Category Archives: Human Flourishing

Conversations with Robert Bellah

I originally published this blog post on March 13, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos.  Click here to read the full post.

Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah

“Sitting in his office perched above the hills in Berkeley, California, yesterday I got to meet one of the legends of sociology: Robert Bellah. Among other accomplishments, Bellah’s co-authored book Habits of the Heart from 1985 has sold half a million copies, his essay Civil Religion in America is widely discussed and cited, and his very recent magnum opus Religion in Human Evolution has caused quite a buzz in the academic world. (See the lively discussion of it on the Immanent Frame)…

Bellah sometimes feels that the popularity of his essay, “Civil Religion in America,” takes attention away from his other important works, even calling that article “that darned piece on civil religion!” However, I explained I assign Bellah’s Civil Religion essay and show students John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Presidential Inaugural Address that Bellah analyzes in “that darned piece!” Although Kennedy does mention “Almighty God” or Bible verses about 5 times in that speech, he refers to the nation as having a sacred mission at least 25 times. As Bellah so aptly describes and Kennedy’s speech perfectly illustrates, our nationality is not just something that gives us rights and responsibilities, our nationality is a moral, sacred belonging. Presidents before and after Kennedy rarely proselytize their particular religion, but they all describe the nation as sacred. Simply showing students that group belonging (like nationality) is not always a matter of personal choice  and that those group belongings have powerful moral narratives opens their eyes to how profoundly social human beings are and how human action has a moral dimension…”

Click here to read the full post.

My Happiness Project

I originally published this blog post on February 6, 2013,  Black, White and Gray, a blog hosted by Patheos. Click here to read the full post.

HappinessProject_bookcover“When I first started read Gretchen Rubin’s best-selling book, The Happiness Project, I thought, “Wow, she does a great job of summarizing tons on research on positive psychology in a way that is accessible and engaging. But, I mean, her life is so bourgeois! She has a happy marriage already, two lovely kids, and she lives comfortably in NYC. How applicable is her happiness project to my life or my students’ lives?”

Since I’m teaching some texts from positive psychology this semester, I asked my students to read Rubin’s book and to follow her lead and do their own happiness project. To set a good example, I started my own happiness project.  My dubiousness about Rubin faded as I realized two things. First, my own life often sounds (or is) just as bourgeois as Rubin’s. Second, her explanation of research in positive psychology and her practical tips for being happier helped me personally more than I if I had just read her book but not practiced anything new…”

Click here to read the full post.

Starting Points for Positive Sociology

On January 9, 2012, I posted this blog on the Black, White and Gray blog, hosted by Patheos. Click here to read the full post.

Mooney&SeligmanEver since I met Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, at his home near Philadelphia last fall to discuss what movement for positive sociology might look like, I’ve been pondering:

What unique opportunities exist to build a new positive sociology movement focusing on human flourishing and the common good? How can positive sociology build on the successes and shortcomings of positive psychology? What are the next steps in launching in a positive sociology movement?

To delve into these questions, in November of 2012, I convened a group of eight sociologists (and one psychologist) to meet with Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.”

Click here to read the full post.

When is Suffering Transformative? Sullivan’s “Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty”

On November 14, 2012, I posted this blog on the Black, White and Gray blog, hosted by Patheos. Click here to read the full post.

“According to the women Susan Crawford Sullivan interviewed for Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty, what do homelessness, drug addiction, jail time, unplanned pregnancy and domestic abuse all have in common? They are all part of God’s plan to teach poor, young, single mothers that they are sinners in need of repentance. If a narrative of a judgmental God coming down hard on women who suffered due to their lack of personal responsibility strikes you as a problematic narrative, Sullivan and I’m sure most of the readers of this blog would agree with you.

On November 9th, 2012, I convened an author-meets-critics panel at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in which we discussed Susan’s book, which has won two awards from major associations in the sociology of religion, and in my comments, I argued that her book is so important to understand when suffering can be transformative among the poor, a topic I also dealt with in my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora…”

Click here to read the full post.

Sayer’s “Why Things Matter to People”

On October 23, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White & Gray blog hosted by Patheos.

“Recently, while reading Andrew Sayer’s book “Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values and Ethical Life,” I was captivated by the question of which of these two sentences sounds like a more accurate description of reality:

1)   Thousands of people died in the Nazi concentration camps.

2)   Thousands of people were systematically exterminated in Nazi concentration camps.

Most people probably pick #2. Just saying people died in Nazi concentration camps could imply they died a natural death, but saying people were systematically exterminated more accurately represents the Nazi goal of “purifying” the human race…

Sayer’s book is a thorough and persuasive argument that social scientists should not be afraid to use reasoned judgment about the social events they describe. In fact, not evaluating in some fashion the events social scientists describe would lead to statements like #1, statements that just don’t accurately describe reality…”

Click here to read the full post.

