Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Ringing Endorsement

Hello all!

Today's post is less hard-hitting analysis (sorry to disappoint) and more of an endorsement for another site. Surely you're all aware of the posts we've made about Peter Berger's blogPatrolmag, and the Aquila Report. Point is, we here at the Covenant College Sociology Department love religion, and the academic discussion of it. It's great.

So here, to continue what is turning into a series, is another religion website to look at. It's called Religion News Service, and you can find the homepage here. Less a news agency, and more an aggregate for religion-themed news from most major faiths around the globe, RNS is a great site to keep up with for the religious or those interested in studying religion from any angle.

A particularly useful feature of this site that I've found is the daily religion roundup. You simply submit an email of your choice, and they send you a daily email that links you to a page on the site. On the roundup page, you can scroll through the headlines and summaries of a number of religion articles form around the web, and follow the links to read the full article if you should so desire. This is useful for those of you that want to stay informed, but don't or can't take five hours out of your day to browse the web.

For those of you readers on the East Coast, stay safe. If you have an idea for an article, please feel free to send it to sociologyws@gmail.com. You can find Austin, the author of this post on Twitter, where he is currently busy being disappointed in the Discovery Channel for this tweet.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Metaphorically Military

Greetings everyone!

This week's post is about the word we use. As I'm sure you're aware, words and language do more than just communicate meaning. They can also communicate emotion, and shape us subconsciously in ways we might not even be aware of.

For example, in her classic book The Argument Culture, Deborah Tannen devotes a section of her studies to the use of military language in everyday life. She says that we in the West (and especially in America) tend to use military metaphors in everyday life. Things like the "culture wars" and "gender wars" are obvious examples, but this practice shows up in more subtle ways as well (If someone were to eat their dinner rather quickly, we might say they "demolished" their food, or something of that nature).

Politics is one arena where this tendency can be seen most clearly. For example, look at the title of this article in the Religion News Service, specifically the phrase "cover his right flank". Cover his right flank? Are we advancing on the enemy? Gaining ground over our opponents? Calling for a temporary cease-fire? Don't these all sound like phrases we might use to describe events happening in the political sphere?

While these may just seem like a nifty metaphor to some, Tannen and others argue that this actually sustains this "argument culture" that we live in, causing us to view everything from an election to an academic debate as a war between two diametrically opposed sides. Everything comes to be viewed in this paradigm of conflict, this battle between right and wrong. Consequently, Tannen argues, we become less inclined to things like compromise and agreement, instead wanting nothing short of total domination for our side of everything from Congress to the Twitter-sphere.

Just something to think about.

If you have an idea for an article, please for the love of all that is holy send it to sociologyws@gmail.com. You can find Austin, the author of this post on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and even Pinterest. But not Facebook. Please. He doesn't have time to check that, as he's too busy preparing for the zombie apocalypse, and the realization that zombies in riot armor is something he hadn't considered before.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gender, Higher Education, and Visual Sociology

Today's post will be using an article (shocking) from a fellow blog.

The blog is called "Graphic Sociology" and we've referenced it a few times before. It is one of the more prominent blogs out there instructing others in what's called "visual sociology". Put simply, visual sociology takes the stats, figures, and knowledge gained through things like surveys, and puts them into visual displays that demonstrate the concepts or changes the research is trying to explore.

This particular article is about gender and ethnic ratios in American higher education. Specifically, it is about the gains that women (of any ethnicity) have made in higher education in the past five decades.

Here's a sample.

As some of you may disagree that gains have been made, it is important to note that this article was written by a woman. Not that I don't trust your judgment, good readers; I just want to clear up any suspicions of "male apologetics" or bias in the beginning.

So with that in mind, enjoy the article. Click here to read it in it's full.

If you have an idea for an article you'd like to see posted, feel free to email us at sociologyws@gmail.com. But please, stop sending us pictures of albino koalas. We're not getting any work done. They're just too darn cute.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Afghanistan and Cultural Gaffes


The Vos family is safely back, for those of you who kept up with our sister blog (If you're curious about their adventures in China, go to vosimportshiskids.blogspot.com to read all about it. It'll be up for a little while longer).

Today's post derives from a recent article in the Washington Post. If you keep up with international news at all, you may have heard that the number of deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan has been spiking recently. What you may not be aware of is the fact that the majority of these deaths have not been at the hands of the Taliban or other extremist groups. Rather, the majority of these incidents have been caused by Afghan police and security forces, the people that the US Army is training to handle the situation once the US combat forces largely withdraw (hopefully sometime in the next decade).

While this may seem distressing and confusing to many of you, it is important that you understand why this has been happening (which apparently the US Army doesn't). Put simply: it's because the NATO troops and their Afghani counterparts don't understand each other or their habits. The article I referenced from the Washington Post, which you can find here, states that most of these killings have happened because the Afghani soldiers felt deeply insulted by the Americans. Consequently, the Afghan government has recently published a booklet to educate its soldiers about the habits of the NATO troops that they might find insulting, which they do out of ignorance rather than a desire to deliberately insult a soldier or his family.

If you read the article, some of these things may seem a bit ridiculous to you. Things like burping in public or propping your feet up on the table are seen as insulting in Middle Eastern, Central Asian culture. Even something as commonplace in the West as asking about the health of female relatives can be seen as creepy or suggestive in this culture. 

While these killings may be an extreme reaction, it is important to remember that it is not ridiculous that the Afghan soldiers feel this way. It is simply a product of their culture. To put this into perspective, many Americans may find it creepy if a male you didn't know were to walk up and kiss you, then your sister, on the cheek after you just met. But in Latin America and other parts of the world, this is commonplace, and it borders on rude to not do so if you know someone at all.

Many of you may find it distressing (as I did) that this kind of cultural training is only just now happening, nearly 11 years after the war began.

The moral of the story is this: if you are going to be visiting a foreign culture, you should spend some time preparing for the journey. And by preparing, I mean less figuring out which shorts to take (not a good idea in some places) and more figuring out how not to radically offend most everyone you meet. Googling it, like I did here, is simple enough. While I doubt anything will actually happen to you, as most people can be rather forgiving about ignorance, it will still make your transition a bit smoother.

Also, if you're planning on fighting a war against an insurgent group in the mountains of Afghanistan for over a decade, you may want to brush up on your Dari or Arabic or something.

Also also, sorry I didn't put any pictures on this one.

If you have an idea for an article you'd like to see posted, feel free to email us at sociologyws@gmail.com. If you're trying to sell us more bottles of hedgehog antivenom, just don't.