Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Born Digital, Dissecting the First Generation of Digital Natives

Just received a book announcement --

Cover of Cover via Amazon

Born Digital:
Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

This seems like an interesting portrait of the younger generation who grew up with computing as part of their natural environment.

In a world of ubiquitous computing power and portable technology, the book provides an occasion to consider how pedagogy and organizational structures that pre-date the 1980s may need to further reconsider adaptations to this growing wave of our population.

From the publisher:
The most enduring change wrought by the digial revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of "digital natives"—children who were born into and raised in the digital world—is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even our families will be forever transformed.

But who are these digital natives? In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow.

Based on original reserach and advaving new theories, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ & Culture - Only a Beginning

After yet another stimulating conversation with my friend and colleague Doug Ottati (Doug's written several books), I once again picked up my copy of H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture to think about how theology affects one's understanding of culture and social change.

Cover of Cover via Amazon

My 50th anniversary edition of this influential book contains several additions compared to the Harper Torchbook paperback I started to read back in 1992. That one was a crumbling used book with an olive-green cover, yellowed pages, and tiny print. I didn't finish it. I didn't get it.

With this new edition, the editors include an introductory chapter written by Niebuhr that not only summarizes the 5 typologies that characterize orientations to the connection between "the gospel" and "the world" but also spends a profitable moment describing what typologies are and how they should be used. This brief essay provides a smooth transition into the text.

Also, James Gustafson's introductory preface nails home the importance of seeing how typologies function (something sociologists have wrested with from Max Weber's work) and the misreadings that can happen by misunderstanding their application. Martin Marty's brief introduction is also helpful.

So, I am again reading through the book. As you can see, there are several "prefatory" materials, so you can understand how after 2 days I am finally getting to page 1!

QuestionsImage by Oberazzi via Flickr

This morning I don't claim that Niebuhr has the answer to all the questions regarding an approach to understanding the broader questions on the relationships between religion and culture. The phrasing of it in this way is certainly not Niebuhr's objective, and perhaps that is not even the best way to encounter this text. Yet the influence of Niebuhr's work makes it an appropriate place of exploration.

The main point I get out of my reading (let me remind you, this is all pre-page 1) is Niebuhr's outstanding observation that --
"[the use of] typology...denies the assumption that there is a single Christian ethics or a single Christian ethical principle. It assumes, on the contrary, that there are multiple principles and a large number of creative individual concretions of the Christian life."
That statement alone is worth the price of the book.

Reading listImage by jakebouma via Flickr

Any look at church history -- or just the simple act of looking at a row of Christian books at any bookstore, library, or any pastor's or professor's shelf -- demonstrates "multiple principles" and "a large number of creative individual concretions of the Christian life."

Certainly, any actual observation of members in any local congregation would do the same.

By establishing a base of comparison, we can now look at the implications and differentiation of orientations in terms of definitions of culture, approaches to social change, rhetorical strategies for describing changes, decoding discourses and "jeremiads" of all sorts, and generally helping us think a whole lot better about the religious self in the world.

And generating better thinking about the self and the world is what I think Niebuhr wanted most from this book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Book Review of Hollywood Faith

The first published book review of  Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Churchhas just been published.

From CHOICE Reviews April 2009:
Marti (Davidson College) follows up his 2005 book on multiethnic congregations in Los Angeles (A Mosaic of Believers, CH, Jan'06, 43-2867) with this study of the contrast between Christianity and the often-perceived amorality of the media industry in Hollywood. Oasis Christian Center provides the setting for this study in contrasts. 
Symbolically housed in an old movie theater with an ersatz Hollywood star on the sidewalk in front of the building dedicated to "Jesus Christ, the Son of God," Oasis unexpectedly combines two streams of members--a diverse collection of people seeking solace from the stress and frustrations of careers in the increasingly fragmented and transitory world of the film industry, and a substantial African American group of worshipers. 
Marti uses Oasis as a starting point to review Hollywood's social archaeology, tracing its early history as a quiet, decidedly religious haven to its transformation into Tinseltown and beyond. He finds an explanation for the combination of movie people and African Americans at Oasis in their shared lives of ongoing marginality, stress, and uncertainty in US society. 
Addressing the perspectives of students of religion, media and the film industry, and ethnic differences, the book speaks to all three subjects, combining them in a novel, interesting fashion. 
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. 
-- E. Carlson, Florida State University

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pastor Rob Bell - "Geeky, Affable, and Energized"

A new article in The Christian Century profiles the provocative author and megachurch pastor Rob Bell.