My Re-Encounter with Martin Seligman: Launching a Psychology-Sociology Dialogue on Human Flourishing

On October 16, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White & Gray blog hosted by Patheos.

“When, as a 7th grader, I wrote a speech based on Martin Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness, little did I imagine that several decades later I would be sitting at Professor Seligman’s kitchen table discussing what positive psychology can learn from sociology, and vice-versa.

However, just as Martin Seligman’s career in psychology took an about turn when he stopped studying pessimism and turned to studying optimism, so my interest in how social conditions oppress people has now morphed into my growing interest in what social conditions lead to human flourishing.

Martin Seligman

In this TED video lecture below, Seligman describes briefly his 30 years of work on depression and learned helplessness. Modern psychology, he argues, made tremendous strides in diagnosing and treating a number of mental illnesses. But, he finally realized, curing people of mental illness is not the same as helping them lead a life full of meaning, engagement, and positive emotions. Hence, with a few other prominent psychologists, Seligman founded a movement know as Positive Psychology, which sought to bring the best social scientific methods to help understand what constitutes happiness and perhaps more importantly, whether we can design interventions to increase happiness—which he has shown we can…”

Read the full post on Black, White & Gray.

Personalism and Sociology: Understanding Relationships as Obligations

On October 10, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos.

“Yesterday  I sat down in my favorite spot at home and surrounded myself with books and articles and began to draft a new article on personalism and sociology, a topic I have already written about on BW&G. Why do I care about personalism? Every once in a while, it’s good to step back and reflect on our theoretical understanding of key concepts or objects of study. If we don’t, we are prone to making errors in our explanations.

An interview I conducted about halfway through my fieldwork for my book on Haitian immigrants, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, illustrates one such error I made about persons. Sitting in the suburbs of Montreal one afternoon, I interviewed Lucien Smarth, a Haitian priest who also had advanced degrees in sociology and anthropology. How would you reply to the Marxian critique that religion is the opiate of the masses, meaning that people flee to religion to alleviate their real suffering, which for Marx, was material deprivation, I asked him?

Smarth stated forcefully that although intellectuals separate out material things from spiritual things, for Haitians they are all related. As I quoted him in my book:

“For me, that’s what religion is in general. We feel our limits, we feel our weaknesses, we feel our inability to change things. And then we call on another force, a divine force, to give us more strength and greater capabilities. I find it completely legitimate that people turn towards religion to solve their problems. Because that’s what I take to be the meaning of religion….So they [believers] have the task to make life down here more beautiful, so earth becomes more like the image of the beautiful life they await on the other side” (Faith Makes Us Live, p. 133).

One key idea of personalism is simple that the person is a whole. As Smarth pointed out to me, intellectuals tend to analyze separately the mind, body, and spirit, but he cautioned that such analytical abstractions do not correspond to how most people experience themselves in the world.”

Read the full post at Black, White and Gray.

Women Can’t Have it All, and It’s Better That Way

On July 4, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos. It is the second post in a series on Women at Work, in response to Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece.

“When I was in graduate school, I played in Princeton University’s summer softball league for a team named “Leviathan.” I was one of very few women regulars on any team in the league, a league of not necessarily highly athletic but nonetheless ferociously competitive graduate students…

When I went up to bat a few innings later, suddenly the same teammate had I pulled out of the fight yelled, “Go Mighty M!” Energized, I smashed a line drive right over the head of the left fielder who, seeing a woman at the plate, had mistakenly come in too close. My teammates cheered loudly and the nickname stuck. On the field, I often did seem mighty. I wasn’t afraid of breaking up a fight, colliding while trying to catch a fly ball, tagging someone out who is sliding, or barking at any guy who said anything improper to me. Having played high school softball, I also hit the ball harder and threw the ball harder than almost any woman in the league, earning me the respect of all the men. I proudly wore my league shirt with “Leviathan” on front and “Mighty M” on the back for many years, and enjoyed many glorious wins with my teammates followed by pizza and beer at Conti’s.”

Read the full post at Black, White and Gray.

Women Can’t Have it All, but We Could Have it Better

On June 27, 2012, I published this post on theBlack, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos, the first post in a series on Women and Work.

“I congratulate Princeton Professor and former Dean Anne Marie Slaughter for her frank piece published in the Atlantic entitled “Why Women Can’t Have it All.” Talking about what keeps people from realizing their dreams of successful careers and joyful families is often taboo (see my previous post on women’s vocation in the world), but Slaughter provides an important personal and sociological reflection on what influenced her to want to spend more time with her family….

Of course, Slaughter’s article is much more complex than this chart shows, and I recommend you read it in full. But I have found that making charts like this help me organize ideas, and can serve as handy reminders for my resolutions. So here you go.

In the near future, I hope to post my own reflections on Slaughter’s piece. Those responses would tentatively be entitled “Women Still Can’t Have it All, And It’s Better that Way”. I don’t have it all in my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Read the full post at Black, White and Gray.