came across an interesting idea.... Karlyn Bowman has written that the typical number of meals taken together by parents and children in the United States is about the same now as it was at the end of the 19th century. Now, families might miss meals because they are too busy, but back then, it wasn't always considered appropriate to dine with one's children, so the factors wash each other out. (Summarized from Easterbrook's 2003 The Progress Paradox, p. 194).

This may not apply to the golden era of the 1950s, but it does highlight that the past doesn't always fit our idyllic perceptions.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunsets (pics)

Same lake, same sunset, just different perspective (to get the log in the foreground). 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Faces of Meth

If you've not seen it before, you should check out the Faces of Meth website. It shows pictures of people before and after meth addiction. The addictive nature of meth, and its impact on the body, is phenomenal.

Here is an example from the site.  The pictures were taken 3.5 years apart, and it looks like she's aged a couple of decades:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My new photography site

Well, I have switched from Flickr to SmugMug as my photography site. SmugMug costs an annual fee, but it looks so much nicer and has a more intuitive feel.

Check it out here, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pharmaceutical companies and methamphetamine

I've recently read Methland, a story about the effects of methamphetamine use on a small town in Iowa. (I also assigned it to my crime class).

Now, I don't naturally gravitate toward a critical/ conflict theory of sociologist (i.e., one that focuses on the oppression by the elite), but this book describes the very real ways that big pharmaceutical companies, and their lobbyists, have made the meth epidemic what it is today.

Meth is made with pseudoephedrine--the stuff in cold medicine. Regulating it seems like an easy way to hinder the production of meth, but on numerous occasions the big drug companies fought against it. They didn't want to keep track of imports or sales. In fact, it's possible to make psuedoephedrine so that it can't be used for meth, but they fought that too. I understand that these companies are charged by their shareholders to maximize profits, but at what cost?

Monday, May 10, 2010

My new research philosophy

Previously on this blog, I presented my new teaching philosophy--derived from the wisdom of Dwight Schrute on the show The Office.

Now it's time for research. I watched a rerun last night that had the perfect quotation for how I want to chose and conduct research projects.

"Whenever I am about to do something I think - would an idiot do that - and if they would, I would not do that thing"

That's it; in fact, many of my mistakes in research are things that an idiot would do, and so if I avoid those, my research will be much stronger.

Monday, May 03, 2010

My book on tape

My forthcoming book (which, by the way, feels really, really good to say), has been picked up by a books-on-tape company.  They are hiring me to read the book and paying me way-too-much money to do so.  

I do this next week, but it occurs to me that all our communication has been by e-mail.  They don't actually know what I sound like.  So.... when I first meet them, I have a strong urge to talk like Mickey Mouse or, even better, Donald Duck.  The contract has been signed after all.  It would be hilarious to see what they do.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Daffodils (pics)

Three pictures of the same daffodils... I'm not sure which one I like best.

Any thoughts?

Friday, April 30, 2010

10 most influential changes since WWII

I have been reading and enjoying Robert Samuelson's 1995 book The Good Life and Its Discontents. In one section, he lists what he thinks are the 10 most important changes in the 50 years between 1945 and 1995. He lists:
1) Television
2) Jet travel
3) Air-conditioning
4) Long-distance phone service
5) Interstate highways
6) Washing machines and dryers
7) Antibiotics
8) Social security and private pensions
9) Health insurance
10) The Pill

Samuelson wrote this before the internet really took off, but still, it's an intriguing list. It's hard to imagine life without any one of these. It makes me wonder what the 2000-2050 list will look like.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What is the American Dream?

I've seen a number of statements defining the American Dream, some sincere, some cynical.  So, I was interested when I came across a summary of what appears to be the original statement of it, by historian James Truslow Adams.

According to him, it is the "Dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.... It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each women shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and to be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position"

Basically, he envisioned it as a pure meritocracy, not just obtaining material abundance.  Hm-m-m-m-m.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fact: I have a new teaching philosophy

Last week I was watching a rerun of The Office, one of my favorite shows, and Dwight Schrute made a statement (to Jim) that epitomizes the approach that some faculty seem to take with their students, so, I think that I will adopt it as my teaching philosophy.

"Fact, I am older, I am wiser. Do not mess with me."

What do you think? Maybe I should put it on the syllabus?

Monday, April 19, 2010

A problem with sentimentality (vid)

An organization wanted to honor orphan children. They inflated a bunch of ballons, launched them, with each representing a child. Well... bad things happened.

Cynicism is safer...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

UConn sidewalk in snow storm (pic)

There was a snowstorm during finals week, and here some students are goofing around in it.  It was a great scene, but I'm not sure that I captured it that well.  Overall the picture may be too light.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quotation about publishing

I was watching an old episode of the Addams family with Floyd. (We watch it on our Roku, which we are big fans of).

In this episode, Morticia becomes an author, and she gives this quotation that may be words for me to live by:

"All work and no play gets books done"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bono on the Gospel

"To some people the church is their ticket to respectability, a certain bourgeois point of view, a safety net for when they go to bed. My idea of Christianity is no safety net, a scathing attack on bourgeois values, and a risk to respectability."

Bono, 2002

Saturday, April 10, 2010

UConn dorms at night (pic)

This is after a snowstorm in December, and it was Christmas break, so there were no students around and the snow was still undisturbed.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Breaching experiments

For my intro sociology class, I assigned the students a breaking experiment project where there were to break social norms and then analyze the reactions.  The projects did some of the standard things, like play music too loud or stare at people. Two, though, were really clever.

One student would ride the elevator when other people were on it, start to get off at his floor, and then, standing in the elevator doorway, start texting. He would then wait to see what would happen. This really confused the other elevator riders, who, after a minute or so would ask if he was getting off.

Another student would hug people, somewhat randomly, and he continue holding the person as long as they let him. After about two seconds, most people either pushed him away or squirmed away themselves. But... one women said, "oh, this is nice," which startled the student.

The students actually did a really good job of drawing more general analytic principles from how people responded.

Ah... they joys of teaching sociology.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Would your church censor this photograph?

Reading Chuck Warnock's blog, I came across a post about this interesting situation. A church in Texas invited local artists to submit representations of the Stations of the Cross. A 10-year-old boy, who studies photography with his father, was given the commission for station #7... Jesus falls for the second time.

Here is his entry, and the church decided not to display it. (The model is the photographer's younger brother). The photographer wanted to convey the innocence of Christ.

What do you think of it?

(Personally, I love it.  It gives a fresh interpretation).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Squirrel tracks in snow (pic)

This caught my eye, walking around the UConn campus one night in December.  There's a bird feeder at the back of the picture.  I don't know that I have the tones right, but I do like the symmetry.