CNN covers the Word of Life death in upstate NY. Click for report.
CNN covers the Word of Life death in upstate NY. Click for report.

Recently in New York, two siblings were severely beaten—one to death—by their parents and other members of the congregation of the Word of Life for wanting to leave the “faith.” This cult is based in a former school building in which members of the church live and congregate in isolation from the greater community.

Sociologist Bernadette Barton told Broadly Vice:

When a group is isolated, they’re not beholden to a larger organization. If they’re part of a hierarchy, they’ll answer to other folks, so there are more likely to be other eyes on abuse and interventions into it. The more isolated a group is, the more likely violence can emerge.

Barton describes a “sin/fall” paradigm, where members of the cult are faced with psychological, emotional, and physical threats if they deviate from church ideology. She elaborates:

It excludes people, creates a climate of fear, scares participants, makes people monitor their own and other’s behaviors and thoughts, enables physical and sexual abuse, while absolving all individuals of wrong-doing since all of this is done (presumably) by divine order.

When the time comes... Jane Mejdal//Flickr CC
When the time comes… Jane Mejdal//Flickr CC

Traditional norms of feminine behavior encourage women to pledge sexual abstinence before marriage, instilling values of female sexual innocence and purity. In contrast, these norms suggest male sexual activity before marriage legitimizes their masculinity. Men who choose to abstain from sexual activity until marriage remain largely unexamined. In 2008, Ph.D. sociology candidate Sarah Diefendorf studied a male abstinence support group called The River to explore male beliefs about sexuality and masculinity in relation to sexual abstinence. Diefendorf discussed her findings in a recent Huffington Post article.

Men within The River used the group as a support network to resist various forms of sexual temptation, including masturbation, pornography, and same-sex attraction. While the resistance of sexual desires often proved difficult, these men believed that by waiting for sex, an act they believed God deemed sacred, they would enjoy fulfilling sex lives as married men. And by sharing their struggles with sexuality, the men in the group still “reinforce the norm that they are highly sexual men, even in the absence of sexual activity.”

During interviews conducted three years later, Diefendorf discovered that most of the men were still wrestling with their sexual urges even now that they were married. They no longer had a peer support network holding them accountable and did not feel comfortable speaking to their female spouses, since their group as taught that women are nonsexual.

Diefendorf explained, “After 25 years of being told that sex is something dangerous that needs to be controlled, the transition to married (and sexual) life is difficult, at best, while leaving men without the support they need. Women, meanwhile, are often left out of the conversation entirely.”

Thousands of people are shot and killed each year, but what happens to those who survive? Image via Flickr
Thousands of people are shot and killed each year, but what happens to those who survive? Tony Webster, Flickr CC. Click for original.

Gun violence has become a constant in American life. As of October 13th, there have been 10,348 shooting related deaths and 21,012 shooting-related injuries in 2015 already, per the Gun Violence Archive. What happens to the thousands who are shot and injured each year? Jooyoung Lee is a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies the lives of gunshot victims. In a recent interview with The Trace, Lee talked about the different difficulties his subjects—mostly young, working-class black men—have faced navigating their lives and treating their pain since being shot:

Getting shot really changes a person’s social world; it makes them suspicious of other people. You see them going from young and vibrant to reclusive. They go to public settings, see a crowd, and get anxious that someone is affiliated with the person who shot them. The Fourth of July is a very stressful day for gunshot victims. A lot of the young men talk about how the sound of fireworks would give them flashbacks. I had one guy who told me he was out at a bowling alley with friends, the first time he’d been out since he’d been shot, and he was having a great time, and then the sounds of pins crashing caused a flashback. He had the feeling that everyone in the place was potentially the killer. This kind of thing makes it very difficult to resume everyday life.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Poster by Mitch Rosenberg via
Academics could be forgiven for phoning one in. Poster by Mitch Rosenberg via

Publish. Publish. Publish.

