The Unshakeable Dogma That Underlies Modern Sociology

February 13, 2018 | Richard Spady
About the author:

In The Sacred Project of American Sociology, Christian Smith turns the discipline’s tools on its practitioners and arrives at the conclusion that sociologists, as a group, are committed not merely to the pursuit of truth about human societies but to a “visionary project” of human emancipation. Thus, any conclusions not in keeping with this project, which Smith likens to a religious orthodoxy, are dismissed out of hand. Richard Spady writes in his review:

Things wouldn’t be so bad if the sacred project of American sociology were just the sacred project of American sociology. . . . The problem is that all of the human sciences as practiced in our elite universities are in thrall to the sacred project that Christian Smith so clearly articulates. . . .

In one case [described by Smith], a study that finds incredibly large disadvantages for women and correspondingly large advantages for men in divorce settlements wins scholarly awards and is widely cited in the popular press, law reviews, and court decisions (including one from the U.S. Supreme Court), but turns out—after a decade’s worth of dilatory tactics by its author in releasing its government-funded data—to be completely irreproducible. Not much happens.

Another author writes a book on the benefits of marriage to both partners; opprobrium at the meetings of the American Sociological Association (ASA) follows, despite her being an elected officer. That ends her tenure as an officer at the ASA. . . . In 2012 a University of Texas sociologist, Mark Regnerus, publishes a careful study [that points to the salutary effects of traditional marriage]. A firestorm follows: university inquiries, judicial proceedings, email dumps, the lot. A point has been made. No one will want to referee, let alone publish, a paper with similar findings for a very long time. . . .

Smith hopes (but only hopes) that by describing the way in which sociology has become a sacred project, he will restrain the fanaticism of his colleagues. But this is not how the sacred project works. Its logic demands that progressives continue to turn up the heat until all the frogs either jump or die. I’m for jumping.

Read more on First Things: