Christian Smith Defends a Sociologist Whose Data Finds Fault With Same-Sex Relationships

According to Christian Smith, a professor of sociology and the director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame, Mark Regnerus is being savaged by his fellow sociologists because he has published research that challenges progressive orthodoxy on the question of same-sex parenting.

In an article in Social Science Research, Regnerus, an associate professor at the University of Texas, argued that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages.  Social Science Research is a peer-reviewed academic journal and its editor has stood by the piece.

Regnerus’s research has caused a major uproar in the sociology community.  He has even been attacked by members of his own department.  According to Smith, Regnerus’s article is offensive to the guardians of the liberal, progressive ethos of his discipline.  Smith writes:

The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify “problems” with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not “correct” are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—”scholarly weaknesses” or “not fitting in well” with the department.

To be sure, there are many sociologists—progressives and otherwise—who are good people, scholars, and teachers. But the influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach. One cannot be too friendly to religion, for example, such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists. The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.

I am not a sociologist so I do not want to rush to judgment against the practitioners of the discipline.  But I do respect the work of Christian Smith and I am inclined to believe that what he has to say about the Regnerus case is correct.  If it is, this is a real shame–both for the discipline of sociology and for academia in general.

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