Introductions and Research Abstract

Hello! My name is Allison Grady. I’m originally from Fairfax, Virginia, and I’m finishing up my sophomore year at the college. I’m ecstatic to be working as a research assistant to Dr. Goodson during his last summer here.

This picture was taken in front of the Wren building - the oldest academic building still in use in the United States. Wren currently houses the Religious Studies Department.

This picture was taken in front of the Wren building – the oldest academic building still in use in the United States. Wren currently houses the Religious Studies Department.

 

I arrived at the College of William and Mary with the intention of completing a major in the Mason School of Business. However, as I worked on fulfilling my prerequisites and waited to become eligible to apply to business school, I was provided the opportunity to explore other disciplines at the college. As I took classes in the Sociology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies Departments, I discovered a passion for thinking critically about ethics, morality, and social justice. I am now a Sociology major and Management minor. Nevertheless, I still have a passion for thinking critically about ethics and morality and how they apply to other disciplines. Dr. Goodson’s class, Religion and Ethics, provided me with the foundation to begin asking questions about the connections between these passions. I seek to use my opportunity to assist Dr. Goodson in his research this summer in order to answer some of my questions about how to analyze the ethical and moral foundations of sociology here at the college. My hope is that my research project will inspire students to approach their liberal arts education at the college with an open mind towards studying and harmonizing a plurality of disciplines.

Abstract: 

The primary question for my inquiry is: what are the standards for objectivity within the discipline of sociology? Currently, theories of sociology advocate procedures embedded with notions of ethics and morality. These notions are ascribed to in asking what humans value, how they behave, and what norms they incorporate into their lives. From my experience with the Sociology Department at William and Mary, we appear to ascribe to a vaguely secularist foundation for ethics and morality. This foundation seems to ground decisions and judgments as they are made within the Sociology Department. Since a secularist foundation relies on its own tradition of reasoning, it seems problematic to assume (rather than argue for) a “shared” secularist foundation as a starting point for teaching the subject. In particular, I seek to address the following sub-questions: What would sociology look like, as a discipline, if sociologists did not take for granted secularist foundations? What would sociology look like, as an objective science, if one were to argue from a non-secularist moral foundation? Is it just for a discipline founded on secularism to criticize and dismiss other moral traditions, while simultaneously failing to reflect on the moral tradition on which it is grounded? 

The academic journal, The Christian Scholars Review, has asked my advisor, Dr. Goodson, to write an essay on the relationship between theology and two other disciplines within the secular university. He will focus upon sociology as one of these disciplines.  The questions I want to investigate will help him think through the relationship between sociology and theology in new ways. As he walks with me through my struggle to harmonize the Department of Religious Studies and the Department of Sociology, he will be better able to understand how sociology is taught in the classroom setting at William and Mary. It is our hope that this will keep his work grounded in real pedagogical activity, rather than merely in theoretical relationships.

The readings I will work through with Dr. Goodson emphasize and explore the categories of imagination, judgment, objectivity, rationality, and social knowledge within the methods and theories of sociology, theology, and the broader humanities.  Also, we investigate the differences between secular, secularism, and secularization.  All of the material will inform our understanding of the discipline of sociology and its inter-disciplinary relationship with other fields of study.

While I will provide you with details on the actual sources we are studying on a week-by-week basis, right now I want to provide you with an outline of the topics we will be focusing on each week:

Week 1: Human Nature and the Social Sciences

Week 2: Judgment and Objectivity in American Philosophy

Week 3: Christian vs. Secular Sociology

Week 4: Social Imaginaries and the Role of Theology in the University

Week 5: What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?

In the remaining two weeks of my research, I will synthesize my findings into a twenty-page research paper. I plan to start my research on May 13th, so expect a blog post on my thoughts on “Human Nature and the Social Sciences” sometime in mid-May.

 

Comments

  1. Hey Ally — sounds great. I’m looking forward to following your progress. One thing in particular that I’m wondering about is what you mean when you say that “a secularist foundation relies on its own tradition of reasoning”. How exactly is secular reasoning different from other sorts of reasoning? (I’m not saying you have to take the time to answer this question now – I’m just thinking out loud.)