Why RELTRAD Sucks: Contesting the Measure of American Religion

I've got you now, Bunny.....

Jesus says: “The Bunny Asked for it”, but of course…..

For the full paper including GSS syntax codes, click here aftertheresurrection-working

Contesting the Measure of American Religion: Darren Sherkat and Derek Lehman
The new generation of conservative Christian incumbents in the field of the sociology of religion prefer their individual and collective identity as “evangelical”—an identity which is not wedded to identification with specific organized religious denominations or families of denominations. However, the adoption of evangelical as an identification is problematic because evangelical is also a sociological concept signifying groups with proselytizing behaviors and soteriological theologies (Weber [1922] 1993; Sherkat 2014). Notably, the identity of “evangelical” will likely also be jettisoned by partisans as it becomes spoiled (as happened with “fundamentalist” and “born again”). Now that “evangelicals” have been identified as the key constituency that helped elect Donald Trump, even sectarian Christians like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore are disavowing an evangelical identity.

Conservative Christian religious sociologists are opposed to the established sociological concept of “sect”–denoting religious groups and movement impulses that claim exclusive access to and understandings of supernatural understandings, rewards and compensators. The concept of sect versus “church” (indicating more universalistic organizations and impulses)  is rooted in nearly a century of sociological research and theorizing from Weber to Stark to the contemporary era. The sect-church-sect cycle of H. Richard Niebuhr is empirically verifiable, and rooted in organizational and demographic processes identified in works by Stark, Bainbridge, Finke, Iannaccone, and others.  Operationalizing religious diversity was a key to the resurrection of the sociology of religion, yet the system now favored by conservative Christian religious incumbents in the field of the sociology of religion instead collapsed the middle—placing moderate Protestant denominations in both the “evangelical” and “mainline” religious categories. This conforms with their narrative of a “collapsing middle” and a culture wars between “orthodox” and by implication “unorthodox” Protestants.

This scheme also ignored the distinctiveness of ethnic and quasi-ethnic denominations, and lumped all African American Protestants together. Worse still, it linked religious participation to “evangelical” identifications among respondents who do not claim a specific Christian identification (Steensland et al. 2000).  Using the RELTRAD mode of classification in General Social Survey samples collected since 2000,  25.3% of the “evangelicals” are misclassified. The misclassified “evangelicals”,  include  liberal Protestants (“other Presbyterians” are .9% of the “evangelicals” in RELTRAD), Lutherans (Missouri or Wisconsin Synod, comprise 6.2% of RELTRAD “evangelicals” ), and respondents with no denominational identification but higher than average religious participation (who are a whopping 18.2% of those classified as “evangelical” in RELTRAD). This huge group of unidentified Christians may well include many in fundamentalist sects, but it also includes people who participate in more moderate megachurches, or even people heavily involved in non-denominational gay churches and other non-traditional liberal churches. There is simply no sociological justification for selecting identifications based on religious participation. For many applications, this is simply selecting on the dependent variable. This coding scheme served to increase the size of the “evangelical” group, while also making them more educated, higher income, and less extreme in political and religious orientations.

We advocate a more sociological operationalization of religious identification for use with contemporary data. In our paper, we provide the full coding scheme for this operationalization applied to GSS data.  Religious identifications should be as specific as analytically possible. Christian denominations in America are marked by a history of unions and schisms which sometimes complicates boundary drawing and often tests the capacity of respondents to accurately place their identifications. Added to that are differences in ethnic history and also of liturgical and ritual practice. Table 1 presents our classification of identification groups, breaks down a few of the groups by even more specific classifications, and compares them on select religious, status, and social orientations.  Our coding scheme avoids conflation with politicized religious identities and facilitates analyses of change over time.