I met Rob Bell and his core team just a few weeks after his phenomenally successful church Mars Hill Bible Church was launched in 1999. Educated, earnest, and entertaining, Rob brings to his pastorate a consummate skill of consistently speaking a clear and compelling message every time he stands up.

Mars Hill was born in a defunk-urban-mall-turned-big-box-megaspace in Grandville, Michigan, just outside of Grand Rapids. This is Rob's home base. It's one of the ugliest church buildings that also happens to be one of the most active and innovative in the country.

From the article:
After nine years Mars Hill now has 11,000 worshipers, but it still meets in the shopping mall where Bell began holding worship services in 1999. Everything inside and outside the building has a warehouse functionality; it's practical, spacious and ugly.

[Bell's] geeky, affable presence and energized speaking style warm up the room quickly and signal a seasoned performer. After you hear Bell speak, it's not surprising to learn that his childhood hero was David Letterman

He says Letterman isn't a bad example for pastors, since he's been on television every night for 20 years, engaging the culture. "What's my job again?" says Bell. "To engage our culture!"

His NOOMA videos [many available on YouTube] have sold 1.2 million copies in 80 countries (NOOMA is a phonetic spelling of the Greek pneuma, or "spirit"). In 2007-2008 he visited 22 cities as part of "The Gods Aren't Angry" tour.

What is Bell doing to earn so much attention? For one thing, he can preach. As Bell warms up a congregation or audience to hear "the truth of the text," he drops jokes based on pop music, references to favorite cheap wines or the quirks of cell phone technology, a mainstay of the 20-somethings among his listeners. In his sermons, he prepares the congregation by announcing that he'll be teaching for 80 minutes. (Some of the visitors thought that he must be kidding. He wasn't.)

On the Sunday I visited, the 80-minute teaching sermon provided a base for on-the-ground ministry. Bell included a strong critique of Christians who, he said, proselytized in Rwanda, saved souls and then took off. These missionaries were wrong to tell people that "if they were saved they'd go to heaven when they died," he said, for it led to a devaluation of life on earth and possibly smoothed the path for the country's genocide of 1994. A Left Behind theology is an "evacuation theology," warned Bell. It is lethal to believe that one can live apart from the world in some kind of "spiritual neverland."

Nice pocket tee.Image by el clinto via Flickr

Bell's video audience, like the people who come to hear him at Mars Hill, tend to have been raised in evangelical churches, and many are graduates of evangelical colleges. They are restless with the Christianity they've inherited and come to Mars Hill eager to hear someone who knows their tradition and claims core truths of the faith, yet challenges other givens.

Bell challenges those who insist on a literal approach to scripture and believes people can get caught up in the details of the text instead of plumbing the meaning of a passage. When he thinks aloud with his listeners, he carefully paraphrases some passages and avoids technical words and doctrinal terms. Sermon topics often focus on the basics of outreach: how to be a neighbor; how to be a church.

The church clearly expects members to get involved in ministry. Here are words from the mission statement: "We have the opportunity to make a difference. That's why we leverage both our resources and our selves in pursuit of tangible results."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Video Clip on the New Evangelicalism

Quick post: Here's a brief video clip from a talk given at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley at the end of January and recently posted on their website.

It's only 3 minutes out of a 40 minute talk, but it shows some initial ideas on what I called the "New Evangelicalism."

There's more to describing what I mean by "New Evangelicalism" and its implications in my closing remarks of the conference.

To hear that and more, the full audio of both my opening and closing sessions are available at the PSR website.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aimee Semple McPherson and the Development of American Religion

On Monday, March 23rd, PBS will air Sister Aimee, a provocative documentary on the life of the astounding American evangelist.

If you don't know Sister Aimee, now is the time. The show is based on a wonderful book, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America, by religious historian Matthew Avery Sutton.

Aimee Semple McPherson is so important, it is hard to summarize all she accomplished in the scope of modern Christianity. Among them is the incorporation of drama into church services, the promotion of media (she founded KFSG in Los Angeles), and the negotiation of women's religious roles.

The PBS website to accompany the documentary is full of fantastic materials:
- a gallery of pictures of Sister Aimee (my favorite is her "Gospel Car" driven across country doing revivals in 1918)

- a brief biography of her life (she founded the Four Square Gospel denomination)

- resources for teachers on history, religion, culture, and the connection between religion and racism and feminism

Angelus Temple in Echo Park. Notice the radio ...Angelus Temple and KFSG Radio Towers. Image via Wikipedia

- a list of websites and books (besides Sutton's book, I also really enjoyed Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson by Mark Epstein)

- pictures and history of The Angelus Temple, important moment in church architecture that pre-dates Willow Creek by over half a century, and the current home of the Dream Center

- the full transcript of the documentary

Be sure to set your DVRs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Academic Fields as Intellectual Networks

A new study shows how academic fields are interrelated.  The slides are very, very cool, providing a visual representation of intellectual interrelationships.

