Tag Archives: religion

Why Survey Questions Matter: Blasphemy Edition

“How could we get evidence for this?” I often ask students. And the answer, almost always is, “Do a survey.” The word survey has magical power; anything designated by that name wears a cloak of infallibility.

“Survey just means asking a bunch of people a bunch of questions,” I’ll say. “Whether it has any value depends on how good the bunch of people is and how good the questions are.”  My hope is that a few examples of bad sampling and bad questions will demystify.

For example, Variety:

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Here’s the lede:

Despite its Biblical inspiration, Paramount’s upcoming “Noah” may face some rough seas with religious audiences, according to a new survey by Faith Driven Consumers.

The data to confirm that idea:

The religious organization found in a survey that 98% of its supporters were not “satisfied” with Hollywood’s take on religious stories such as “Noah,” which focuses on Biblical figure Noah.

The sample:

Faith Driven Consumers surveyed its supporters over several days and based the results on a collected 5,000+ responses.

And (I’m saving the best till last) here’s the crucial survey question:

As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie — designed to appeal to you — which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?

As if the part about “replacing the Bible’s core message” weren’t enough, the item reminds the respondent of her or his identity as a Faith Driven Consumer. It does make you wonder about that 2% who either were fine with the Hollywood* message or didn’t know.

You can’t really fault Faith Driven Consumer too much for this shoddy “research.” They’re not in business to find the sociological facts. What’s appalling is that Variety accepts it at face value and without comment.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Are Hipsters to Blame for a Rise in Facial Hair Transplants?

Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck.  Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.

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According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from “ just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week.  The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:

…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.

Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.

What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism.  Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men?  Or, what does masculinity look like?  Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate.  If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal?  Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine?  Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?

Also, is this really about hipsters?  How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends?  To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend?  How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people?  What other forces are at work here?

What can we learn from this about other plastic surgeries that we are more likely to take for granted as the result of natural or universal beauty?  Breast implants for women, breast reductions for men, liposuction, facelifts, labiaplasty, or eyelid surgery?

Lots of interesting conversations to be had.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Is Religion Secularizing? Trends in Opposition to Pornography

The term secularization is typically used to describe the process by which something becomes increasingly distant from, irrelevant to, or uninfluenced by religion.  But what about religions themselves?  Can religions undergo secularization?

Sociologist Jeremy Thomas tested this proposition, looking at changes in how authors writing for the popular magazine Christianity Today frame their opposition to the use of pornography between 1956 and 2010 (article, summary).  He compared three anti-pornography frames:

  • religious (e.g., against the bible, a sin),
  • harm to others (e.g., performers), and
  • harm to self (e.g., porn addiction, marital troubles).

Thomas found that the last frame — harm to self — had increasing come to dominate the discussion at Christianity Today.  This figure shows the proportion of paragraphs that make each argument.  The last frame clearly dominates.

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Thomas calls this “outsourcing moral authority”: religious leaders are relying on other authorities to back up their points of view.  This suggests that even religion is undergoing secularization.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Valentine’s Day as Youth Rebellion in India

I am always surprised when Valentine’s day rolls around in America as the fiery public outbursts don’t seem so prevalent. In contemporary India this day holds a special significance especially for youngsters. More than the average date-night with an exchange of chocolates, gifts, and flowers, Valentine’s Day provides an opportunity for young practitioners to authenticate and reify their practice of dating and pursuing “true love.”

While arranged marriages are considered  the moral norm, pursuing individual love fantasies are potentially frowned upon and discouraged in a lot of modern Indian homes. Hindutva followers (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) also recommend boycotting the day labeling it western, anti-Hindu, a moral corruption of Indian youth.

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Indian youngsters, however, represent a marketable youth desiccated by parental norms, traditional values, and mixed sexual messages. Valentine’s Day appears as an oasis of freedom, filled with everything the society and parents condemn. They are marketable not only with chocolates, pretty red roses and heart-shaped goods, but also marketable for practices that condone a “way of life” very different from those their parents seem to follow.

In this sense, participation in Valentine’s Day is a kind of religious act. Counter-culture, anti-traditional, and even anti-caste (according to the DMK), participation is of the utmost necessity to its ardent young fans and signifies their socio-cultural milieu.

While some think it’s quite inauthentic for Indians to be celebrating Valentine’s Day, Indian youngsters see it as a natural display of their modern values in response to their conservative parents. They may even connect across religious diversity upon this issue. As a mode of rejecting the anti-dating model culturally imposed by parents, kids take to streets kissing in public, exchanging cards and flowers, hungry to share their love with each other.

