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Archive for the tag “sociology”

The phrase Old Masters is sexist, authors and students are told – Telegraph

You can’t even take the mickey any more. Some sociologists seem determined to behave like caricatures of themselves. And yes, I checked, the newspaper was not dated April 1.

The phrase Old Masters is sexist, authors and students are told – Telegraph:

Publishers and universities are outlawing dozens of seemingly innocuous words in case they cause offence.

Banned phrases on the list, which was originally drawn up by sociologists, include Old Masters, which has been used for centuries to refer to great painters – almost all of whom were in fact male.

It is claimed that the term discriminates against women and should be replaced by ‘classic artists’.

The list of banned words was written by the British Sociological Association, whose members include dozens of professors, lecturers and researchers.

The list of allegedly racist words includes immigrants, developing nations and black, while so-called ‘disablist’ terms include patient, the elderly and special needs.

It comes after one council outlawed the allegedly sexist phrase ‘man on the street’, and another banned staff from saying ‘brainstorm’ in case it offended people with epilepsy.

I am inclined to agree with another sociologist, Peter Berger, who described this kind of thing as “infantile misunderstandings masquerading as hermeneutics”.

Stanislav Andreski dies

I was sorry to read of the death of Professor Stanislav Andreski, the Polish-British sociologist. As the obituary in The Independent reports:

Andreski always wrote a clear, impeccable and attractive English that was a pleasure to read. He held in contempt those social scientists who were obscurantists and jargon-mongers, and in 1974 published an attack on them in his best-selling Social Sciences as Sorcery. It was very popular with the public but infuriated those of his colleagues whose careers were based on concealing behind verbiage the fact that they had nothing to say. Andreski was equally contemptuous of bureaucracy and when he received an absurd questionnaire from the Social Science Research Council asking him what method he used, he replied “thinking”.

In my later career as an editor of academic texts, I had reason to be grateful to Andreski for honing my bullshit detectors, as I was often (too often) called upon to edit texts by academics “whose careers were based on concealing behind verbiage the fact that they had nothing to say”. There was even an entire discipline, Fundamental pedagogics, based on that principle.

One might not always agree with what Andreski said, but there was never any doubt about what he was saying. Here are some examples

One of the manifestations (unimportant in itself but very revealing) of the timorous but disingenuous humility characteristic of a burrowing apparatchik is the taboo on the word ‘I’. ‘One still shudders at the arrogance of the author in his repetitive use of the first singular concerning complex issues’ – says a reviewer of one of my books, who for all I know may be the only creature in whom this obscene word can induce actual shudders, although by saying ‘one’ instead of ‘I’ he implies that most of his readers suffer from this allergy. I doubt whether the reviewer in question favours the majestic first plural normal among the older French writers, and still common among their successors, but which in England is reserved for the Queen. Presumably he prefers the anonymous ‘it’, and likes to see an expression like ‘I think that …’ replaced by ‘it is hypothesized …’, which, apart from expurgating the dirty word ‘to think’) ministers to the bureaucratic underling’s predilection for submissive anonymity combined with oracular authority. I do not see why declaring that I – a mortal and fallible man but entitled to express his opinions – hold this or that view should be more arrogant than pretending to be the Voice of Science.

Andreski has some interesting things to say that relate to my own academic field, missiology and church history, when he says of the Great European witchhunt:

The Witch Craze did not spread to the lands of the Orthodox Church: neither Russia nor the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were affected. The ferocious persecution of the Old Believers in Russia was accompanied by no witch hunts – which provides another argument against the view that they were a by-product of a fight against heresies. The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches occurred before the celibacy of the clergy was established; and the Orthodox priests continued to marry. As the schism occurred several centuries before the demonisation of women had reached a high pitch in the West, the Eastern Church was not affected by this tradition, in contrast to the Protestant denominations.

Though I’m not sure that I altogether go along with his thesis of attributing the witch hunt to the introduction of syphilis from the New World, nor am I convinced of the truth of his assertion that Orthodox bishops were castrated.

The unrespectability of our religion

I was transcribing some of my old journals this morning, and came across what I had written when I was 19 in response to reading about Leon Bloy.

When I got home I finished reading Leon Bloy and marvelled at his faith and devotion. He had been prepared to live nearly all his life in poverty — nay, in destitution — for the sake of Jesus.

Like Clement of Alexandria, like St Francis of Assisi, he gave up all for love. “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.” The beatniks are looking for what St Francis was looking for; they are after the absolute values of God rather than the relative values of this world. “A saintly clergy means a virtuous people; a virtuous clergy means a respectable people; a respectable clergy means a godless people.”

Christians must never become respectable. Respectability is the curse of true religion. The slavish following of convention and the mediocrity it leads to, or springs from, are the enemy of all true Christianity. People become indistinguishable, they merge into the mass of the respectable, conventional mass of unthinking semi-morons that people this globe; they have no variety, and variety is the spice of life. They are tasteless, “and if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” Most Christians do not take their faith at all seriously — in one sense — they are prepared to live with it, but only just. They will not live for their faith, and certainly will not die for it. Saints were too unconventional, too unrespectable, to be imitated. People pay lip service to the examples of the saints, But if anyone should try to follow their example he is denounced, and they say, “Religion is a good thing, but that is taking it too far.” The person against whom such an accusation is levelled has probably just begun to take religion at all seriously. Christians are a lot of hypocrites people say, but if they try not to be hypocrites, then they are fanatics. The unrespectability of our religion! (Journal entry: 17 August 1960)

That was over 40 years ago. I had been introduced to Leon Bloy by Brother Roger, of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection. Bloy’s ideas were more than 60 years old then, and yet they seemed equally relevant to the 1960s. And now I keep reading about similar ideas in emerging church circles, including such things as urban monasticism. I look back at and cringe a little at the teenage arrogance, and wonder if our generation turned out any better than those we so self-righteously denounced.

Things have not changed much since then, it seems. A recent survey shows that most Christians in many countries see themselves first of all as citizens of this world rather than as citizens of the kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in heaven, says St Paul, but most have other gods. This is perhaps not so surprising in Russia, where atheism was the official state-sponsored religion for two generations, but it is a little more disturbing in other countries.

There also seems to be an anomaly in the case of the USA, where a higher proportion said that they saw themselves as Christians first, and citizens of their country second. But I wonder — I suspect that many of those who said that would respond to their country’s recent wars of aggression in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq by saying “My country, right or wrong”.

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