I'm happy to see that sociology stands at the center of several fields.  Find it at the top-center of the "yellow-white" cluster in the middle of the diagram. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Mosaic of Believers - Big Sale, Free Shipping

As part of an "Intellectual Stimulus Package Sale," A Mosaic of Believers is currently on sale, and free shipping is available.

"Engagingly and accessibly written, this excellent book deserves wide readership among everyone interested in US religion, ethnicity, organizations and urban culture." —Choice

Indiana University Press is hosting free ground shipping in the U.S. with code WWEZXX at checkout.

Mosaic in southern California is one of the largest and most innovative multiethnic congregations in America. Gerardo Marti shows us how this unusual church has achieved multiethnicity, not by targeting ethnic groups, but by providing multiple havens of inclusion that play down ethnic differences. He reveals a congregation aiming to reconstruct evangelical theology, personal identity, member involvement, and church governance to create an institution with greater relevance to the social reality of a new generation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Meeting Jesus on Spring Break

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TX - MARCH 25:  Students d...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

As college Spring Break gets into gear for 2009, churches are organizing evangelistic ministries to help students be safe and meet Jesus.

At South Padre Island, Texas, college students partying on Spring Break were given rides back home while getting quick courses on Christianity. Kevin Sieff writes about the ministry in The Brownsville Herald.

In the makeshift prayer room at the South Padre Island Baptist Church, Allison's friends were praying for her as she drove around in a church van offering students rides. They knew how difficult the experience would be.

Just then, Tommy walked into the van. He was about Allison's age, out for a night's bar crawl.

"I could tell he was tipsy," she said. "But then we struck up a conversation."

Conversation, namely about Christ, is why Allison, 18, had driven 700 miles from Canyon, Texas, to South Padre Island for Spring Break.

She's one of nearly 500 students now participating in Beach Reach, which provides a free van service, breakfast and spiritual advice to young, often inebriated, spring breakers.

Southwest Squad 156

Image by Fetchy via Flickr

She shared her own beliefs - her faith in Jesus, her thoughts about the importance of community service.

Word about Allison's success made it back to the prayer room. Her friends posted an update on a projector in the center of the room. "Alli's doing great with Tommy," the note read.

"It was the best experience of my life," she said. "It gave me this incredible feeling."

Allison would need all the energy she could muster. Her next shift would run from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., and the weeklong bacchanalia had just begun.

Church Van

Image by FlySi via Flickr

Thousands of Evangelical college students shun the party atmosphere for prayer and service to their free-wheeling colleagues.

Calendar dates like Mardi Gras and New Year's Eve offer convenient points for organizing outreaches. Also, party places like Las Vegas or Florida's South Beach as well as hang out spots like Hollywood Boulevard offer similar opportunities based in geography rather than holidays.

The contradictory combination of heavy partying with intensive evangelism strikes a tone of radical purposefulness evident in many such ministries.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Imagination, Uncertainty, and Economics

An argument for nuance, imagination, and ambiguity.

An article by Geoffrey Galt Harpham, president and director of the National Humanities Center, takes a moment to demonstrate the value of learning from the Humanities in the face of the current economic crisis.

At the heart of the argument is an appreciation for imagination and the unknown.

Harpham writes,

Cashflows for a Credit Default Swap.Image via Wikipedia

I've read: "It is all so obvious in retrospect," and "Our models failed to predict this." Put those two together, and it becomes clear that the most sophisticated tools developed to analyze and predict movements in the economy failed spectacularly to grasp some very large, crucial, and — in retrospect — fully visible facts.

The key factor...escapes abstract models because it is human and social, not mathematical — a vast imaginative construction composed of hopes, fears, illusions, calculations, judgments. Unlike the house, the imaginative construction that determines the house's value can be destroyed by a pinprick — hence the term bubble.

Portrait of Homer, known as Homer Caetani (the...Bust of Homer. Image via Wikipedia

So our models failed not because they were imprecise but because they were too precise, too neat and crisp to take in the imaginative and social nature of value.

Nor did they take in the fully human character of the behavior of lenders, borrowers, analysts, shareholders, or traders, all of whom were driven by largely unconscious and partly irrational beliefs, including the simple desire for social approval, even as they were persuaded of their own powers of analysis and of the underlying "rationality" or "efficiency" of the market.

[T]he reason that our models and modelers failed to predict the current economic crisis was that they did not engage in what I call "projective retrospection," nor did they try to anticipate the diffuse effects of nonquantifiable, shifting collective beliefs. They were, I presume, simply trying to be as rational as possible in plotting their moves.

