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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

If Andre Iguodala Hadn't Been Hurt, There Might Not Have Been a Game 7 for Chris Paul to Miss


The Houston Rockets' guard Eric Gordon remarked after their loss to the Warriors in the 7th game that the Rockets would've won if Chris Paul had played. And he's not the only one to raise that possibility. He (and they) are probably right, but it's also true that the Warriors probably would've won Game 4 if Andre Iguodala hadn't been out, as well as Game 5. In those two games, the Rockets only won by a combined score of 7 points. Put simply, if Iggy hadn't been injured, there's a really good chance there never would've been a Game 7 (or Game 6) for Chris Paul to miss. Sorry Rockets fans.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Can the Warriors Come Back?

Before the playoffs began, I've expressed my skepticism concerning the Warriors' chances of repeating as chanps this year ("Can the Warriors Repeat?"); however, in a text I sent out to friends before tonight's game against the Houston Rockets, I wrote:
I don't think it's crucial that the Warriors win tonight (although it'd be nice). What is crucial is winning Saturday's game at home. They just need to split one of two games in Houston to move on, and if they win game 6, I think there's a good chance they'll win game 7.
To win on Saturday, though, the Warriors need Andre Iguodala back. Iguodala doesn't always score a lot of points, but when he plays, the Warriors generally do. It's not a coincidence that the only two games the Warriors have scored less than 100 points are the two games that Iguodala has been out. If he's back on Saturday (and it sounds like he will be), I think the Warriors have a good chance of winning and then giving the Rockets a run for their money on Monday. We will see what we will see.

Note: The Warriors have played Houston three times in the regular season and five times in the playoffs. They're 3-1 when Iguodala has played, 0-4 when he hasn't.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Greatest of These is Love (Charity)

In the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, the apostle Paul penned a passage that has become quite popular at weddings:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
What's interesting is that the Greek word (agapé) translated as "love" used to be translated as "charity," which is a clue that the form of love Paul writes about here is not feelings of affection for others. Rather, it's about acting charitably to others and that includes those we don't like. Charity, in this sense, isn't limited to giving to the poor and unfortunate (although that's certainly part of what this understanding of charity or love involves). Rather, it's about acting charitably to others in all that we do, regardless of how affectionate we fell for them or not. As C.S. Lewis once put it:
Charity means "Love in the Christian sense." But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people. (Mere Christianity, p. 115)
Of course, it's one thing to "love" those whom we like. It's quite another to love those whom we don't like. The former is easy; the latter isn't. It takes work. As Lewis puts it, it takes an act of the will. It can be done, however. Over the weekend, I attended a memorial service for someone who had been a member of our church for over 50 years. And the stories people told about her repeatedly emphasized the unconditional love (i.e., charity) with which she treated not just them but others. She had a knack for seeing the good in people, regardless of whether they were "lovable" or not.

So, yes, loving others (in the charitable sense) is doable. However, if we sit around waiting for feelings of affection to develop before we act, we're missing the point. Those of us who consider ourselves Christians are called to act charitably today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. And we're called to love everyone, including those whom we dislike or those who have treated us poorly or those who hold beliefs we find reprehensible. Of course, if we're arrogant or rude, insist on our own way, and rejoice in the missteps of our "enemies," learning how to love others won't be easy. But if we look for the good in others, regardless of whether they're likable or see the world in the same way we do, it shouldn't be quite so hard.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Networks and Religion: What is Social Network Analysis? (Probably Not What You Think)

Nicholas Christakis begins his widely-viewed 2010 TED talk, The Hidden Influence of Social Networks (which can be viewed at the bottom of this post), with a story from when, in the 1990s at the University of Chicago, he was studying the “widower effect.” And he tells how he was caring for a woman who was dying from dementia and being cared for by her daughter. “And the daughter was exhausted from caring for her mother. And the daughter’s husband, he also was sick from his wife’s exhaustion. And I was driving home one day, and I get a phone call from the husband's friend, calling me because he was depressed about what was happening to his friend. So here I get this call from this random guy that’s having an experience that’s being influenced by people at some social distance." This led him to experience an epiphany:
I suddenly realized two very simple things: First, the widowhood effect was not restricted to husbands and wives. And second, it was not restricted to pairs of people. And I started to see the world in a whole new way, like pairs of people connected to each other. And then I realized that these individuals would be connected into foursomes with other pairs of people nearby. And then, in fact, these people were embedded in other sorts of relationships: marriage and spousal and friendship and other sorts of ties. And that, in fact, these connections were vast and that we were all embedded in this broad set of connections with each other. So, I started to see the world in a completely new way and I became obsessed with this. I became obsessed with how it might be that we’re embedded in these social networks, and how they affect our lives.
Christakis is not the first to become obsessed with social networks. Since the early 20th century, social scientists have explored the dynamics of the networks in which individuals are embedded. For instance, Georg Simmel argued that in order to understand social behavior we must study patterns of interaction, and he offered novel insights into the nature of secret societies and how increasing social complexity contributed to the rise of modern individualism. And beginning in the 1960s Harrison White, who also earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, argued that in spite of its claim to study social phenomena, sociology was beholden to individualistic forms of analysis based on the aggregated characteristics of individuals. This, he believed, was a mistake, and, along with his students, he developed an approach that drew on case studies that focused on social ties and the patterns that emerged from them. These efforts didn't occur in a vacuum but were instead informed by other theoretical traditions, such as graph theory, exchange theory, and research into the recruitment of individuals to religious and social movements.