Academics are expected to regularly publish in highly regarded journals as a measure of productivity, and therefore success. Whether as a graduate student hoping to land the perfect job or an early-career professor tackling the demanding process to earn tenure, academics experience a lot of stress.

According to a recent study published in the American Sociological Review, research that delves deeper into already known concepts (what the authors call traditional research) is more likely to get published than research that contributes new connections and ideas to the field (innovative work). But researchers writing innovative studies are more likely to be awarded for their work, as their research has a higher impact. So, if academics are more likely to publish traditional work at a higher rate than risk no publications coming out of innovative research, we can see where the tension arises.

Jacob Foster, one of the authors of the study, told the UCLA Newsroom,

Published papers that make a novel connection are rare but more highly rewarded. So what accounts for scientists’ disposition to pursue tradition over innovation? Our evidence points to a simple explanation: Innovative research is a gamble whose payoff, on average, does not justify the risk. It’s not a reliable way to accumulate scientific reward.

Sure, sure. It's good for them. A&E promo image.
Sure, sure. It’s good for them. A&E promo image.

As Halloween rolls around, all things spooky and scary are on everyone’s mind. Alongside height and public speaking, being buried alive is a pretty common fear. As explained by an ABC news article, an upcoming event on A&E will feature three contests who, on live television, will be held in buried coffins equipped with cameras. According to the network, the stunt is meant to help people confront fear and depression, and it is already generating a lot of hype.

Magee Kerr, a sociologist who studies fear, explains that when we confront our worst fears head-on, it can bring out the best in us. Kerr says that the physical reactions to triumphing in a fearful situation, such as endorphin release and a sense of accomplishment, can have a positive effect and make conquering a fear a good experience. The next time you find yourself at a scary horror movie, try to get all the way through; it may be good for you.

In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, the country's largest non-profit health system, was a silver sponsor for Capital Pride DC. The healthcare provider invited "the community of allies for LGBTI health" to celebrate. Ted Eytan//Flickr CC
In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest non-profit health system, was a silver sponsor for Capital Pride DC. The healthcare provider invited “the community of allies for LGBTI health” to celebrate. Ted Eytan//Flickr CC


This year was momentous for trans visibility in the media, with high profile celebs like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner speaking out about their experiences as trans women. Even so, trans folks still face an incredible risk of discrimination and attacks. The recent death of Keisha Jenkins marks at least 20 American trans women murdered in 2015.

But trans people are not equally likely to experience discrimination. A recent study published by Lisa R. Miller and Eric Anthony Grollman showed that trans women were more likely to experience discrimination than trans men, as are trans folks from already disadvantaged groups—like those who are multiracial or low income. In turn, those who experienced more discrimination were more likely to engage in risky health behaviors like smoking cigarettes, abusing drugs and alcohol, and attempting suicide. Miller told US News, “Rather than assuming that all members of the transgender community are equally at risk, we need to investigate the extent to which some members may face disproportionate exposure to discrimination and poor health.”

Erik Ingram via
Erik Ingram via

Public opinion polling in America dates back to the 1930s, and religious beliefs and behaviors have always been topics of interest. However, polls do not produce perfect measurements and their results can both shape and misrepresent the reality of public beliefs and behaviors. Religion Dispatches recently interviewed sociologist Robert Wuthnow about his new book Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith in which he details the ways in which polls have shaped the religious makeup of the American population.  

Wuthnow explains that in the 1970s, the Gallup poll’s overly broad and vague questions about evangelical identity resulted in a huge overestimation of the number of evangelicals in America at the time. He explains:

The year of the evangelical was 1976, when Jimmy Carter achieved election to the White House and the role of polling was to greatly expand the number of Americans who were evangelicals… How is that possible that a poll could do that? …Gallup said there might be 50 million Americans who are evangelicals, and journalists ran with that… The way they got 50 million was basically inventing a new question that said something to the effect of, “Have you ever had a born-again religious experience, or something similar to a religious awakening?” And that was pretty much it… There was a lot of diversity among evangelicals themselves that got masked by being lumped together in the polls as if they were all the same thing.