Table 1 shows that Protestant denominations are clearly arrayed in terms of exclusivism, indicated by subscription to biblical inerrancy, and these identifications are salient for structuring political and social values and social status. Liberal universalistic groups and Episcopalians are substantially less prone to believe in biblical inerrancy, participate less frequently in religious services, and have substantially higher levels of educational and income attainment compared to other Protestants—including the moderate Protestants and Lutherans with whom they are often lumped.  Table 1 also shows that Liberals and Episcopalians are significantly more supportive of abortion rights, less patriarchal, and less likely to condemn homosexuality. Sectarian Protestants and Baptists are significantly more likely to subscribe to inerrant beliefs about the Bible when compared to all other groups—and notably the Moderate Protestants and Lutherans. Indeed, while the dominant measure of religious identification places Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Lutherans in the “evangelical” camp, their beliefs about the Bible are much more similar to other Moderate Protestants than to sectarians or Baptists. Notably, people who embrace Christianity but do not specify a denomination fit more with the Moderate Protestants and Lutherans in their religious beliefs and participation, as well as their educational attainment, income, and social values. Baptists and other Sectarians have the lowest incomes and levels of education compared to all other religious classifications. Ethnicity intersects with religion to structure values and social status (particularly among Catholics), however the sect/exclusivist-church/universalist distinction remains for African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans (Sherkat 2014). Obviously, the grouping of denominations will be determined in large part by the sociological question and the size of the sample available—however distinguishing sectarian Protestants clearly is a key for virtually all sociological examinations involving religion, and mixing them with liberal Protestants and moderate Protestants is sociological malfeasance—and the gaggle of conservative Christians who concocted this misclassification did this for their own divine purpose, not for sociological clarity.


Mark Fisk: 1965-2106



My old friend Mark Fisk died Tuesday after a somewhat short struggle with brain cancer. I really wasn’t expecting this. Mark was an exceptionally kind and thoughtful person, and he was always healthy and never did anything to harm himself (or others…).

I first met Mark in seventh grade. I had just been moved up a grade and was in all the smart kid classes. David Wright and I were planning on building an atomic bomb (just for shits and giggles) and David had some plans (real ones, I don’t know where he got them). Mark used to roll his eyes at us and say, “why on earth would you even want to do that.” Mark had a mix of inquisitive condescension mixed with a cup of sympathy  and maybe two tablespoons of empathy that was undeniable.

Mark and I played on the same soccer team for several years. The first year we sucked. I was an asshole. We actually had some good players and we just weren’t working right. Mark called me out, in his typical way. It was my fault. I was supposed to be the team leader, and instead I was the team asshole. Nobody else could have done it. We started to click and for the next three years we vied for the league championship.

I became a neer-do well while Mark continued on his path to success in life. I woke up sometime before senior year and realized I wasn’t going to graduate from high school. By some fluke I wound up in a few “honors” type courses with Mark and his good friend Kelly Dancer (who is also gone...). Mark immediately welcomed me back into the fold of the geeky smart kids who were going somewhere–but always in his way. His look. That picture above captures it. “Are you really back?” “I know you can do it, but will you?”

After graduating from Dartmouth Mark became a minister in the Unity Church. He helped kids, mostly. A good liberal Protestant, who just wanted to make the world a better place and help people. He helped me a lot. I wish I could have seen him again.

Stranger in a Strange Land



Tulsa Icon Leon Russell has died. I’ll never forget him. He defined the line between genres of American music while at the same time producing in virtually every dimension–including disco with his production of and collaborations with the GAP Band.

I only saw Leon a few times performing live, both times in Nashville. When I was in Tulsa I was a kid and he was a recluse. My most vivid memories of meeting him were when he was married to Mary McReady and they used to sometimes come into the Spudder restaurant on Sundays, where I worked as a busboy (The Spudder was the only place open on Sunday that dared to sell booze in a dry town). He was quiet. Thankful, and completely unpretentious.

Leon meant a lot, and probably many things, to everyone who grew up in Oklahoma at that time. Going to a rock and roll concert often meant being confronted by mobs of redneck racists afterwards, and constant police harassment that didn’t apply to the country music fans with their Confederate flags. Leon Russell stood as a defiant image. Unquestionably Tulsa’s greatest musical talent, and Tulsa’s only serious direct connection to the global rock and roll scene (JJ Cale tried, but never made the break), Leon Russell didn’t have to say shit to let you know where he stood. He was among the first, if not the first, artist who acknowledged to importance of African American music for the development of Rock and Roll (and all of the blues….). His example was key for many stars like Eric Clapton and Elton John.