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Ultimately the observer has to notice that the plethora of critiques have made Indian celebrators broaden their definition of love, invoking Valentine’s Day for animals and celebrations with destitute elders and those mentally challenged.

“For charity and for love” seems to provide an example for a more neutral celebration, condoned by older members of the community. Each time the day is evoked the ritual is transformed. Even in America some call this day a “Hallmark holiday” and refuse to buy into the propaganda that tells you to monetarily express your love.  Others reject the day, crying that it forces gender stereotypes and creates unwanted expectations. Far divorced from the roots of a religious tradition called Christianity, St.Valentine’s Day has morphed into a Hallmark holiday for Americans and an excuse to publicly proclaim your dating culture for Indian youth.

What the Indian haters of Valentine’s Day need to realize is that it’s probably nothing personal. Young people have always wanted an excuse to make-out in the back rows instead of pay attention in class. India also just seem to “love love” as a friendly visitor once told me. But, we cannot ignore the fact that these practices are changing based on the lifestyle needs of modern urban Indians, and that they are also changing peoples expectations and expressions of love.

The Hindutva respondents are like some Christians and Muslims who argue that participating in yoga might make you Hindu. They certainly aren’t wrong in implying that participation in a practice could  transform your worldview. Far from being irrelevant to religion, opposing meanings of what the practice of Valentine’s Day may create only indicates that “you never know what you’re gonna get!”

Deeksha Sivakumar is a Ph.D. student in South Asian Religions at Emory University, GA. Her current research interests surround a particular enactment of a goddess festival and its unique celebration in Southern India as Bommai Golu. You can follow her on TwitterThis post originally appeared at Bulletin for the Study of Religion.

The Rise of the Jew-ish

The Pew Research Center has released the data from new survey of religious and non-religious Jews.  They find that almost a quarter of Jews (22%) describe themselves as being “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular.”  The percentage of Jews of no religion correlates with age, such that younger generations are much more likely to be unaffiliated.  Nearly a third of Millennials with Jewish ancestry say they have no religion (32%), compared to 19% of Boomers and 7% of the Greatest Generation.

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A majority of Jews with no religion marry non-Jews (79%); 67% have decided against raising their children with the religion.
Screenshot (33)As a result of intermarriage, the percent of all Jews who have only one Jewish parent is rising.  While 92% of people born between 1914 and 1927 had two Jewish parents, Millennials are as likely as not to have just had one.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Many Americans Overestimate, Fear Racial Diversity

New survey data shows that the average person overestimates the diversity of the American population, both now and in the future.  Today, for example, racial minorities make up 37% of the population, but the average guess was 49%.

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Many Americans fear rising diversity.  Over half worry that more minorities means fewer jobs, nearly half think that it means more crime, and almost two-thirds think these groups strain social services.  If people think that minorities are bad for America and overestimate their prevalence, they may be more likely to support draconian and punishing policy designed to minimize their numbers or mitigate the consequences they are believed to bring.

Not all Americans, of course, fear diversity equally.  Below are the scores of various groups on an “openness to diversity” measure with a range of 0-160.

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For the future, Americans are still strongly divided as to what to do about diversity and the racialized inequality we currently see.

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Via The Atlantic; thanks to @_ettey for the link.  Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Are People Changing Their Minds about Same-Sex Marriage?

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

We’ve seen a real shift in support for the issue and acceptance of homosexuality in general.  Since 2011, the majority of Americans are in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples and the trend has continued.

What is behind that change?  The Pew Research Center asked 1,501 respondents whether they’d changed their minds about same-sex marriage and why.  Here’s what they found.

The overall trend towards increasing support is clear in the data.  Fourteen percent of Americans say that they used to oppose same-sex marriage, but they now support it.  Only 2% changed their mind in the other direction.

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People offered a range of reasons for why they changed their minds.  The most common response involved coming into contact with someone that they learned was homosexual.  A third of respondents said that knowing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person was influential in making them rethink their position on gay marriage.  This is consistent with the Contact Hypothesis, the idea that (positive) experiences with someone we fear or dislike will result in changes of opinion.

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As you can see, lots of other reasons were common too.  A quarter of people said that they, well, “evolved”:  they grew up, thought about it more, or more clearly.  Nearly as many said that they were simply changing with the times or that a belief that everyone should be free to do what they want was more important than restricting the right to marry.

I thought that the 5% that said they’d changed their minds for religious reasons were especially interesting.  Support for same-sex marriage is rising in every demographic, even among the religious.  Following up on this, Pew offers an additional peek into the minds of believers.  The table below shows that 37% of the religious  both believe that same-sex marriage is compatible with their belief and support it, but an additional 28% who think marriage rights would violate their religious belief are in favor of extending those rights nonetheless.

