Religious Sociology

In our continuing quest to diversify the fields and interests of our contributors here at Religion in American History, please welcome our new guest poster Gerardo Marti!

Gerardo Marti is author of
Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church (Rutgers University Press, 2008) and A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church (Indiana University Press, 2005).

Active in researching race, religion, and social change, he is
Assistant Professor of Sociology at Davidson College and will be the Lynette S. Autrey Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University this fall while completing a book project on worship in racially integrated churches. Here's his first post.

History and Sociology - A Dispatch from Boston
by Gerardo Marti

Among the most stimulating events surrounding this year's American Sociological Association meetings in Boston was the "Culture Mini-conference" hosted at the Harvard Business School organized by the Sociology of Culture section, one of the most popular sections of the association. For me, a real highlight was hearing a great talk from Geneviève Zubrzycki, an assistant professor from the University of Michigan, who spoke on the relation between history and culture.

Zubrzycki is the author of The Crosses of Auschwitz (Chicago, 2006), an award-winning book that is (as she describes it) an "analysis of a specific event, the so-called War of the Crosses, when ultranationalist Poles erected hundreds of crosses just outside Auschwitz to mark the site as one of Polish martyrdom (as opposed to one of the Jewish Shoah), and to stridently affirm Poles' Catholic identity." The book is interesting and insightful as it suggests a means to examine how memorials and broader historical events contribute to the collective identity of nation-states.

In her talk, Zubrzycki described her work "as a cultural sociology of historical transitions and transformations, of historical crossroads and turning points, of moments of what I call 'narrative shocks' that question collective memory and redefine national identity." Historical sociology is a mode of inquiry, "a way of thinking through social problems that is dynamic and processual." She looks to the meaning given to events through narratives and then how those narratives determine "the direction of social transformation and institutional change." Analysis of the crosses of Auschwitz provides a strategic opportunity for demonstrating how symbols (in this case, a nationalized memorial) "are embedded in layers of historical narratives created through key events." In other words, sociologists like Zubrzycki believe the past affects the future through the collective meanings people give to events, and then those event-meanings shape the future. In her work, symbols are not static but historicized.

Like other sociologists, my basic training often pushed quantitative analysis over qualitative inquiry. Yet as I continue to grow in my fascination with history, I am thrilled to hear careful thinking from colleagues on the relation between history and the fundamental dynamics of the social world. Scholars like Zubrzycki are pushing sociologists like me beyond merely providing a mere "historical context" for significant social dynamics but rather to force ourselves to work through the complex issues of collective memory and the nature of temporality in social constructions. Stay tuned for more from Zubrzycki. Her current research focuses on religion and Canada-but of course the nuance of the work goes beyond such a quick blurb.


Phil said…
Great post, Gerardo, and welcome aboard. Look forward to reading your thoughts and reflections here, and look forward to catching up with you in Houston.
Gerardo said…
Thanks much, Phil. Eager for your book to come out so don't keep us waiting too long...
CBender said…
Genevieve's book is indeed fantastic, and it won the American Sociological Association's Section on Religion Book Award in 2007.
rjc said…
I second (third?) the praise for Genevieve's book. A must-read!