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14 August 2013

Sherkat and RELTRAD

In his most recent blog post, Darren Sherkat critiques what has become known as the Steensland scheme of religion (though the authors of the scheme call it the Religious Traditions scheme or RELTRAD for short). I met Darren several years ago a Southern Sociological Society meeting where we were both presenting in the same session. The paper I was presenting with my undergraduate student co-author, a first-time conference attendee, analyzed changes of attitudes over time about homosexuality in the RELTRAD categories using the cumulative GSS data. There, his major critique of our paper was that people should stop using the Religious Traditions scheme because there was more variation within religious groups than there was between religious groups, an argument that he again implies in his blog post. I think that Sherkat's critique is wrong. First of all, this simply isn't born out in statistical analysis, both in the original paper and in many other analyses using the scheme. (More on this in a future post.) Second is the categories themselves. Sherkat primarily takes issue with Black Protestantism as a category, which he characterizes as being based on the racist assumption that all black people are the same. By that logic, we should never include "black" as a dummy right-hand variable in any of our models either because this would be an assumption that all black people are the same nor should we include "Republican" because there is a lot of variation within political party ID. Moreover, Sherkat mistakes Black Protestantism to be an individual characteristic when it is in actuality a measure of institutional membership. One is not so much Black Protestant as one belongs to a Black Protestant congregation. It is difficult to understand how one could deny the historical reality of a Black Protestant tradition in the United States that is socially distinct from other religious traditions. (See Lincoln and Mamiya's The Black Church in the African-American Experience for more on this.)

In the interest of full disclosure, Brian Steensland, who, among others, developed the RELTRAD scheme, was one of my dissertation committee members.

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