Category Archives: Sociology of Religion

Who is a a Convert?

My October 12, 2011, entry for the Patheos blog Black, White and Gray asked: Who is a Convert?

“Writing in the Wall Street Journal opinion page on September 16, 2011, Religion News Service journalist David Gibson asked, who is stronger in the faith, Converts vs. ‘Cradle Catholics?’ This question is one that often comes up in ordinary conversation among Catholics and sometimes among sociologists. Many prominent sociologists of religion of the last half century, such as Peter Berger and Rodney Stark, have emphasized that choice of a faith rather than ascription makes one more sure of one’s beliefs, and hence more committed.  Although there is much truth in the idea that using one’s free will to adhere to a faith likely strengthens one’s commitment to that faith, we should nonetheless ask, why can’t Catholics born into the faith also “choose” to be Catholic?”

To read the full entry, visit the blog.

Article Published on Religion, College Achievement and Satisfaction

In June, my article entitled “Religion, College Grades, and Satisfaction among Students at Elite Colleges and Universities” was published by the journal Sociology of Religion. Advance Access published on June 2, 2010. Sociology of Religion 2010 71: 197-215; doi:10.1093/socrel/srq035

To see the abstract (full public) and full text (individual or institutional subscribers only), click here.

Abstract: Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, a sample of nearly 3,924 students at 28 of the most selective college and universities in the United States, this paper tests hypotheses about religion, academic performance, and satisfaction at college. Two measures of religiosity—attending religious services every week or more and a 1 to 10 scale of observance of one’s religious traditions and customs—increase the amount of hours students report spending on academic work and extracurricular activities, as well as reduce the hours students report going to parties. Even when controlling for time spent partying, studying and in extracurricular activities, regular attendance at religious services increases academic achievement. Finally, students who attend religious services weekly and those who are more observant of their religious traditions also report being more satisfied at college.

Manuel Vasquez’s Comments

Manuel Vazquez, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Florida (Vazquez is on the left of this picture and Terry Rey, Professor of Religion at Temple University, is on the right), called my book a good example of post-functionalist sociology of religion. Functionalism enters into sociology of religion when scholars talks about religion in terms of what religion does for people in terms of “cash value.” Vasquez commended that although I don’t ignore that religion does things for Haitian immigrants, including connecting them to social networks and social services, I also talk extensively about hope, resilience, and generosity—or the substantive and meaning-making side of religion. In other words, he said I talk about what religion does for people while also talking about what religion means for people. Furthermore, he liked how I embed Haitians’ religious faith within specific institutions without falling into functionalism. He called my use of multiple levels of analysis a non-reductive type of materialism. He cautioned me not to over-generalize the three models of church-state cooperation that I describe. In the U.S., he thinks there may be more conflict between immigrants and the state than I acknowledge in my book. In response, I think that as Milton Gordon said about earlier immigrants to the U.S., American society did not become a melting pot without conflict. Gordon said, and I agree, that what is interesting about the U.S. is that despite some conflict, over time most immigrants and their descendants joined the American middle class mainstream. Similarly, when Haitians first began settling in Miami, there was some conflict with the state. But through the advocacy of Father Wenski and others Catholic Church leaders, the state slowly began to cooperate more with Haitian institutions. Using the term “cooperation” to describe the U.S. model of interacting with immigrant organizations, including faith-based ones, does not mean that conflict is totally absent. Rather, over time in the U.S. and when compared to France and Quebec, the U.S. is remarkably adaptable to new immigrants and new religious groups.

Gerardo Marti’s Comments


Gerardo Marti, Associate Professor of Sociology at Davidson College (pictured here with me), said he thinks my book’s greatest contribution is the cross-national comparative research design, which allows me to highlight the importance of the nation-state’s relationships to immigrant communities. Although much work has been done on immigrant religious communities in the U.S., my work highlights how different national contexts contribute to shaping the institutions which immigrants rely on succeed in their new societies. I agree with Gerardo that most scholars in the U.S. find the cross-national comparative research design to be the greatest strength of my book. However, visiting Quebec for the AAR reminded me that the national context also influences what readers think my book’s most important contribution will be. In the last 40 years, Quebec has become one of the most secular societies in the world. Many intellectuals and members of the general public in Quebec tend to look upon religious piety as an escape from worldly probelms and they generally view religious institutions as oppressive. Hence, in Quebec, my book may be most cited for demonstrating how religous faith can give people agency and how religious institutions can empower the poor. In Quebec, it is generally known that the American people are generally pro-religious and the American government works extensively with faith-based and other types of private associations in delivering social services. If Americans sometimes forget that our national context is generally pro-religious, then the parallel is that Quebeckers sometimes forget that religion can be liberating and that their state does not perfectly meet all social needs.

Author-Meets-Critics Panel at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion

In October 2009, Kevin Christiano of Notre Dame convened an author-meets-critics panel on my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, at the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. The three panelists were Michael Emerson of Rice University, Melissa Wilde of the University of Pennsylvania, and Richard Wood of the University of New Mexico. All three panelists were extremely complementary about the ambitious three-country research design, the large amount of ethnographic work done, and the passionate writing. In blogs below, I address some of the questions raised by each of the panelists. I would like to thank Kevin Christiano for convening the panel and offering his insights on the Quebec case, with which he is very familiar. When we were talking about whether voluntary organizations, including faith-based ones, are necessary to complement state provided social services, Kevin described to the audience how for many Quebecois, the state is ipso facto better than the church at providing social services. Because the Catholic Church dominated social life for nearly 200 years while French Quebecois were under the rule of Anglophone Quebecois and Canadians, since the 1960s Quiet Revolution many Quebecois have held firmly to the opinion that they need to be liberated from traditional control of the church. Although I agree with this statement, in a discussion after the panel, I told Kevin that it seemed to me that Quebec was still strongly culturally Catholic, even nearly 50 years after the Quiet Revolution begun. In my work with Haitian immigrants, I found that Catholic leaders and organizations–both Haitians and Quebecois–were instrumental in assisting the settlement and adaptation of Haitians who arrived in Quebec from the 1960s-1990s. These Catholic leaders and associations had many connections to the Quebecois state that helped them in their work with Haitians. It was only when large numbers of non-Catholic immigrants began arriving in Quebec and their religious leaders sought to engage the public sphere that the people of Quebec began to really question cooperation between religious organizations and the state. Thus, although the Quiet Revolution clearly altered the social position of the Catholic Church in Quebec, this change occurred slowly and many connections still exist.