Notes on the Sociology of Religion (2)
John C. Rankin (2008)
Ammerman, Nancy T., et. al., eds., Studying Congregations: A New Handbook (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998).
- Background (first three editors): a) Nancy T. Ammerman (1950-), professor of sociology, Boston University (Baptist Battles, 1992, + Branch Davidian inquiry); b) Jackson W. Carroll (God’s Potters, 2006); C. Carl S. Dudley (1932-), professor of church and community, Hartford Institute for Religion Research (M.Div. Union, Ph.D., McCormick).
- Purpose is to supply scholars, theologians and others with resources to study religious congregations in a disciplined fashion: a) “voluntary nature” assumption of new paradigm per Warner, Finke and Stark; b) sociological presupposition that “theology is faith seeking understanding” (p. 23); c) exercise in practical theology: imagination and memory, multiple theological perspectives, narratives, practices and texts.
- Ecology: space, demographics, organization.
- Culture: a) subcultures in larger society, rituals, religious education, fellowship, volunteer or “kitchen” work, introducing newcomers, artifacts, stories and histories, language, myths, worldviews [ironic, tragic, comic, romantic], symbols, images and metaphors, theologies in stories as opposed to creeds).
- Process and frames of perspective: a) formal and informal [nature of authority therein]; program planning, group building and conflict management).
- Resources: money, buildings, land, assets, sacred spaces) and capacities (people, talents, intangibles.
- Leadership role in the study of congregations: a) help congregation gain realistic perspective of needs; help develop vision to meet the needs, embody the vision; b) formal and informal authority; clergy authority as granted by God; willingness of people to acknowledge authority; practical concerns; c) conflict management.
- Methods for congregational study: a) well-defined focus; b) disciplined approach – time-line exercise, archival and census analysis, questionnaires and surveys, value of a different perspective, “viewing the old situation with new lenses (p. 198), observation protocol + interviewing process.
- Critique: sociological definition of faith fails to motivate in most particularistic settings.