But I know where he came from. I’m from there, too. And, especially this week, as Oklahomans overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, I feel like a stranger in a strange land…..

Iranianredneck's Weblog

Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are now considered politically mainstream. Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are just nudging out a guy whose name means a “frothy mix of lubricant and excrement” for the Republican nomination, and their great hopes are for the entry of a secessionist from Texas or a couple of guys who wear magic underwear. Children are being denied school breakfasts and lunches because plutocrats don’t want to concede tax credits for moving jobs to other countries, and fascists and members of the Military Industrial Complex don’t want to give up their multi-billion dollar contracts. My 90 year old, WW-II veteran uncle died in fear of having his social security and medicare cut. He hoarded food and refused to spend any money–thinking that nothing would be there for him. America is gone.

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Fucked like a Bunny!!!

I've got you now, Bunny.....

I’ve got you now, Bunny…..

Well, so much for my non-shit poll based prognostication about the US elections, turns out I did no better. I forgot about my publication showing that radical conservatives were the most likely to refuse to cooperate in surveys.  Ah, such it is, voter turnout is the key and Hill the Shill couldn’t muster the enthusiasm of anyone, while old, white racialists were all about their last stand. And so it goes.

The Democratic Party ignored its only sources of dynamism and spat in the face of Black Lives Matter activists and young people and people seeking redress from the growing and enormous inequalities in the US. That USED to be the constituency of the Democratic party. But, instead, they did every trick in the book to ensure that Hill the Shill beat Bernie—-advancing the only candidate in the entire nation that couldn’t defeat the orange buttplug who is now our President Elect. Awesome, DNC operatives!. Great Job. Good thing you all have trust funds and don’t  have to actually work for a living.

Why Hillary Will Win Big: Unskewing Nate Silver with Social Science Methods 101



Because nothing is more important than made up numbers.

Because nothing is more important than made up numbers.

Everyone is on edge at the prospect of Donald Trump assuming the Presidency, but it ain’t gonna happen. Trump is the candidate of a declining minority of US voters. Over half of  US voters are women, and the majority will vote Clinton. Depending on turnout, roughly 20% are African American or Latino, and way over 80% or those will vote Clinton. About of quarter of Americans hold a college degree, and the majority of them will vote for Clinton. This is a much better indicator of who will win than any of the bullshit non-scientific polls that are the fascination of the media, the public, and even supposedly educated social scientists.

Why do the “polls” show what they do? Well, we need to unskew them using our basic understanding of undergraduate social research methods. We know that estimates of population parameters require a random sample taken from the target population—or, I guess we used to know this but now this has become contested knowledge since shitbag scumfucks have started bullshit polling firms and taken over the AAPOR. Gauss is rolling in his grave. But, let’s just start with the reality of these polls from a production standpoint. Hands on research methods. Let’s get our fingers dirty and lick them off.

The standard “poll” conducted by our many for-profit consulting, media, and “research” firms currently have no formal sampling frame. They MAY randomly select respondents, but they will have 1500 or 750 or however many respondents by 9pm on Monday. The average response rate of these polls is likely under .1% that is point one percent. The “top” polls from places like Pew are probably under 1% for originally targeted respondents. They simply move on to the next household.

Second, the interviews are now all conducted by minimum wage workers or are robocalls—or worse, they are internet surveys. The quality of data obtained by these “polls” is worse than exceptionally low.

Third, many of the “polls” don’t even use random samples, but idiots who sign up to be respondents for all kinds of surveys and get paid for it. Do you really think the average American would do such a thing? No. Do you think these cheetos eating morons will be disproportionately for Trump? Duh? The people who sign up for such bullshit are often the same people who think that Hillary parachuted into Benghazi to burn down the embassy.

Fourth, What kind of fucking moron answers their phone when someone from an unknown number calls? Are you fucking kidding? The problem with the response rate issue is that non-response is, on its face, systematic. Young people and educated people don’t answer the phone for a stranger. Busy working class people, African Americans and Latinos….they may even be being charged if they answer some bullshit call. If the caller ID doesn’t say “mom” or “spouse” or “friend” or “kid” nobody picks up on that shit. Who does? People like my mom, god love her, elderly people who think when the phone rings you must answer it. And, she has a landline, which most of these polls sample from exclusively. Paranoid psychotics who wonder who got their phone number, they answer the phone. Normal people don’t answer the phone. If Hill didn’t have a huge elderly female following, she’d be down by 10 points in these bullshit polls.

