Social realism

/ 3 May 2008

For decades there has been a general uneasiness with utilizing the methods of social science in theological settings. In part that uneasiness comes from recognizing that the epistemological assumptions of certain forms of social theory directly contradict faith (the caricature of “religion is the opiate of the masses”), and in part it comes from an unwillingness to encounter the more negative implications of human being (sinfulness is not a topic we humans like to focus on).

At Luther we've been trying to build a research capacity that takes seriously various forms of social science inquiry, as well as putting theological assumptions front and center, in our quest to understand and support congregational life. In the past that might have been impossible, or at least very difficult, but I think that as various social sciences have become more self reflective, the opportunities have grown.

Why am I pointing this out, this morning? Because I stumbled upon a nicely done explanation of realism in the context of the social sciences. I want to have this link handy the next time I run into a theologian who dismisses social theories as being irrelevant, because the theories do not question their own epistemological assumptions enough. I actually think various social scientists are doing a much better job of self reflection/self criticism than many theologians do.