07 November 2006

two studies

In the past week or so, Scot McKnight has pointed out two interesting studies of American religion.

The first is a study from Baylor University, entitled, "American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US" (be forewarned, this is a large PDF).

The second is a study of American academics that asks, "How Religious Are America's College and University Professors?" (PDF).

Part of me thinks these studies are both deeply flawed in the way they ask their questions, presupposing an overall shape to American piety that is itself problematic. But the fact is, even though I personally would be uncomfortable answering a number of the questions in the manner in which they're asked, the researchers undertaking these studies know their discipline and know how to ask questions to which most Americans would probably have fairly straightfoward answers.

Even so, that raises some questions about the role that such surveys have not simply in reflecting or reporting upon the condition of American religion, but also in guiding and perpetuating particular ways of thinking about what it is to be a person of faith in America. Do the instruments of a scientific study ever leave the object of that study entirely untouched?