So, go vote. And, don’t worry. Our worries will come later when the Ted Nugent types start shooting at us. Make sure to remove your “I’m with Her” bumper sticker, remember the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Trump, which means your friendly neighborhood cop is probably a fascist.

Research Ethics and Dual Standards

Nice Bunny

Nice Bunny

I have in the past been an unwilling subject of research, or so I very much believe. It is important for other researchers and scholars in general to reflect on this as an issue in the ethics of social research. In all of my experiences–and I believe there were at least six—I was targeted because I was department chair or DGS for an experiment about admissions to graduate school or acceptance of post-docs. In each case, it probably cost me a half hour of my time dealing with the administrative details—if someone says they intend to come to my humble university and all they need is acceptance, I still have to contact a deanlet, clear that I can get them some space, and a library card and shit.

What was really a bunny fuck was that some of the fake post-docs actually sounded kind of interesting. Gee, you do ethnic conflict in China? You have your own funds? All you need is approval? I’m on it!  When I got the third request to do a similar post-doc (and after the first two somehow never showed up in Carbondale….) I finally figured it out. I’m being played by bullshit social psychologists investigating “discrimination” or some shit….There were no Chinese post-docs seeking to study ethnic conflict while safely ensconced in Carbondale. Instead, some dipshit in Cambridge or Vancouver was sending me fake requests because I had been identified as a department head.

What really irks me is that my own students at my humble university actually have to get human subjects approval for analyzing public access data like the GSS. And, somewhere in a parallel universe researchers at some universities don’t even have to get permission to experiment on people like me–when it costs me real time and effort. I had an office ready for the first person…..



“Evangelical” is Dead


This is REAL evangelical

This is REAL evangelical

Starting in the early 1990s conservative Christians began to embrace “evangelical” as an identification that sought to unify sectarian oriented Christians from a variety of denominations. It was an odd marker, since many of the more powerful groups were Calvinist and shun true “evangelism” in the sociological sense of an orientation toward proselytization. But, it was better than the spoiled identity of “Born Again” which was sullied in the televangelism scandals of the 1980s (how soon we forget…).

But, just like Born Again, and Fundamentalist before it, the identity of Evangelical is now hopelessly tarnished. This spoiled identity will be cast aside and a new collective identity will have to be constructed eventually.

The problem with sectarian Christians is that their exclusivist orientations (which are definitive of sectarianism) inherently polarize the group(s) against others, and even each other. It’s not a stable basis for much identity, unless the system was rigged to ensure their dominance—like in the deep South for the Baptists.

In five years, all the bad journalists will have to learn a new lingo to refer to backwoods sectarian Christians who think everyone else is going to hell.



Political Incompetence and the 2016 Republican Party


Wow. Are we seeing a show or what? It’s been since the 19th century that we’ve seen such a loser hack as Trump, and what is unique is that he managed to do that in a time when there is a fairly institutionalized party structure that is supposed to prevent unelectable, unqualified, assholes like Donald Trump from controlling the party. So, how does that happen?

Primarily, of course, as many have said, Trump trumped his opponents in the Republican Party on the racist card. No serious politician for national office was going to go off on Mexicans or African Americans, but Trump was quite comfortable playing to the Steve King/David Duke memes about race and ethnicity in the US. Yet, NONE of his opponents in the Republican party took the high road and deliberately and emphatically rejected Trump’s racism. Only Kasich made an attempt.

And, of course, Republicans hate women, so it is hard to respond to a vulgar misogynist when you mostly agree. But, I doubt Mike Huckabee thinks it’s ok to grab pussy. So, my question now is why did they not use this against Trump a YEAR AGO. Why did Jeb Bush spend $140 million in three months and they couldn’t trot out any videos of Trump saying this shit? It’s all public access. It’s not like any of this is a secret. The transcripts of his Howard Stern interviews are public. Why didn’t Jeb et al go after that?

