Science in Christian Perspective
Russell Heddendorf, M.A.
From: JASA 11
(December 1959): 33-34.
In dealing with any problem in our contemporary society, the sociologist must contend with the factor of change. The dynamism and complexity of our pre sent social environment does not provide for the analy sis of any social phenomena in a time, space vacuum.
Nor is the effect of change on a social situation derived from a direct source. The effect of much change comes
by indirect means and may be traced through multiple levels. Hence, change in automobile design may cause
a change in idea and value patterns of families. As in too many areas of the field, instruments of measure ment and conceptualization are inadequately refined to provide for accurate analysis.
When the sociologist approaches a problem involv
ing change, therefore, he must not be deceived by the
appearance of any easy solution. In the area of the sociology of religion, there has been a general tenden cy to explain the development of new religious groups in terms of the "charismatic leader". Unfortunately, Weber's original concept has found a readily com fortable application on too many occasions. It has been only recently that attempts to understand such types of change in terms of social mechanisms have appeared.
For the Christian sociologist, therefore, attempts to trace the development of liberal Protestantism from earlier fundamentalism pose the need to approach this practical problem through the influence of change. Such change is partially in the form of a reversal of the means-end relationship of religion. The ultimate value of religion in fundamentalism becomes a means to other values in liberalism. This is not an isolated change mechanism, however, since it appears on the secular level in the generally conceptualized change from a sacred to a secular society. Action, which was once traditional and therefore meaningful, becomes dynamic and requires constant adjustment to new goals which then acquire the meaning once attached to action. The key values of American society which existed in the religious realm may now be found in the secular world and religion merely becomes a means of ob taining them.
Another social force to which religion is highly sensitive is change in class. Original American fundamentalism had little concern for helping lower class groups partially because they constituted an insignificant minority. Liberalistic tendencies developed largely, however, with a growing lower class of immigrants and urban population.
What is needed then is a study of social factors which are highly correlated with religion, particularly in a changed situation. Much is known about social mechanisms but this material needs to be re fined and developed before it can supply data which is profitable for the sociologist concerned with steering religious change.
Thearticles found in this column during the past year have been directed toward the laymen. It has been hoped that they would provide a hasty overview of some of the main concepts and problems of the field, particularly in their practical application by the Christian. As more sociological material filters to the lay: level, it will be necessary to continually keep the-record of such information straight.
There is another function to be performed by the editor, however, and that is to provide communication on the specialist's level. It is hoped, therefore, that the coming year may be devoted to consideration of problems which are more insistent to the average researcher in the field. The immediate question is whether a sufficiently large group exists to warrant such an-endeavor.
For this reason, the author would like to request a, response on the part of all who work in the field, even in a remote way. It would be particularly helpf0to know your sociological background, field of major interest, and particular problems with which you are presently concerned. Suggestions indicating the way in which this service could be developed would be most, appreciated. Send the above information to:Russell Heddendorf