Being a Professor at a Research University involves balancing many different identities. We are teachers, researchers, committee members, administrators, writers, and editors. Thus, I am used to balancing many different identities and I generally like doing so. I have a small attention span, so a job in which I get to move from one task and identity to another with regularity suits me well.
As with most people in our society, my life also includes many non-job related identities. For example, I am a mother, a wife, a friend, a PTA member, an advocate for my village, and a fan of live music.
As an Experimental Social Psychologist, I sometimes find my other, non-professional, identities slipping into and altering my scholarship. Experimental Social Psychologists are interested in understanding the psychology of human interaction by examining snapshots of it inside the laboratory and, sometimes, even out in the world. We study things like prejudice, romantic relationships, friendship, helping behavior, aggression, and attitudes. We see humans as fundamentally social and want to understand how relationships impact our lives and how we impact others’ lives. As you might imagine, this is a topic of study that is frequently affected by one’s own experiences. Thus, my love of reading informed my work on narratives and social connection; my close friendships informed my work on friendship and the self-concept; and even my love of macaroni and cheese wormed its way into my research on comfort food and well-being.
One area that I always assumed would remain separate from my identity as a researcher was my identity as a person of faith. After all, my research laboratory is about finding a question and then reducing it to its parts so that I can manipulate it, measure it, quantify it, and understand it. Faith is about keeping things whole, about not knowing all the answers, and about appreciating the grace and peace of something that is too big to be divided, counted, and understood.
But, once again, I have been proven wrong. Due, initially, to the interest of a graduate student, my research laboratory has been exploring issues of faith for the last few years. We are interested in understanding the psychology of connecting to God. How do people experience their connection with the divine? How do they feel God’s presence in their lives in direct and indirect ways? These are big questions, to be sure, but we feel that we can gain some insight into them using the tools we have as Experimental Social Psychologists. So far, this work has been interesting, rewarding, humbling, sometimes confusing, and generally a great deal of fun. However, the merging of identities has been harder for me. As one might imagine, not everyone in the experimental sciences is very welcoming to the inclusion of faith and not everyone in the faith-based community is very welcoming to the experimental study of faith. And by “not everyone,” I mean not most people. And by “not very welcoming,” I mean horrified. Nonetheless, we continue in our small way. My goal is to use this space to share with you some of the work we are doing, how we do our work, what we have been finding, and the various challenges that arise when mixing science and religion. My hope is that people will come to understand that we don’t want to degrade science and we don’t want to debase faith.
At the very least, I get to add Blogger to my list of identities.