I went to this talk at ISR on Tuesday. The speaker was Robert Putnam, best known, at least to me, as the author of Bowling Alone, which got a lot of attention when it came out, even though I think it made the mistake to some extent of confusing the decline of certain forms of social interaction with the decline of all forms of interaction in a time when the technology of social interaction was changing a lot.
This particular talk was about Putnam's new project called "American Grace" that considers the role of religion in American public life. Putnam is a lively and entertaining speaker and had quite a lot of interesting descriptive statistics to present and stories to tell to link them together. Two particular bits stuck in my mind, one stylistic and one substantive.
At one point in the talk, Putnam started to motivate a new slide by saying that in order to be a Harvard professor, you must pass a test in name-dropping and that he was now going to show that he had passed that test by noting that he had talked about these particular results with "George Bush". Of course, as Putnam presumably knew would happen based on past experience, someone in the audience immediately asked "Which one?" which allowed Putnam to smoothly reply along the lines of "Well, actually, both of them!" Is that slick or what? I think there must be a second exam when you come up for promotion to full professor at Harvard that tests these sorts of advanced skills.
On the substantive side, the graph that stayed with me had an index of religiosity on the horizontal axis. The two lines on the graph indicted, for each level of religiosity, the fraction of respondents (to Putnam's seemingly quite nice survey) who indicated that they thought very secular people were tolerant and the fraction who indicated that they thought very religious people were tolerant. The two lines formed a flat "X", with secular people imaging themselves to be very tolerant and religious people to be very intolerant, while religous people imagine themselves to be tolerant while viewing secular people as very intolerant. Put differently, and this is my spin, there is plenty of self-righteousness and lack of introspection at both ends of the religiosity scale.
It's really quite easy.
1 year ago