To say that the discipline has come into its own would be an understatement. Social network analysts have created their own organization, launched their own journals, and produced a number of excellent monographs. In recent years, economists have become increasingly interested in social networks, as have physicists and other scientists.

What is social network analysis (SNA)? Briefly put, it is a collection of theories and methods that assumes that the behavior of actors (whether individuals, groups, or organizations) is profoundly affected by their ties to others and the networks in which they are embedded. Rather than viewing actors as unaffected by those around them, it assumes that interaction patterns affect what actors do, say, and believe. Although some interactions are random, many are not. Actors tend to interact with similar others and repeated interaction can lead to the emergence of social formation at multiple levels. SNA differs from more traditional approaches in that while the latter tends focus on actors’ attributes (e.g., gender, race, education), SNA focuses on how interaction patterns affect behavior. It notes that while attributes typically do not vary across social contexts, most interaction patterns do, suggesting that interaction patterns are just as (or perhaps more) important for understanding behavior:
A woman who holds a menial job requiring little initiative in an office may be a dynamic leader of a neighborhood association and an assertive PTA participant. Such behavioral differences are difficult to reconcile with unchanging gender, age and status attributes, but comprehensible on recognizing that people’s structural relations can vary markedly across social contexts (Knoke and Yang 2007:5).
Consequently, a primary goal of SNA has been to develop metrics and algorithms that help us gain a better understanding of a particular network’s structural features. It has been used successfully to explain a variety of behavior from Fortune 500 corporations (Mizruchi 1996) and Christian denominations (Chaves 1996), to social movements (Hanssanpour 2016) and terrorist organizations (Cunningham et al. 2016).

Misconceptions

Sometimes SNA is confused with social media (it doesn't help that the movie about Facebook was called, "The Social Network"), but while we can use SNA to analyze Facebook, Twitter, and the like, it isn't the same. SNA is a collection of theories and methods that have been developed to understand the structure of social networks, whereas social media is user-generated content that can include text, pictures, videos, connections among users, and links to websites. Analysts can extract network data from social media platforms and use SNA to understand those social media networks, but that is different. The fact that social media content is often relational and can therefore lend itself to SNA, only adds to the confusion.

How some use the term “network” can also be confusing. Some use it to refer to decentralized, informal and/or organic types of organizations. And while this distinction can be useful in some contexts, within the world of SNA, all organizations are seen as networks. Some may be more hierarchical than others, but they are still networks, which is why social network analysts have developed algorithms that measure the degree to which a particular network is hierarchical.

Networks and Religion

That social networks play a central role in religious life is fairly well established. We know, for instance, that they are crucial for the recruitment and retention of members, the diffusion of religious ideas and practices, motivating individuals to volunteer and become politically active, the health and well-being of people of faith, and conflict, radicalization, and (sometimes) violence. However, most of the research in this area has been conducted by social scientists unfamiliar with social network methods and thus use proxies for networks that are marginal, at best. Thus, a primary purpose of my new book is to facilitate the study of networks and religion using formal SNA methods.

References

Chaves, Mark. 1996. "Ordaining Women: The Diffusion of an Organizational Innovation." American Journal of Sociology 101(4):840-73.

Cunningham, Daniel, Sean F. Everton and Philip J. Murphy. 2016. Understanding Dark Networks: A Strategic Framework for the Use of Social Network Analysis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Hanssanpour, Navid. 2016. Leading from the Periphery and Network Collective Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Knoke, David and Song Yang. 2007. Social Network Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Mizruchi, Mark S. 1996. "What Do Interlocks Do? An Analysis, Critique, and Assessment of Research on Interlocking Directorates." Annual Review of Sociology 22:271-98.

Video: The Hidden Influence of Social Networks


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Networks and Religion: Tradition, Class, and Networks

Although much of the story concerning the Buddha's enlightenment may be apocryphal, it is fairly well accepted that he came from a princely family. What's less well known is that most of his first converts came from the two upper classes of Indian society: the Brahmins and Kshatriyas (Collins 1998:205), and according to Robert Lester (1987:27), 55 of the first 60 converts were from “prominent families.” Buddhism’s beginning was not unusual. Most new religious movements disproportionately attracted converts from among the privileged (Stark and Bainbridge 1985). For example, although for years many assumed that Christianity began as a movement among the poor and dispossessed, more recent research has laid to rest “the romantic idea of a proletarian Christian community, a religious movement of the lower classes” (Theissen 1982:70). And the same is true for most of today's new religious movements.

