I just got back from a week-long workshop on the quantitative measurement and analysis of religion and American politics. We basically learned how to best analyze public opinion surveys that deal with the subject. It was held at the Henry Institute at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I went there because Iowa doesn't offer a graduate seminar in religion and politics and none of the professors really know anything about it. So I figured I could attend this and claim to be "qualified" to teach the topic should an opening appear in that area. And I know no one cares, but nonetheless, here's a non-comprehensive sampling of things that I learned this last week:
I learned some basic differences between Mainline and Evangelical Protestant denominations. I also learned what it means to be "charismatic" or "Pentecostal."
I learned that there's a difference between being a black Protestant and a Black Protestant.
I learned what a Cronbach's alpha statistic is and how to calculate it.
I learned that if I can't get a job at a university when I graduate, I could probably have a long and satisfying career working for a national survey organization like Pew or the U.S. Census Bureau.
Speaking of Pew, I learned that I owe my academic career so far to the Pew Research Center and their wonderful surveys that they make available on the internet for free. If you're looking for a worthy charitable cause - I highly recommend them, as you'll indirectly be supporting my livelihood as well.
I learned that when it comes to political attitudes, the major religious differences in contemporary America are now between "traditionalists" and "modernists" instead of between individual denominations (like Catholics vs. Protestants).
I learned that western Michigan is a nice place! I really like living in the Midwest. It's politically liberal but culturally religious, so I feel right at home.
Perhaps best of all, I learned that President Ford took his wife to a football game for their honeymoon. (Pres. Ford was from Grand Rapids and we went to his Presidential museum while we were there.)
It's nice to be back with my family now. Katie did a fabulous job holding down the fort while I was gone, as she always does. I would never be able to get along without her.