Complexities of Race, Complications of Interdisciplinary Research, and Coordinating Sensitivities: Religion and American Culture Conference ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Complexities of Race, Complications of Interdisciplinary Research, and Coordinating Sensitivities: Religion and American Culture Conference

By the time the session on “Race, Ethnicity, and Religious Pluralism” rolled around, my laptop had completely died. But I made a few notes on this last substantive session, a session that was both interesting and varied, with perspectives that were not readily connected to each other but important nonetheless.

Indy across the RiverImage by joanieofarc via Flickr

Rudy Busto from the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (hey Rudy, you can thank me later for spelling it out) made a strong case that the terms “race,” “ethnicity,” and “religious pluralism” are commonly thought of as analytically similar (if not synonymous with one another).

Then, he quickly showed what scholars of race/ethnicity readily understand -- that any notion of interchangeability among these terms is not only ludicrous but also (and more importantly for my own perspective) not useful for drawing out critical dynamics that need explaining -- not just assuming -- in our work.

One of the more important differences in these terms is how “race” emphasizes power relationships while “ethnicity” tones down the discussion toward differences in background, lifestyle, etc. From my own perspective, the use of "ethnicity" draws on alternative theoretical perspectives and can point out other conflicts and ironies that exist in relation to discussions of religion.

For me, what Busto shows is how analytic concepts are powerful, yet constraining, for highlighting aspects of the human experience. Bringing these perspectives into productive tension is required.

Cover of Cover via Amazon

Helen Rose Ebaugh, sociologist from the University of Houston, spent time describing the rise of a stream of scholarship she helped to pioneer, an area referred to as “Religion and the New Immigrants” (her book is connected here).

In talking about the process of a new research arena emerging, Ebaugh demonstrates the importance of scholars working with large funding sources to organize research initiatives drawing attention to particular phenomena. In her experience, interdisciplinarity strengthens broad scale research.

But she also showed how potentially powerful coordination of results can fall flat. Funding sources “move on” with other priorities, and scholars get pressured to publish their own papers in various venues – a quicker “pay off” in academic rewards in comparison with the effort and the burden of waiting on people with disparate perspectives from various fields to put things together.

In short, while it’s exciting to stimulate new, interdisciplinary knowledge, it’s disappointing when the results are short-circuited due to pressures inherent to the academy.

David Wills, from the department of history at Amherst College, spoke about the issues of race and pluralism from the standpoint that combines a sociological approach that appreciates the dynamics of contemporary phenomena with historical approaches that put together longer strains of historical sensitivities.

Underlying Wills remarks is an answer to the question of whether sociology and history can be brought into a productive partnership. Well, yes, of course it can; his own teaching and research does this all the time.

Jokingly referring to himself as the last speaker of the last panel, it was an appropriate ending for the thematic sessions.

No comments: