If missiology is the integration of theology and the social sciences, then I have to admit that my weakest point is the social sciences (although my theology needs to go much deeper as well! I’m a horrible theologian!). To address this deficiency, I’m going to try to watch some lectures from Ann Swidler at Cal, teaching Sociology 101. Here are my rough notes for her Lecture 1:
- The sociological way of thinking about the world does not come easily to most Americans. We tend to think in terms of our own individual traits. American “heroes” are not part of a social institution, they are lone rangers. So how do Americans think about the power of social forces?
- Sociology is the systematic study of social life. Sociology attempts to explain the causes and consequences of social phenomenon.
- Emile Durkheim in his classical book “Suicide” gives one of the most brilliant demonstrations of the relationship between individual life and social life ever created. What seems like the most individual act a person can commit (suicide) is actually profoundly social in its causes. Durkheim studied suicide rates between groups. Protestants (he found) are less like likely to commit suicide than Catholics and Jews, because Protestantism taught people to rely more on their own judgment, their own conscience, their own reading of the Bible. Protestants were vulnerable to suicide because they were too reliable on their own judgment. This is egoistic suicide. If you have to answer the question, what should I live for, and the answer the question is “me!” and you don’t like yourself, then they answer is not much outside of self matters.
- On the other side of the question, is anomic suicide which is a loss of rules or regulation. Catholics and Jews had strong authoritarian communities. Anomie is the breakdown of social ties, or normlessness. This tends to exists in periods where there is a rapid social change. Suicide increased rapidly with modernity (economic advance or depression). You no longer know what the rules are. The suicide of frustration. When you don’t know what the rules are, you are in danger of making a lot more mistakes. Durkheim says, you don’t live in the “objective” truth, you live in the “social” truth. [He has a point, although monotheists should always be ontological realists. All meaning is relational.] You live in the social world that defines what is an appropriate aspiration. Social worlds create our limits and regulate our aspirations and tell us when we have done enough. So anomic suicide happens when others don’t know what their limits are.
- An institution is a pattern of expected action of individuals or groups enforced by social sanctions (rewards and punishments). Family, education, law, economy, gov’t, etc. What it means to be a person is anchored in your connection to an institution. Institution is something that is lasting. Even a widow is part of the institution of marriage. Because there are rules and punishments, they tend to help you know what to do with yourself, and they provide a sense of identity.