Their imaginations were constrained by their assumption that the economy was a kind of game with arcane rules rather than a human activity embedded in the general human scene.

Face The Truth  ♫Image by Cotecho' x via Flickr

The economy in which people do or do not have confidence can be understood as a persuasive fiction that is, in critical ways, not fully responsive to rational analysis. Indeed, the financial instruments whose implosion we've been watching — the notorious credit-default swaps and derivatives and securitized mortgages — were so complex and opaque that not even those who staked their fortunes on them understood what they were.

Our material lives are sustained by our belief in such fictions, and when we stop believing — as we now have, temporarily — we see revealed the immaterial foundations of the real world. When, a generation ago, a few "postmodern" theorists began to talk about the fictional character of reality, they were laughed at by those who considered themselves hardheaded realists; nobody, not even the most doctrinaire postmodernist, is laughing now.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Laid-off Workers Become Entrepreneurs

Quick post: A nice article from the New York Times emphasizes how eventual economic recovery is due in part to workers who eventually take on a mentality of entrepreneurship.

From the article:

Black CowboysImage via Wikipedia

When the economy takes a dive, it is common for people to turn to their inner entrepreneur to try to make their own work.

But economists say it takes months for that mentality to sink in.

And that this is about the time in the economic cycle when it really starts to happen — when the formerly employed realize that traditional job searches are not working, and that they are running out of time and money.

Even in prosperous times, entrepreneurs have a daunting failure rate. But those who succeed could play a big role in turning the economy around because tiny companies are actually big employers.

In 2008, 3.8 million companies had fewer than 10 workers, and they employed 12.4 million people, or roughly 11 percent of the private sector work force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More Immigrant Children Seek Partners of Same Ethnicity

The U.S. Census shows that while interracial marriages overall have increased, the rate of Hispanics and Asians marrying partners of other "races" declined in the past two decades.

The Washington Post reports from a study by Ohio State Sociologist Zhenchao Qianthat the much expected increase in cross-ethnic marriages has actually declined.

From the article:

Lesbian RomanceImage by Made Underground via Flickr

Sociologists and demographers are just beginning to study how the children of immigrants who have flowed into the country in recent years will date and marry.

The generation that is coming of age is the most open-minded in history and living in the Obama era -- where hues mingle in classrooms, nightclubs and the White House. Conventional wisdom has it that they will begin choosing spouses of other ethnicities as the number of interracial marriages rises.

But scholars delving into the U.S. Census have found a surprising converse trend. Although interracial marriages overall have increased, the rate of Hispanics and Asians marrying partners of other races declined in the past two decades. This suggests that the growing number of immigrants is having a profound effect on coupling.

The number of native- and foreign-born people marrying outside their race fell from 27 to 20 percent for Hispanics and 42 to 33 percent for Asians from 1990 to 2000. The downward trend continued through last year.

Increasingly, singles are turning to a growing number of niche dating sites on the Internet, such as http://Shaadi.com and http://Persiansingles.com.

Social networking groups like Professionals in the City have expanded its repertoire of lectures and wine-tastings to include "speed dating" nights for people of Asian, Latino or South Asian descent.

Teen Romance 3Image by Made Underground via Flickr

The 20- and 30-somethings drawn to these events say they have a deep yearning to connect with someone who shares their roots, yet they are conflicted about it. As children, they felt divided loyalties, growing up with one foot in their parents' home country, the other in the United States. Now, as adults, they wonder: Would I be happy with someone as American as I am, or a recent immigrant?

Researchers found that their subjects were constantly struggling with the desire to be open to people of all backgrounds vs. family expectations, and their own desires to sustain their culture. Most paired with others who shared similar racial or language backgrounds.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Latinos Take Immigration Reform to Evangelical Churches

Quick Post: Latino activists urge churches to provoke broad immigration reform.

Stories and quotes in an interesting article originally from the Chicago Tribune describes the effort by Latino immigration activists to bring families together.

From the article:

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 19:  A man points while...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Two years after a sweeping immigration reform bill failed in Congress, Latino leaders have revitalized the effort, positioning children who were left behind when their parents were deported as the new face of the movement. 
The campaign is designed to place pressure on President Barack Obama to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority.

Borrowing a page from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Latinos have taken their cause to churches, drawing upon the growing population of evangelical Latinos, who like their white counterparts, are strong advocates of family values.

