In a recent contribution to ASA Footnotes, Christian Smith explains why it is crucial for sociologists to take religion seriously, arguing that it is imperative for sociologists to overcome ignorance and bias when it comes to religion. Smith writes:
To be clear, what is at stake here has nothing to do with scholars’ personal views about religions, whether for or against. What matters is simply being educated and intelligent about an important part of human social life. The issue is not personal belief but basic professional aptitude and integrity.
We sociologists like to think that we have the hard facts about social life, reliable empirical findings, insights and understanding that ordinary people lack. Common sense, we tell our students, is often wrong—which is true. So why, when it comes to religion, do so many sociologists suddenly stop being sociological and become ideological and ignorant? For some reason, many American sociologists feel free to avow and impart superficial views of religion, as if they were learned, sophisticated, and realistic.
Here are the facts: the social, historical, and moral realities of religions are just as complicated, scrambled, and difficult as every other social practice and institution in human life—both the ones we personally like and the ones we don’t. The truth about religions is complex and challenging. Historically and today, religion involves plenty of good and bad, light and darkness, splendor and evil to go around.