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While we’ve been following the trend lines for several years, it’s really interesting to learn what’s behind the change in opinion about same-sex marriage.  Contact with actual gay people — and probably lovable gay and lesbian celebrities like Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris — appears to be changing minds. But the overall trend reflects real shifts in American values about being “open,” valuing “freedom” and “choice,” extending “rights,” and accepting that this is the way it is, even if one personally doesn’t like it.

Cross-posted at BlogHer and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Jewish Christmas — The Chinese Connection

My friend Andy Markovits passed along to me a very funny YouTube video that has been making the rounds. It touches on an intriguing aspect of American social history — the curious affinity of Jews for Chinese food. Ever since Eastern European Jewish immigrants began arriving here in large numbers about a century ago, they showed a special inclination to go to Chinese restaurants whenever they went out to eat non-Jewish food.

There was always something a little odd about this, since many of them normally avoided non-kosher food, and Chinese food is anything but kosher — certainly no more kosher than, say, Italian or Irish or generic-American food. (In recent years some Chinese restaurants have adapted by going kosher, but such cases used to be vanishingly rare.) Perhaps the sauces that smothered and disguised the food, which also tended to be finely chopped up, made a certain degree of denial easier? (Through most of the 20th century, the kind of Chinese food that American Jews were eating was usually some version of gloppy American-Cantonese.) And perhaps the special attractiveness of Chinese restaurants had something to do with the fact that Chinese — unlike a number of other ethnic groups in the U.S. — had no history of, or reputation for, anti-semitism? One can only speculate.

Here are some informed socio-historical speculations by two Jewish sociologists, Gaye Tuchman and Harry Levine, in “‘Safe Treyf’: New York Jews and Chinese Food“ (for those of you who come from the dominant culture, “treyf” or “treif” means non-kosher):

Three themes predominate. First, Chinese food is unkosher and therefore non-Jewish. But because of the specific ways that Chinese food is prepared and served, immigrant Jews and their children found Chinese food to be more attractive and less threatening than other non-Jewish or treyf food. Chinese food was what we term “safe treyf.” Chinese restaurant food used some ingredients that were familiar to Eastern European Jews. Chinese cuisine also does not mix milk and meat; indeed it doesn’t use dairy products at all. In addition, anti-Semitism, anti-Chinese racism, and the low position of the Chinese in American society also (perhaps paradoxically) made Jews feel safe and comfortable in Chinese restaurants.

Second, Jews construed Chinese restaurant food as cosmopolitan. For Jews in New York, eating in Chinese restaurants signified that one was not a provincial or parochial Eastern European Jew, not a “greenhorn” or hick. In New York City, immigrant Jews, and especially their children and grand-children, regarded Chinese food as sophisticated and urbane.

Third, by the second and third generation, Jews identified eating this kind of non-Jewish food — Chinese restaurant food — as something that modern American Jews, and especially New York Jews, did together. “Eating Chinese” became a New York Jewish custom, a part of daily life and self-identity for millions of New York Jews.

Whatever the reasons, this connection between American Jews and Chinese food has long been a solidly established social fact. (I don’t know whether this has also been true for Jews in Montreal and Toronto, or whether there are any parallels outside North America.) And I am told by people who know about such things (not just professionally, but from relevant sociological research) that this connection has long been a self-conscious part of Chinese-restaurant lore as well. If someone wanted to start a Chinese restaurant, the best bet was to have a Chinese community nearby — but, failing that, everyone knew that the second-best situation was to open the restaurant near a supply of Jewish customers.

As part of this pattern of ethnic symbiosis, one special Christmas custom (we might almost call it a tradition) that emerged among American Jews was to go out to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas. Again, the explanation is no doubt complex. Since most Chinese didn’t celebrate Christmas as a religious or family holiday, Chinese restaurants were likely to be open when other restaurants were closed. I would also guess that it’s easy to get a reservation at your favorite Chinese restaurant when the goyim are mostly having Christmas dinner at home. And the movie theaters are often emptier, too — so why not go to the movies while you’re at it?

For a celebration of this Jewish Christmas tradition, click HERE.  For a nice video on the subject from the Forward, see Jews and Chinese Food: A Christmas Story.

Jeff Weintraub is a social and political theorist, cultural and political sociologist, and democratic socialist who has been teaching most recently at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College. (Also an Affiliated Professor with the University of Haifa in Israel and an opponent of academic blacklists.)  This post originally appeared at his blog, Commentaries and Controversies.