Sightings: Fatherhood

What role does religion play in fatherhood? You might think the answer is none if you read the July issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.
That’s the subject of religion scholar Martin Marty’s latest Sightings column. Read on …

Sightings 6/22/09
– Martin E. Marty
“Fathering across Diversity and Adversity: International Perspectives and Policy Interventions” is the forbidding theme of the fat, 254-page July 2009 issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (Volume 624). I am a Fellow of the Academy; I have written for The Annals and regularly read it. I was first alerted to the role of religion in fathering by hanging out at the edges of the Institute for American Values (founded and presided over by David Blankenhorn), and learning from scholars such as Morehouse College President Robert M. Franklin. He produced a relevant volume, Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities, for Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
Now for The Annals: Twenty-five top editors and authors focus on everything that looks important. Dozens of times, these scholars list the key factors they are observing, such as “race, ethnicity, social class, gender, age, and generation,” fathers’ “social, legal, and moral rights and responsibilities,” “government interventions, pandemics, political conflict, migrant labor, and ecological and technological disasters,” “income, education, family history, occupation, housing statutes, geographical location, and social network,” “sport, education, youth development activities (e.g. Boy Scouts, 4-H) Boys & Girls Clubs, [at last!] youth ministry,” “sports centers, social clubs, barbershops, community radio, and [also, at last!] black religious communities …”
Now, I am going to do something odd for this e-column: Suggest that the issue pays too little — in fact, almost no — attention to religious and spiritual elements on this important topic. This observation is uncharacteristic of Sightings. Regular readers know that this snooper, though writing for a publication based in a Center that looks for “public religion,” initially expected to find little material as he scans media for sightings of “religion,” and he was at first surprised to find myriad references to it, in a plenitude of sources offering a plethora of ideas. Sightings is genetically programmed to complain about the complainers who argue that religion is too rarely seen on the public stage. But today, with all due respect, I join them, and wonder: How devote 250-plus pages to fatherhood and have only five (5, V!) one- or two-word mentions of religion? Admittedly, some of the nations they study — especially Scandinavian — are quite secular, but others are religiously-informed and some are hyper-religiously influenced. Was there nothing to talk about and study?
I remember in 1988 when we began “The Fundamentalism Project,” we cited CIA leaders and important figures in State and Defense departments who admitted that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 caught them by surprise. They monitored everything in Iran except religion, because everyone knew that religion had no power in the modern world. They’ve all “got religion” now.
Asking that religion be noticed is not to point to only salvific, soothing, positive factors. Observe people and cultures getting religion wrong in respect to “fathering” and you will find very, very wrong examples. Yet in the mixed bag of evidence, social scientists can and will find many informative elements. Maybe I am too impressed by what I learn from World Vision and Opportunity International-type emphases to let the presence or absence of religion go unnoticed. Maybe I am too awed by seeing fathers-and-daughters-or-sons in the mix at huge events such as annual “Gospel Fests” in the park under our window. Compensatorily, I admit to being benumbed by much of what Robert Franklin describes as “crisis in the community.” His African-American communities are not alone. There is more to be seen and counted by scholars. Let’s look.
Martin E. Marty’s biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum essay, anthropologist and legal scholar Mateo Taussig-Rubbo examines “how the destruction of property and life seems to [generate] a new form of value,” a value frequently identified as that of the “sacred.” Focusing on the wreckage from and sites of the September 11 attacks, Taussig-Rubbo considers issues of property law and conceptions of sacrifice in an attempt to understand how this concept of sacrality comes to be, and what meanings it holds within American culture. Invited responses will follow from Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Kathryn Lofton, Jeremy Biles, and Kristen Tobey.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Submissions policy
Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to illuminate and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. The editor also encourages new approaches to issues related to religion and public life.
Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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One Response to Sightings: Fatherhood

  1. Alan King says:

    “Art of the Father,” a young man’s tale the lessons instilled in him by his father. Please read it at

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