I think the answer is that the Republican Party has no serious professional political leadership. They are lazy, overpaid, overprivileged white people who don’t work very hard, and are kind of stupid. They couldn’t even figure out a way to tank an unelectable maladroit like Trump, even though he has an extensive public record that should have been used to kill him before Iowa. Wow. Those guys spent nearly a Billion collectively and couldn’t even put out this loser–even though the videos were publicly available to trash him before any of this began. I’m in awe of the incompetence of the Republican party hacks stealing money from the rich. But, in some ways, I kind of like it.

The Nones Vote more regularly than the “Evangelicals”




Bullshit pollsters and whore journalists have now taken to dissing the potential impact of the non-religious in the upcoming election. The meme is that while there may be more and more people rejecting religious identification and religious belief, they don’t vote so they don’t matter. This is complete and total bullshit.

While bullshit polls like PRRI’s crap show gods know what, and I don’t care (or even believe in gods or fairies) our only real studies like the GSS show that people who reject religious identification voted at rates comparable too if not exceeding that of sectarian Protestants—who like to call themselves “evangelical.” In 2012, 61% of nones voted, while 64% of sectarian Protestants voted. And, if we only look at whites (the real Americans, right?) 62% of nones voted while only 60% of sectarians voted.

The fact is Liberal Protestants and Moderate Protestants vote at much higher rates than other Americans. But, the growing and now very large portion of the electorate who is non-religious also votes at least as much as their adversaries on the far-right in the sectarian denominations. Importantly, among whites in the 2014 GSS 23% have no religious identification while just over 18% identify with sectarian Protestant groups. AND, the white nones voted at HIGHER rates than the white sectarians in the 2012 Presidential election. Hence, they are a MORE important voting block than the white sectarian Christians.


It Shouldn’t Be a Competition

Ha! You lost, sucker!

Ha! You lost, sucker!

Driving off to the Saint Louis airport to go to the Sociology Prom I was confronted with a familiar sight blocking my view of the Gateway Arch—dozens of signs advertising the merits of various public universities from Illinois and Missouri. The signs continue all up and down the five interstate highways coming into STL, and represent hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenditures per month just in sign rental—not including the millions paid to marketing consultants who puke out the jingoistic verbage and bad artwork, all of which is strikingly similar (especially when you travel the country and see the same shit for a different school 200 or 2000 miles away). But, we have to compete, right? If public schools don’t compete for students, then they’ll lose. But why? This is complete bullshit and an utter waste of public education resources.

State sponsored universities have a clear mission–to educate deserving students in and from their state. We shouldn’t be competing to draw in students from nearby states—yet now we give in-state tuition to students from Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Indeed, for regional campuses, competition for students is anathema to their mission. States are supposed to have a flagship campus with rigorous admission standards, an elite agricultural and engineering campus in higher population agricultural states, some regional research universities depending on the population, and a set of smaller four year colleges. Students who don’t get into the flagship or engineering school but are college material should go to the regional research university or to the four year college closest to home (or furthest from home, if they prefer).

Instead, funding formulas based on body counts have led many flagships to open up enrollment, diminishing the bodies available for regional universities like my humble campus. And, this pushes the regionals to do likewise, and that trickles down to the 4 year colleges—particularly in states with declining college-age populations like Illinois. Add in competition from other states, and it is a recipe for disaster for many universities. Right now, Western and Eastern Illinois are on the brink of collapse, and Chicago State is almost dead.

We do the same thing at the University level. Colleges and departments are placed in high-stakes competition with one another. How many majors do you have? How many core curriculum students do you teach? If you can’t prove your worth in terms of credit hour production, your department is put on the chopping block. There is no vision that you can’t have a university without a physics or philosophy department. Why should physics or German have to compete for majors? At my humble university, very few students are smart enough to major in physics or math or philosophy—but we need those departments to educate people and give them a chance to be exposed to those fields. And, yes, fewer students will choose to study German than Spanish. So what? Taking that opportunity to learn away from students at regional and 4 year colleges restricts their horizons. Some students will choose German. A few may even excel and major in German. But that won’t be the case when you close the department and stop teaching German as a language option.

Competition among higher education institutions and departments helps further the right wing agenda to eliminate public education. That way, only the wealthy will be able to afford college—like when America was great.