Friday, September 12, 2008

Why do they want to know? (and why do I keep linking to them?!)

I don't think the casual reader would realize that I really and truly am a dogmatic theologian at heart, given how much I post here on issues of political and social aspects of religion. I think that I do this in part because I am less concerned about questions of "religion & society" than questions of dogmatic import, and so I have less qualms about flinging my thoughts on these topics out into the blogosphere. In any case, here it goes again, with at least a pause to question why we bother with such sociological or political critique.

One place that I've linked to rather often is The Immanent Frame, which offers some fascinating posts from a number of authors on secularism, Islam, evangelicalism, and religion in general. There have been a long string of posts recently on the Immanent Frame about evangelicalism, and I've linked a few of them here on Clavi Non Defixi. I must admit, I don't know why evangelicals are so damned interesting all of the sudden. Rhys Williams asked the same question in his recent post "Why do we want to know?", and I think it's good that the question is asked rather than the answer assumed.

Williams discusses how a lot of interest in evangelicals is simply the result of politics and elections; they are the constiuency du jour. He also offers an interesting comparison of current interest with studies of "American Catholics" in the '60s and "fundamentalists" in the '80s and '90s. And in the end he doesn't leave us with too much hope for discussion of "evangelicals" by interested outsiders:

Thus, at least in an election year, when elected officials, aspiring candidates, consultants, and media all have a lot at stake on shaping their appeals effectively, this practical outcome seems to me to swamp the scholarly concerns scholars have with precision and definition. If we want to know who evangelicals are, how many there are, and what they believe and how they practice, I am all for precision, nuance, and variation. But if we need to know how “they” are going to pull a voting lever regarding an either/or choice in a divided electorate, it seems to me that the global term bandied about in the media tells us what we want to know.

1 comment:

  1. I think in a lot of ways that's the problem with blogs. You don't post peer-review studies on them, you post what are essentially stream of consciousness reflections on recent events. I just wouldn't go looking for the kind of work on evangelicals that you're talking about in blogs and newspapers.

    I think the word "swamped" is apt for describing what's happening to scholarly work - it is overwhelmed by election related stuff. But does that really mean its not there? I would think this election buzz would encourage people to do MORE real solid scholarly work on evangelicals. It may be harder to see that work because the blogs are blaring another story right now - but scholars are connected to the wider culture. I betcha they're writing more good work right now, rather than less. And maybe you'll have to wait a year or two for the papers being written now to work through the review process.