Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More on Templeton and sociology

My previous post was a discussion of a 2010 working paper about, in part, the effects of religious funding on sociological work on religion.* I specifically questioned the authors’ conclusion that private funding, and particularly that from religious foundations, has no statistically significant relationship with the nature of “socio-evaluative findings” about religion. Responding to a post about yet another Templeton-funded study with predictable results – it’s to the point that I can generally read a title or abstract and guess reliably whether I’ll find the name Templeton in the acknowledgements - someone speculated that Templeton might now be making a push into the social sciences. As I noted at the time, and a heap of evidence confirms, Templeton’s already deep in social scientific waters.

A proper study of their role in impelling the growth of religious studies (broadly understood), and pushing it quite possibly in a direction that suits their priorities, remains to be done, but I thought I’d offer a small sample of their academic projects involving sociologists. Unlike my previous posts on Templeton, this is not meant as an exposé of any sort, but merely a preliminary look at the Foundation’s involvement in the social sciences. It was with these projects in mind that I read the working paper and wrote that “I would bet a significant sum that research funded by Templeton is highly likely to produce positive findings, and that the number of articles based on Templeton-funded research that put forth genuinely negative socio-evaluative results about religion is darn near close to zero.” [It’s worthy of noting that Templeton seems to have removed some pages on its funding from its site.]
  • "The Empirical Study of Values in China" (ESVIC), Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, 2006-2009; $3 million.

  • Chinese Spirituality and Society Program, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University; $1,998,426. From a description of a lecture at Georgetown University by project leader Fenggang Yang a few months ago, entitled “Why Christianity is Thriving in China Today”:
    A leading expert on Christianity in China based at Purdue University, Fenggang Yang argued that the fundamental reason for Christianity’s growth in China is its perceived compatibility with modernity. During the rapid modernization process, Christian beliefs, rituals, and organizations appear to meet the economic, political, social, and cultural needs of the people. Unless China abandons her endeavor of modernization, he argued, Christianity will continue to thrive in the foreseeable future.
  • “Stimulating Innovative Global Research in the Science of Generosity,” Center for the Study of Religion and Society, University of Notre Dame, 2009-2013; $4,999,360.

  • Science and Religion Course Program, Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (see here for syllabi), including the CTNS research fellowships:
    The CTNS Fellowship Program, part of the now concluded Science and Religion Course Program, was designed to encourage the cultivation of science-religion dialogue within curricula at select U.S. research institutions. The funding was intended to offset some of the costs associated with the development of new curricula, namely philosophical and pedagogical challenges presented by science and religion, and the already stretched schedules and scholarly resources of teaching professors who engage in the development of new research.
  • Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Duke University. Associate Director Linda K. George “was a member of the Board of Advisors (North America) for the John Templeton Foundation.” Director Harold Koenig
    has given testimony before the U.S. Senate (September 1998) and the U.S. House of Representatives (September 2008) concerning the effects of religious involvement on public health, and has been interviewed by James Dobson on Focus on the Family and by Robert Schuller in the Crystal Cathedral on the Hour of Power. Dr. Koenig has been nominated twice for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
  • Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative, University of Southern California; $6.9 million.

  • Flame of Love Project: Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition, University of Akron:
    The Flame of Love Project is a four-year collaborative effort by researchers at the University of Akron and The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, funded by the John F. Templeton Foundation, that will provide the scientific and theological foundation for a new interdisciplinary field of study: the science of Godly Love.
  • “The Pursuit of Happiness: Scientific, Theological and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Love of God, Neighbor, and Self,” Emory University, $1.5 million:
    The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a grant of $750,000 to the CSLR at Emory University for research on the ancient ideal of “the pursuit of happiness.” The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL) at Case Western Reserve University collaborated with the CSLR to make the project possible.
  • “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” UCLA:
    In 2003, we began a seven-year study examining how students change during the college years and the role that college plays in facilitating the development of their spiritual and religious qualities. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” is the first national longitudinal study of students’ spiritual growth.
    It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.

    Assisting students’ spiritual growth will help create a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations, while also enabling students to respond to the many stresses and tensions of our rapidly changing technological society with a greater sense of equanimity.
  • Templeton Research Lectures on the Constructive Engagement of Science and Religion:
    The primary aim of the Templeton Research Lectures is to promote the constructive engagement and original research between the physical, biological, and human sciences and those modes of inquiry and understanding generally found within the domains of theology, religious studies, and philosophy.
    Here’s an example by sociologist Rodney Stark.**

  • Religion and Social Capital, Harvard University, 2005-2008, $1,179,846. From Templeton:
    This project examined the connections between religion and social capital so as to understand better the place of religion in the civic infrastructure of the United States. These grants supported the survey Faith Matters 2006 (FM 2006) and a subsequent panel study FM 2007, which examined the impact of religious belonging, behaving, and believing on levels of social capital. The data provided precise measurements of religious belief and behavior to help scholars determine their relative stability among different sub-populations and as compared to non-religious beliefs and behaviors.
    A 2010 USA Today article by fundees Campbell and Putnam (their blog), “Religious people are ‘better neighbors’.”***
  • But a small sample. The list of generously funded projects goes on and on, and illustrates that Templeton’s influence on sociology extends beyond peer-reviewed journals and into lectures, curricula, and institutions (including public institutions).

    This is not to argue, of course, that none of the research connected to these projects is solid or worthwhile. Nor is noting this involvement intended as a criticism of the sociologists involved, or a suggestion that they’ve been “bought off” by Templeton to distort research in the field. It’s likely that most of the people involved are already sympathetic to Templeton’s message – or what they understand its message to be. (Though knowledge of Templeton’s climate denial activities might give some pause.) However, given the nature of Templeton’s agenda, it’s important to ask in what way the foundation’s extensive involvement in social scientific research is shaping the questions asked (and not asked) and the interpretation of data, and what this means for the subfields involved and the future of “inconvenient” research on religion or secularism.

    *One issue I neglected to raise in that post was the fact that the research only looked at peer-reviewed articles (in three leading general sociology journals and two expressly sociology of religion journals). Of course, much privately-funded sociological work on religion appears in books, and the results might be different if those are included. I should note, though, that academic books have a different status with regard to journal articles in the social than in the natural sciences.

    **Some wisdom from Stark on evolution. I won’t link to any of the sites where the full piece is available, but you can google “Fact, Fable, and Darwin” for the creationist cornucopia.

    ***Incidentally, it was a recent article by Putnam and Chaeyoon Lim that I mentioned in the comment I talked about above. Here’s a critical response. (The claim that “The business of sociology depends almost exclusively on surveys” is not at all correct, but the Campbell and Putnam book does.)

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