Baylor Sociology Student Wins Award for Research Showing that How You Read the Bible is Linked to Whether Your Fellow Worshippers Went to College

Aug. 11, 2011

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Baylor University doctoral student Samuel Stroope, a researcher in the department of sociology, has been named recipient of a prestigious award given by the Association for the Sociology of Religion for outstanding student paper.

Stroope is winner of the Robert J. McNamara Student Paper Award for his paper "Education and Religion: Individual, Congregational, and Cross-Level Interaction Effects on Biblical Literalism."

Using national data from 387 congregations and more than 100,000 worshippers, he explored the interplay between church members' educational backgrounds. He found that regardless of a person's educational background, he or she is less likely to approach the Bible in a literal word-for-word fashion when surrounded by a greater number of church members who went to college.

"When you go to Sunday school and everyone is talking about the cultural and historical background of a passage and its literary genre--a way of reading often learned in college--it's likely to rub off on you," Stroope said.

The paper's findings illustrate the power of the social influences inside congregations in shaping how people read Scripture, he said.

Stroope said his idea for the research topic was motivated by research literature showing a strong relationship between how much education people complete and how they view the Bible. But no one had explored whether fellow worshippers' education might also play an important role, he said.

The data Stroope used came from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, a large and uniquely structured survey of churches and their members fielded in 2001.

The paper has been accepted for publication in the journal Social Science Research and will appear in the fall. He will present the paper on Aug. 20 at the Association for the Sociology of Religion's 73rd annual conference in Las Vegas.

"I am not at all surprised to learn that Sam Stroope has won a national student paper award," said Dr. Charles Tolbert II, chair of Baylor's department of sociology. "It has been a pleasure to watch him develop as a scholar and to collaborate with him. You can see the passion he has for his research and the tenacity with which he digs in."

"This award reflects well on Sam, but also on the trajectory of our doctoral program," Tolbert said. "For a number of years, our students have been winning paper awards from regional professional associations. Now, Sam's accomplishments show that we can compete with the very best nationally."

The committee selected Sam's paper "because it examined an interesting topic and had a strong discussion of the findings and implications," said Dr. Rachel Kraus, committee chair and associate professor of sociology at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. "In addition, Sam's paper had a strong structural component to the analysis and did an exceptionally good job attempting to explain, rather than describe, social phenomena using empirical data."

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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