Richard Rorty vs. Mair
Check out the sociological imagination for a thoughtful, eloquent take on the problems of Christian scholarship. Then check out this post, where I take up one aspect of mair's frustration.
The philosopher Richard Rorty (difficult / easy) addresses part of this issue in an essay/book review of Stephen Carter's excellent "The Culture of Disbelief." I'll take Rorty to be Mair's interlocutor--he represents, in her words, a "champion of tolerance [and] cultural relativity," someone who might be opposed to the inability to separate religion from politics (or in her case, sociology.) We''ll start things off by summarizing Carter's book in one sentence. Sweet.
Carter attacks what he views as the intelligentsia's trivialization of religion--their insistence that religion not be mixed with politics and that it play no role in shaping public policy. Rorty begins his essay by playing the "Jeffersonian compromise" card--he says that people of faith did (and have to) trade the privatization of religious faith for religious freedom, and that this is a good deal for everyone.
BUT, he then concedes a crucial point to Carter: that it's disingenuous for academics/liberals/whoever to insist that people of faith not base their politics on religion, and then to go and base theirs on enlightenment principles/utilitarianism/liberalism/whatever. Good pragmatist that he is, Rorty says that it's impossible to separate your politics from your personal beliefs from your religious beliefs from your morals from the policies you favor, as if these were all distinct entities that one could pick and choose. His modern update to the Jeffersonian compromise: when we're in the public square, we "drop the sources of the premises of our arguments;" IE, it' s okay to argue that abortion is wrong and should be restricted as long as you don't say "Because it's God's will."
Now, whether this (A) works in practice or (B) will satisfy Carter is up for debate. What's interesting about Rorty's take on the whole issue is his admitting that there's no separating "religion" from politics--I think this represents a paradigm shift from previous intellectuals' insistence on or predictions about the destruction of religion.
Mair wrote: "My statements will be necessarily grounded in what I see as a right and true order for society. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I just want to know why other sociologists do." To pick up Rorty's argument: I think these other sociologists are wrong, and not only that, but they're being incoherent by pretending they occupy some perfectly neutral super-position from which they can see every other position. You can hold their feet to the fire without bringing religion into the picture. We never need to play our hands as Christians in such discussions: the deep incoherence of their position can be attacked by the arguments of members of their own ranks (like Rorty.)
In the meantime, we need to figure out exactly how religion should be brought into the picture. That's a post for another day.