sociology

Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

As I have said many times here at GetReligion, it is helpful if -- every now and then -- journalists listen to the voices of people who have been on the other side of a reporter's notepad.

This also applies, of course, to television cameras and any other form of technology used in modern newsrooms.

Thus, I would like to share a think piece that I planned to run this past weekend, only the tornado of news about Archbishop Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick got in the way and rearranged my writing plans for several days (while I was traveling, once again).

Here is the overture of a recent essay by Mark Bauerlein, published in the conservative interfaith journal First Things, that ran with this headline: "Dr. Peterson and the Reporters." This is, of course, a reference to the now omnipresent author of "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos." 

The crucial question from the other side of the notepad: Would it be a good thing if journalists actually read what Peterson has written and listened to what he is actually saying?"

 One ingredient in the astounding fame of Jordan Peterson is his capacity to show just how lazy, obtuse, unprepared, smug, knee-jerk, and prejudiced are many journalists at leading publications.

In a tendentious New York Times profile, for example, Peterson is held up for ridicule when he cites “enforced monogamy” as a rational way of fixing wayward, sometimes violent men in our society. If men had wives, they’d behave better, Peterson implied, and they wouldn’t “fail” so much. The reporter, a twenty-something from the Bay Area, has a telling response to Peterson’s position: “I laugh, because it is absurd.”

Her condescension is unearned. With no background in social psychology or cultural anthropology, she doesn’t get the framework in which Peterson speaks. But that doesn’t blunt her confidence in setting Peterson’s remarks into the category of the ridiculous. And the category of the sexist, too, as the subtitle of the profile makes clear: “He says there’s a crisis in masculinity. Why won’t women -- all these wives and witches -- just behave?” 

The problem, of course, is that Peterson is using language from his professional discipline and his own writings.

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Yes, 'evangelical' is a religious term (#REALLY). You can look that up in history books

Yes, 'evangelical' is a religious term (#REALLY). You can look that up in history books

Over the years, your GetReligionistas have asked variations on the following question many times: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Faithful readers will recall that, in 1987, I had a chance to ask the Rev. Billy Graham that question and, basically, he said that he no longer felt confident that he knew the answer. He then proceeded to frame "evangelical" in terms of ancient Christian doctrines, saying that he defined an "evangelical" as someone who believes all the doctrines in the ancient Nicene or the Apostles creeds. Graham stressed the centrality of belief in the resurrection and that salvation is through Jesus, alone.

However, if you follow the news, you know that most pollsters, politicos and journalists no longer believe that "evangelical" is primarily a religious word. During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I discussed this puzzle as we tried to make sense out of a recent "Newsmax's 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" list.

Take a second and scan that list, if you will. Note that, after the predictable Billy Graham nod at No. 1, the next nine are Graham’s son Franklin, Joel Osteen, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Jerry Falwell Jr., Joyce Meyer, Vice President Mike Pence and the married Hollywood duo of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

In my new "On Religion" column on this topic, historian Thomas Kidd made the following observation about the Newsmax list:

Disputes about the meaning of “evangelical” are so sharp that “several people on this list would not even agree that some other people on the list are ‘Christians,’ let alone ‘evangelicals’ as defined by any set of core doctrines,” said historian Thomas Kidd of Baylor University, whose research includes work on American religious movements, including the roots of evangelicalism.
Making this Top 100 list, he added, seems to be linked to “some kind of prominent position in media or politics or both,” as opposed to “leading successful churches or Christian organizations. ... I would imagine all these people believe that Jesus is the Son of God and they may even share some ideas about the authority of scripture -- but that’s about it.”

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Passing of sociologist Peter Berger provokes nostalgia about religion news coverage

Passing of sociologist Peter Berger provokes nostalgia about religion news coverage

Boston University’s iconoclastic sociologist Peter Berger, who died June 27 at age 88, was one of those doubly valuable stars of the religion beat, both as a provider of pertinent quotes (if you could get him on the phone) and as a thinker whose every book and article needed to be checked out for news potential.  

It was a pleasure to see the byline of Joseph Berger (no relation) on The New York Times obit. He boasts the unique distinction of winning the  top Religion Newswriters Association award three years running while with Long Island Newsday (1982, 1983, 1984) and covered the beat for the Times as well.

The combination of Berger and Berger provokes nostalgia about the past, with this for analysts of current media to ponder: What is the ongoing place for coverage of important religious scholarship and books?

Not so long ago, the better mainstream print media paid considerable attention to religious thought, with pieces often written by specialists, providing a refreshing break from the daily squabbles that tend to dominate news coverage. Today, such treatments are largely relegated to the Internet, and often presented from a sectarian viewpoint. (TV and radio news rarely did or do much.)

As the Times noted, Peter Berger got the widest notice when he twitted the “God Is Dead” fad with his 1969 book “A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural.” Ever the skeptic, Berger turned his skeptical eye toward skepticism, arguing that there’s good reason to perceive transcendent forces at work in the universe.

That contrarian claim emerged alongside Berger’s abandonment of the well-entrenched “secularization thesis” which he had long embraced.

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What sociologists told us two years ago about religion and a 'political backlash'

What sociologists told us two years ago about religion and a 'political backlash'

Washington University made the shocking announcement in 1989 that it would disband its sociology department. Those of us who greatly value this academic discipline are encouraged that this distinguished school revived the program with new courses last fall.

Journalists are trying to comprehend the most astonishing U.S. political campaign since 1948. Or 1912, or 1860, or 1800. Political scientists have been working overtime, but sociologists can provide the media significant longer-term understanding. One example was a 2014 article (.pdf here) by Michael Hout of New York University and Claude Fischer of the University of California, Berkeley, in the online journal Sociological Science.

The Religion Guy missed this piece when released (it’s hard for news folk to monitor all pertinent academic journals) and thanks New York Times economics columnist Eduardo Porter for highlighting it as evidence of “the waning place of religion in American politics.” Religion journalists note: The Hout-Fischer (hereafter H-F) analysis combines U.S. political currents and that much-mulled increase of “nones” without religious identity

The H-F piece is cluttered with algebraic formulas and arcane lingo (“multicollinearity,” “sheaf variable”), but fortunately the conclusions are in standard English. Much data comes from the University of Chicago’s standard General Social Survey.

H-F notes that Americans born after 1970 are less religious than previous generations. In past times those raised in church who dropped out often returned in adulthood, but that’s much less likely today. Also, those raised without religion  are becoming less likely to turn religious later. Religion writers know this, but -- how come?

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Offering sociological journalism about the mosques of New York City

Offering sociological journalism about the mosques of New York City

ake your pick. Tony Carnes is either a sociological journalist or a journalistic sociologist.

Either way, since 2010 he’s led a team that walks the 6,375 miles of New York City streets, block by block, for interviews, documentation, and analysis of local religious activity -- with remarkable findings. Any newswriter interested in religion or immigration in America’s largest city can acquire ample material from the online magazine Carnes edits, “A Journey through NYC Religions.”

A transplanted Texan turned patriotic New Yorker, Carnes – full disclosure: a personal friend – has been a college teacher, wrote academic publications, and leads a university seminar in social science methods. But he’s also been an active journalist, including years as a senior writer for Christianity Today. His non-profit research organization, founded in 1989, has done field work in mainland China, the dying Soviet Union and rising Russian Federation, and the United States. A college convert to evangelical Christianity, Carnes attends Manhattan’s noted Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

A series of Journey articles launched May 18 is taking a fresh ground-level look at Islam. After the 9/11 attacks, the media widely reported that New York City had 100-plus mosques (“masjids”). But an early “Journey” report  located 175.

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