To understand why, it's helpful to distinguish between churches, sects, and independent (or new) religious movements (IRMs). Churches are low-tension groups that accept the social environment in which they exist, while sects are high-tension groups that reject the social environment in which they exist (Johnson 1963). Churches tend to be “closely allied with national, economic, and cultural interests,” and their ethics often “represent the morality of the respectable majority, not the heroic minority” (Niebuhr 1929:18). By contrast, sects are generally composed of the poor and disinherited and tend not to be “allied” with the majority’s interests and, thus, often embrace an ethic that's at odds with the dominant culture. That's why they're more likely to not to participate in the government (e.g., Jehovah Witnesses), refuse to fight in wars (e.g., Quakers), and separate themselves as much as possible from American society (e.g., Amish).

The theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (1929) was one of the first to note that most church-type groups began as sects. In their infancy, groups such as the Congregationalists, Methodists, Northern Baptists, and Presbyterians were sectarian protest movements that split from church-type groups because the latter had become too worldly, too secular. However, over time these same Congregationalists, Methodists, Northern Baptists, and Presbyterians took on a worldliness of their own and became the very type of church their forerunners ran from in the first place. This transformation, in turn, set the stage for the birth of new sects, such as the Conservative Baptist Association, which left the Northern Baptists because it believed the latter had become too liberal (i.e., worldly, secular). Sect-to-church transformations are quite rare, however. Most sects stop growing or die out within a few years because they exist in such a high state of tension with society, they simply are unable to recruit enough people to keep their movement going.

IRMs are similar to sects in that they exist in a high state of tension with the their surrounding environment. Unlike sects, however, they do not have ties to an established religious tradition in their particular society. They “are new faiths, at least new in the society being examined” (Stark 1996:33). Whereas sects leave a “parent body, not to form a new faith, but to reestablish the old one” (Stark and Bainbridge 1979:125), IRMs arise either by being imported from another society (e.g., Zen Buddhism in the United States or Christianity in China) or through cultural innovation, that is, when new religious insights succeed in attracting followers (e.g., Mormonism in the United States or Buddhism in India) (Stark and Bainbridge 1979; Stark 1996).

IRMs differ from sects in another respect: sects tend to attract people of lower socioeconomic status while IRMs tend to attract people of higher socioeconomic status (Stark 1996:39–44). This is because people who join new faiths generally find older, established faiths unsatisfying, and those who are most like to be dissatisfied with established religions are the highly educated. This may seem counterintuitive, but conversion to a new religion generally involves being interested in a new culture and new ideas, and better educated individuals tend to be more capable of consuming and mastering new ideas (Stark 1996:38). That is why in the United States, Zen Buddhism and Mormonism tend to appeal to people with higher levels of education (Stark 1996), while in China it is evangelical Christianity that attracts individuals from the privileged classes (Stark and Wang 2014, 2015).

Consider the table below. It presents the percentage of Americans who attended college by churches, sects, IRMs, and the irreligious. As it indicates, a higher percentage of members of church-type religious groups and IRMs have attended college as compared to sect-type groups. It is also worth noting that, on average, a higher percentage of IRMs (including Mormons) have attended college than have those who identify as irreligious.


All this has implications for the density of church, sect, and IRM networks. For a variety of reasons (you'll have to read my book to learn why), the networks of high tension groups tend to be denser than those of low tension groups. This suggests that the networks of churches should be less interconnected than are those of IRMs and sects. However, there is also a inverse association between a group's average education level and its interconnectedness, suggesting that church and IRM networks should be less interconnected than those of sects. Taken together, this suggests that church networks should be loosely interconnected, sect networks highly interconnected, and IRM networks somewhere in between. And available evidence suggests that they are (it's in the book).

Finally, the tendency for IRMs to disproportionately attract from among the privileged is why when Rodney Stark first came across the discussion of New Testament scholar Robin Scroggs (1980) about how biblical scholars no longer viewed early Christianity as a proletarian movement, his initial response was, “Of course it wasn’t; [IRMs] never are” (Stark 1996:47).

References

Collins, Randall. 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2003. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, Benton. 1963. "On Church and Sect." American Sociological Review 28(4):539-49.

Lester, Robert C. 1987. Buddhism: The Path to Nirvana. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1929. The Social Sources of Religious Denominationalism. New York: Henry Holt.

Scroggs, Robin. 1980. "The Sociological Interpretation of the New Testament: The Present State of Research." New Testament Studies 26:164-79.

Stark, Rodney. 1996. The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stark, Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge. 1979. "Of Churches, Sects and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements." Journal For the Scientific Study of Religion 18(2):117-33.

________. 1985. The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stark, Rodney and Xiuhua Wang. 2014. "Christian Conversion and Cultural Incongruity in Asia." Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 10(Article 2).

________. 2015. A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.

Theissen, Gerd. 1982. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.