The results of that 1976 poll influenced not only perceptions of the number of evangelicals among journalists, but also political perceptions of evangelicals as a voting bloc. If there were that many evangelicals in America, then politicians could cater to them to gain votes. Evangelicals began to be treated as one homogenous group instead of the highly heterogenous group that they really were.

Wuthnow explains how a similar phenomenon is happening with the rise of the non-religious in America—commonly known as the “nones.” Polls and surveys are reporting an increase in those who are saying they are not religious, but these general trends can mask huge variation among the non-religious. Many, for instance, still believe in a god and go to church, and only a very small percentage actually identify as atheist. Further, Wuthnow says, people often change their beliefs and opinions over time, and poll data glosses over that fact:

Polls have always assumed that whatever a person says is reliable, and that they really mean it and stick with it. So if you find any changes over time, that’s significant because polls are measuring stable opinions—if those change, that’s important.

Photo by Gideon Tsang via
Photo by Gideon Tsang via

Following yet another mass shooting, social scientists and the American community at large are engaging in some familiar conversations. While some folks are looking at mental illness as a trigger to violence and others are asking for gun laws that would put restrictions on gun ownership, sociologist Tristan Bridges wants to draw some focus on the role of masculinity in violence.

Bridges told The Christian Science Monitor that he believes the mass shooters are “over-conforming to masculinity, because they perceive themselves, in some way or another, as emasculated… It’s a terrible statement about American masculinity, to say that when you’re emasculated, one way to respond is to open fire.”

World famous Filipino turntablist DJ Qbert. Photo by Scott Schiller via Flickr
World famous Bay Area-raised Filipino DJ and turntablist DJ Qbert. Photo by Scott Schiller via Flickr

Long Beach State assistant professor of sociology and hip hop journalist Oliver Wang “remixed” his dissertation on the cultural phenomenon of predominantly Filipino Bay-Area mobile DJs of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s into the book Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay AreaWang discussed the particular social and cultural context that these crews developed in an interview with Vice:

I was used to thinking about how hip-hop crews were often very identify-focused—I came up during the era of pro-black/political hip-hop after all—and so my assumption was that this would be a major part of their identity as well. It wasn’t, though. Their self-awareness/pride in being Filipino was very individualistic but not reflected in the scene as a whole. If you just look at the names of the crews or the parties, there’s almost never an indication that these were predominantly Filipino American crews. There are any number of ways to possibly explain this: It was their age, it was their generation, it was the overall climate around race/ethnicity and music, it was because, as Filipinos, they’ve historically been treated as invisible. I do think, had this scene taken off in the 1990s, we may have seen a different dynamic because of the influence of hip-hop.

Read the whole interview here.

Photo via
Photo via

“Microaggressions” are not new, but the term has only recently entered our vocabulary as a means to describe the small, but frequent, indignities often experienced by minorities. If you have seen a white person touch an African-American person’s hair or heard questions like “What are you?” asked of a racially ambiguous person, you have witnessed a microaggression.

Sociologist Bradley Campbell, who has written about microaggressions, recently spoke with Boston’s local NPR news station, 90.9 WBUR, about his findings. He highlights cultural shifts that have produced and shaped microaggressions:

These microaggression complaints—what characterizes them is that they are appeals to third parties. They’re not something like vengeance where people just take direct action against the offender. Secondly, they’re complaints about minor things, which is what the “micro” in microaggression means. And then also that these—the complaints—are about specific kinds of things. It’s not just any minor offense, it’s things that are said to further oppression, and mainly the oppression of minority groups. So we thought about like when do these things occur? So some of the social conditions we mentioned were things like, you know, the presence of authority and also the demise of communal groups. But one of the main things is actually the increase in diversity and equality. So it’s in settings where there’s already a lot of equality and diversity that you get these kinds of complaints.

Listen to the whole interview here.