Outrageous Ideas: Metaphysics, Method & the Social Sciences



How can scholars understand the impact of metaphysical and ethical assumptions on methods and goals in teaching and research in the social sciences? Once upon a time, naive positivism provided easy answers to these questions – both for assessing our own biases and those of our colleagues. But secularist methods and project design excluded a fully-orbed understanding of some of the major forces shaping the “Civil Sphere” and new efforts to redress this imbalance have arisen from all sides of the metaphysical spectrum. This reading group is intended to provide background to these new (and old) efforts. It is hoped that participants will be able to offer perspectives and readings from their own disciplines as the year progresses.

2018/19   Topics & Readings

  1. Is it Science? The Webs we Weave.
    Generalisation, Scientific Inference, and Models for an Explanatory Social Science.” Berth Danermark et al. (Chap. 4 of Explaining Society: Critical Realism in the Social Sciences. Routledge, 2001.)
  2. Is it Secular? The ABCs of Taylor’s Secularization12&3

    Reading: James K. A. Smith. “Contesting the Secularization2 Thesis,” Chapter 4 of How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.

  3. What’s Love Got to Do with It?
    Reading: Mihai Stelian Rusu, 2018. “Theorising Love in Sociological Thought: Classical Contributions to a Sociology of Love,” in Journal of Classical Sociology, Vol. 18(1), pp 3-20.
  4. Image Bearing in an Age of Positive Psych.
  5. Evil & Society: The Dearth of Narrative.

2017/18   Topics & Readings

1. The Secular Frame?

Beyond Integration: Re-Narrating Christian Scholarship in Postmodernity.”  J.K.A. Smith in Beyond Integration: Inter/Disciplinary Possibilities for the Future of Christian Higher Education.  2012:  Riggs, Reem, Pattengale, eds.

2. Methodological Naturalism: Prospects and Limits.

“Methodological Naturalism, Part 2.”  Alvin Plantinga (ARN, 1997).

3.  The Sociobiological Vision of the Human

“The Rise and Fall of Sociobiology”   Peter A. Lawler (New Atlantis, 2003)

2016/17   Topics & Readings

1. A Post-Secular Social Science?

 Intro: p. 1-22  The Post-Secular in Question: Religion in Contemporary Society.  Edited by Philip Gorski et al, 2012      (Accessible from Yale portals or VPN)

2. Worldviews vs. Control Beliefs in Social Science.

“On Christian Learning.”  Nicholas Wolterstorff  (From Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science,  Marshall et al, 1989.

3.  The Gospel According to Aristotle: A Safe Harbor for the Social Sciences?

Recovered Goods…” (From The Post-secular in Question…)   p 77-104  (Accessible from Yale portals or VPN)

4. Many Ways to Flourish.

Chap. 14. The Elementary Forms of Thinking Christianly about Society.” Fraser & Campolo.  Sociology through the Eyes of Faith, 1992.  (same download password as for Reading #1 above)

5. Problems with Positivism.

“An Evangelical Christian Response to Naturalistic Social Science.” Christian Scholars Review. 2004, Vol. 34, 1.

6. Marsden on Integration: Why Bother?

Chap. 4 “What Difference Could It Possibly Make?”  The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, George M. Marsden. OUP: 1998.  (Yale Portal or VPN link to download.)

7. Marsden – Integrating the Key Theologies

Chap. 5 “The Positive Contributions of Theological Context.”  The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, George M. Marsden. OUP: 1998.  (Enter the Reading Group password to download.)

8. Winchester – Religious and Sociological Lenses

Religion as Theoretical Case, Lens, and Resource for Critique: Three Ways Social Theory Can Learn from the Study of Religion.”  Daniel Winchester.  Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review 2016, 77:3 241–260  (Reading Group PW)

Dates and Times

Occasional Fridays at noon.  (approx 2 meetings per month)