Religious Belief and the Lost Promise of Sociology
When sociology as a legitimate discipline that could be taught in the university crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, the overwhelming majority of sociologists including Albion Small, Franklin Giddings,Edward Alsworth Ross and Charles Horton Cooley to name the most prominent among them were practicing Christians who sought to infuse an ethical imperative into their sociology. Much of early sociology in the United States was thus an attempt to introduce the "social gospel" into American society, an orientation they saw as lessening the inequality that was becoming more and more pronounced. This changed in the 1930s when sociology embraced the twin canons of objectivism and positivism at the two leading university centers for sociology in the United States: the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Robert Park, who was the dominant figure at the University of Chicago criticized any sociology which had a moral basis as "unscientific" and referred to the "social gospelers" among sociologists as "do gooders." At the same time, in one of the historical irionies of classical sociology, students trained by the deeply religious Franklin Giddings (who collectively were known as the "Giddings men") rejected any religious orientation and spread a secular sociology. It is argued that this loss of a religious base resulted in a subsequent loss of any ethical imperative which,in turn, has led to the perception of sociology as an irrelevant discipline with little or no impact onsocial and public policy.
Keywords: Religious Beliefs, Ethical Imperative, Social Gospel, Sociology
Dr. Joseph Scimecca
Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, George Mason University