Sciences live by measurement, be it of size, temperature, numbers, or pace. So do social scientists in the world of religion. David Gibson in Religion News and the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog featured the concept of “intensity” in a much-noted recent item. “Catholic Intensity Fades as Evangelical Devotion Surges.” How is intensity measured? Is an ecstatic Pentecostal “intense” and a Quaker or contemplative mystic less so? Are fundraisers and public relations leaders intense and believers dying in hospices less so? Gibson did not have to answer such questions; he properly reduced “intensity” to degrees of participation in religious institutional life. What he saw was revealing.
Background: social scientists’ subtleties get reduced to short-hand and headlines when they identify the groups that make up such institutional life. Thus, “Catholic intensity” has to cover everyone from Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton and their acolytes to political interest groups which claim to speak for authentic Catholicism. Group two, “Mainline Protestant” was invented several decades ago to cover what was then thought of as an “establishment” brand. It includes congregations of Disciples of Christ in little churches on Oklahoma hilltops as well as High Church Anglicans, who may not even want to be thought of as Protestant. The third of the Big Three settles for the category “Evangelical,” and includes politically-connected Fundamentalists at one pole and an array of church-related colleges on the other. And then there is “Everyone Else.”
Read it all.
Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:15 am
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