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.

What Two Deaths Taught Me about Doing Fieldwork

On November 7, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos.

“On this day 16 years ago—November 7, 1996—I walked in to my office at the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San Jose, Costa Rica, to find out that my boss, Joaquin Tacsan, had boarded a flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos, Nigeria that had exploded in the air. No one had survived.

Joaquin’s death hit me like a ton of bricks. I had recently graduated from Yale and someone told to apply for an internship at the Arias Foundation. For some reason, Joaquin saw my resume and offered me a job there. In the first 12 months, Joaquin increased my responsibilities, sending me to do fieldwork in El Salvador and Nicaragua on the reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life, fieldwork that took me into numerous former zones of armed conflict and strongly shaped my later interest in earning a Ph.D. in sociology.

Just a couple of months before Joaquin’s death, I scared the daylights out of him by spending a weekend with a group of ex-Contras in Nicaragua…”

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…”

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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.

Here’s to My Students: You Make Teaching a Joy

On June 20, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos, the fifth and final post in a series about teaching Sociology of Religion Online.

“Yesterday I finished teaching a 5-week online course in sociology of religion. As I remarked in earlier posts in this series, there were many ups and downs… I wrote a personal note to each student in my summer class with their final paper grades and final course grades. The two heartfelt replies I got were both rom non-traditional/transfer students, who had really done the most work out of anyone in the class. One of them, Angelique, sent me this video interview with her about her experiences being a single mom and going back to college:

Read the full post at Black, White and Gray.

How Effective is Online Learning? Insights from Sociology of Religion Online

On June 6, 2012, I published this post on theBlack, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos, the fourth post in a series about Teaching Sociology of Religion Online.

“Earlier in this series of posts about my experience teaching sociology of religion, I wrote about the promise of delivering lectures online and the challenges I faced in actually doing it. Today I’ll explain how I finally created my first narrated presentation on YouTube, how I got small group discussions going on Elluminate, and how my 8-year old nephew taught me about online teaching all the while teaching me about the correct usage of metaphors and similies…

What amazed me was that making the narrated presentation was the easy part. It took longer to save it in the right format and upload to YouTube than to record my explanation of the slides. But thanks to Keynote and YouTube, the file is now compressed so students (or any viewers, including you) can see it without any problems. My previous problem was not in making the recording presentations, but sharing them.  Thanks to my Mac, and lots of encouragement and tech support, I found success at last!..”

Read the full post on Black, White and Gray.

Three Things I Love about Teaching Sociology of Religion Online

On May 23, 2012, I published this post on theBlack, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos, the third post in a series about teaching Sociology of Religion Online.

Here I am again, spending my “free” time thinking how much I love teaching sociology of religion online…

Front CoverFirst, now that I have overcome my initial technical challenges and anxieties, teaching online is fun. In Martin Seligman’s bookFlourish, he recounts how teaching positive psychology made him realize that learning is deeper when it is engaging. I delivered my second ever online lecture this week, and I was in the flow (to borrow Seligman’s colloquial term for one dimension of flourishing–engagement). In my online lecture, my video and audio streamed live to 15 students while they watched a screen streaming the course website which I spent many hours designing. As I scrolled seamlessly through my carefully constructed website, it seemed beautiful. Engaging. Fun…”

Read the full post on Black, White and Gray.