While Hispanics overwhelmingly remain Roman Catholics, nearly one in six in the U.S. identify as evangelicals, the second largest religious group in the Latino community, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

"Our families are the cornerstone of our society, and we want to protect those families." Packing a large evangelical church in suburban Atlanta, the mostly Latino audience shouted "amen" and waved as ministers preached about how God would protect them.

The Meeting Place Church service held in basem...Image via Wikipedia

For more than three hours, they prayed, sang spirituals in Spanish and listened to the testimonies of families torn apart at the hands of federal immigration agents.

The stories are designed to tug at the heartstrings of Americans and focus attention on what community leaders said is the most tragic consequence of the federal government's crackdown on illegal immigration -- the breakup of families, a problem they said affects up to 5 million children, most of whom were born in the U.S. and automatically are citizens.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Turban Week in Texas

In Texas, students agree to wear bright colored turbans - as long as they don't drink or smoke while it's on. Almost everyone who wears a turban in the United States is Sikh, and Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world.

As an exercise in religious tolerance, Texas college students were urged to wear blood-red, neon orange, or aquamarine cloth around the heads, symbols of Sikh religion.

Billed as "Sikh Turban Week," Sikh students at colleges including University of Texas at Arlington and Southern Methodist University tied turbans and debunked myths for their classmates during spring break.

Jaipreet Singh Suri, president of Southern Methodist University's Sikh Student Association, decided to host a "turban day" at SMU because of continuing questions and accusations surrounding his turban. He offerred $10 gift cards for Subway, Starbucks, and Chipotle to the first 100 students to wear the turban for three hours and tell others why they were doing so. The participants signed a paper that said they wouldn't smoke, drink alcohol or take off the turban during their assigned time.

Students continued to sign up long after the gift cards were gone.
After 170 turbans were tied by himself and volunteers, he had to send people away. They'd run out of cloth.

Rajinder Singh, a software engineer from Allen who teaches Sikh history at the Richardson gurdwara, said, "If you are asked to strip, it's the same as asking me to take off my turban," he said. "It's a form of identity" and a reminder of faith. Even in India, Sikhs have long been persecuted.

Almost everyone who wears a turban in the United States is Sikh.

Sikhism Related Photo of Kanga, Kara and Kirpa...Sikh symbols of faith. Image via Wikipedia

Sikhism, whose origins date back only to the 15th century, draws on aspects of Hinduism and Islam but is a separate religion. Guru Nanak, the first of 10 Gurus, or holy teachers, pushed the faith's principles of egalitarianism, community service and moral purity. Along with the turban, the religion has five other tangible symbols of faith: uncut hair and beard, a wooden comb worn in the hair, an iron bracelet, a small ceremonial sword and a special type of underwear.

The most distinguishable article of faith – the turban – ends up conjuring notions of Islamic fundamentalism for many Americans, who have difficulty distinguishing the range of cultures from Egypt to India, said Robert Hunt, the director of global theological education at SMU.

About 5,000 Sikhs live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and most Sikhs come from the Punjab region in northwest India. Overall, about a half-million Sikhs live in the United States, with the largest population in California.

Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world and has at least 24 million followers worldwide.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Revival Religion and Third World Politics

The Pew Foundation and Oxford University Press have partnered together to commission a set of volumes examining Evangelicalism and Democracy outside the United States. Case studies and conceptual frameworks broaden our perspectives beyond our own backyard.

The connection between politics and religion will always be interesting. While many of us are caught up in the happenings of the U.S., a four-volume series form Oxford brings the questions and issues to other regions of the world. Here's another --

Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Asia
by David Halloran Lumsdaine

From the publisher:

This is one of four projected volumes to emerge from a massive, Pew-funded study that sought to answer the question:

  • What happens when a revivalist religion based on scriptural orthodoxy participates in the volatile politics of the Third World?
  • Is the result a democratic politics of the ballot box, or is it more like an authoritarian politics of command from on high?
  • Does the evangelical faith of the Bible hinder or promote a politics of the ballot box?

Faithful praying towards Makkah; Umayyad Mosqu...Image via Wikipedia

At a time when the global-political impact of another revivalist and scriptural religion, Islam, fuels vexed debate among analysts the world over, this series offers an unusual comparative perspective on a critical issue: the often combustible interaction of resurgent religion and the developing world's unstable politics.

Three of the volumes focus on particular regions (Africa, Latin America, and Asia). The fourth will address the broader question of evangelical Christianity and democracy in the global setting. The present volume considers the case of Asia.

In his introduction, editor David Lumsdaine offers a historical overview of evangelicalism in the region, provides a theoretical framework for understanding evangelical impact on the global south, and summarizes the findings presented in the remainder of the book.

Six individual case studies follow, focusing respectively on the situation in China, Western India, Northeast India, Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines.