Coming Soon: American Examples

Just after Spring Break, the first American Examples Workshop will be hosted at the University of Alabama, funded jointly by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Religious Studies. Held here in Tuscaloosa and organized by Prof. Michael Altman, the goal of the workshop is to rethink the way religion in America is studied and taught.

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Survey Says…?

Picture 2Have you seen this new Pew Foundation survey on being Jewish in America?

Like all surveys it raises some interesting questions, such as whether it simply describes an already existing object of study (one that nicely divides into a variety of easily and clearly distinguishable sub-types) or whether the questions, categories, and sub-divisions actively constitute an object of study.

What’s more, who is doing that constitution: group members themselves or the people who study them? For a survey such as this is likely aimed at simply documenting how members of a group think about themselves — it’s an opinion survey, after all. But what’s a scholar to do with its results? What do we do with any group members’ own self-representations and claims (sifted through the demographer’s questions and assumptions, of course) about themselves and the world around them?

So, as a scholar, what do you do with a survey that says…?