I have to confess that I decided to write this book because of exasperation with the lack of understanding about religion that is so frequently evident among policy makers and journalists. Public officials who make pronouncements about faith-based social services rarely show that they have the slightest understanding of how religious organizations actually function in our society, other than being able to recount a few anecdotes. They simply think religion is a good thing and thus should be supported, and they figure government is the way to support it. Others oppose such support on principle. They appear to know equally little about how religion works, except perhaps from limited personal experience, contending that if something goes under the name of religion then it surely must be kept out of the policy arena.
Policy analysts in academic institutions have seldom taken the time to acquaint themselves with the relevant facts, either. Trained in economics or used to dealing with operations management or environmental risk assessments, they approach religion as if it could be understood in the same way as census data or national income projections. They retreat in horror when the data are not conclusive, scratching their heads about why any serious scholar would dive into such murky waters in the first place. The few who do venture into these waters focus on the occasional case study or legal controversy and provide little insight into the larger picture.
All this is curious because much of social science in the past thirty years has been driven by policy interests. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the social sciences were deeply concerned with emulating the natural sciences and thus expended a great deal of energy proposing abstract theoretical models of human behavior and initiating research oriented toward theorybuilding. By the end of the 1960s, that positivistic paradigm was beginning