It is the best of times for teaching sociology and the worst of times for America

A minister and adjunct instructor of sociology raises an intriguing question: when times are good for teaching sociology, it may be bad times for society.

This is a great time for teaching sociology, which means it is a bad time.

The study of sociology was born of the Industrial Revolution when the gap between the rich and the poor became the greatest ever known. The two groups which I straddle; the religious community and the academic community, became interested and attempted to study social phenomenon with a scientific approach, replacing social myths with evidence and facts.

Somehow we have managed to return statistically to that time. In our country, the wealthiest one percent of the population own 33 percent of the wealth and the wealthiest 10 percent own 70 percent of “our” wealth. It seems we have returned to the ruling class mode of the 19th century in Russia and France—a time when America was awash with “robber barons.”

No wonder folks are taking to the streets.

I wonder if anyone has researched the relationship between the popularity and of sociology compared to the historical milieu. Sociology did emerge out of turbulent times in the mid 1800s but it also seemed to reach peaks in the United States in the prosperous 1920s (the Chicago School) and the 1960s and 1970s while there was both unrest and prosperity. Might this suggest that when academia thrives, i.e. student populations are increasing as well as budgets, sociology (and perhaps other disciplines) thrive? At the very least, we could look at how figures of undergraduate  majors and student enrolled in sociology graduate programs over the years. Perhaps there simply wouldn’t be many dips in the data as sociology programs expand over time and spread into more schools.

Probably the better argument to make here is that sociology appears more relevant in unsettled times. As society dips toward troubles and chaos, people want answers and explanations. Additionally, perceptions of social problems might be more important here than the scale of actual problems. However, I wonder if this tends to give sociology a bad name as people then equate it only with social problems rather than solutions and thriving societies.

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