The Sacred Project of the Social Sciences
A worldview and sacred project are always behind our studies in social science. But whose sacred project are we investing in?
3 min. read
October 1, 2017

At the centre of Christian education, we find a challenging balancing act. We believe that God bestows wisdom on people inside and outside of the church, but we also know that human beings, biased against the living God, are prone to suppress the truth about him. This paradox leads Christians all too often to lapse into uncritical accommodation or to retreat into hypercritical isolation. It’s when we get this balance just right that Christian higher education finds its distinctive calling.

Take social science as an example. It’s crucial that students get a feel for the excitement, the insight, the necessity and even the romance of good social science. Sociology, one of these sciences, undertakes the scientific study of society. But, just under the surface, an overwhelming majority of sociologists are pursuing a secular yet “spiritual” vision of the greatest and highest good for individuals and for society, argues sociologist Christian Smith in The Sacred Project of American Sociology.

Sociology, however, doesn’t admit to having a sacred vision, particularly to the university students in social science classes. Smith writes that sociology’s “primary target, for conversion to [the] sacred project about which it is not entirely upfront, [is] 18-to 22-year-old college students, many of whom are captive audiences in classrooms and who are trying to figure out their own lives, identities and commitments.”

“Christianity makes better sense of psychological science than does the prevailing naturalistic and progressive worldview.”

As Smith repeatedly points out, many of the purveyors of sociology’s sacred project have a particular dislike for Christianity. He goes on to quote one of his graduate students in a revealing anecdote. “I am not in my research simply to win same-sex rights,” the student said. ”I am in it to overthrow the entire Judeo-Christian cultural and social system.” Admittedly, that’s an extreme statement, but it is only one of several indications in the book of a specifically anti-Christian bias. Over roughly the last fifty years, Christian universities have been established to provide space for Christians to freely think through the implications of their own sacred project, without fear of suppression or discrimination.

When we see both the riches and the biases of contemporary mainstream research with open eyes, the calling of Christian universities becomes clear. Sometimes, Christian researchers heed this calling in subtle ways. Take the mainstream theoretical work of Christian Smith himself. In books like What is a Person?, Smith’s Christian worldview has subtly shaped a sophisticated philosophy of the social sciences (called “critical realist personalism”) that avoids the significant shortcomings of the prevailing theoretical approaches used in sociology.

At other times, Christian social scientists overtly display the coherence and explanatory power of the Christian worldview. It is a major theme in all of my teaching that Christianity makes better sense of psychological science than does the prevailing naturalistic and progressive worldview.

In the space between uncritical accommodation and hypercritical isolation, Christian higher education finds its own sacred project, to show that all things really do cohere in Christ.

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