According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Church Which Restores - Spiritual Reformation in Action

In the category of "I hadn't thought of that before" has been a recent Reformation class I've been taking on the lives of the four "Major Reformers" of old Europe: Martin Luther (Germany), Huldrych Zwingli (Bern, Switzerland), and John Calvin (refugee from France fled to Geneva, Switzerland). Up next, John Knox, after which we will study some of the "Minor Reformers" in the Fall of 2018 next year. Significantly, under these major figures was born the Protestant Reformation of 500 years ago from the Catholic Church. Not ironically, during the intervening 500 years of "Reform," Protestantism has spawned multitudes of church divisions, schisms and sectarian splinter groups, marking it with its formative history of "dissent" within its own ranks for one reason or another. But in historical context, the Church of the reformer's day was more a state-church than a local body of believers; one whose spiritual practises were deeply intertwined with state politics making each corruptible for their own reasons as each bound community life and business into their coffers of economic gain and power. In reaction, the spiritual reforms occurring 500 years ago were as much about political agitation as they were about unworthy spiritual teachings and practises.

Conversely, 500 years later, it seems both Catholics and Protestants have more in common with one another than apart as each religious branch leads the way back into their communities (or parishes) of Christian service to the poor, hungry, homeless, and overlooked. But still, the political dagger of Damocles hangs thinly in the air above the church's head as an ever-ready earthly temptation made the more difficult in releasing when suckling at the tits of political office and its representatives. The harsh reality is that the church continually struggles with the strong temptation to recreate Christianity into irreligious forms of statism based upon particular beliefs and practises which has risen yet again under the auspices of a body of church doctrines collectively known as conservative evangelicalism diversely spread across both the Catholic and Protestant faiths.

Is it any wonder then we see the church splintering once again under major spiritual reforms of faith affiliations (or "non-faith affiliations," as example, consider the spiritual refugees of the "nones and dones" having left the church) as each faith, or non-faith group, protests their agitations across America and the World against self-serving nationalistic campaigns of propaganda, economic rape, and loss of personal liberties? Each emphasizing some overlooked, or under-appreciated, aspect of worship and service, but mostly in "protest" to the actions of the "politically-ensnared" evangelical church seeking to incorporate non-Christian state policies and actions across non-evangelical communities resisting and speaking out against them. Communities of protest-and-resistance wishing to safeguard a political constitution and federacy of democracy built upon life, liberty and freedom, rather than be robbed of their heritage in the bright daylight of state and corporate thievery!

In the much needed world of revival it usually comes down to the awful truth that oppression in any form - be it spiritual, political, or economic - is unwanted. Its tyranny demands its overthrow. Its self-enrichment demands its impoverishment. Once there were the Martin Luther's of the German/Catholic reformation; more recently, the Martin Luther Kings of Civil Rights; and now, there awaits the voices of today's church to arise and break off the chains which would bind its heart and people. Let us not be naive... each generation is accountable for its own spiritual reforms against the disfigurements of corruptible churches preaching another gospel not representative of the gospel of Christ. And unless this is done we more willingly seem to choose our own oppressions not realizing the harm it is creating more broadly across a constitutionally-freed, but politically-ensnared, federal democracy. In the end, we remember the Reformation for all the good it can potentially do but weigh it in its balances for all the harm it can produce when reforming for the wrong reasons back to its own ends.

R.E. Slater
November 2, 2017

*As a side note, I've included the article below not as a criticism to postmodernism's important rigors placed upon modernism; nor for a capitulation to more fundamental bible teachings; but to warn that for every good intention there may arise a poorer result than intended. If secularization is a bad thing than its converse arises in a new awareness of God in all things rather than in none, as is held here by myself and the author. But the result of secularization is certainly from the foundation stones of modernism which has stripped us of God  and left any yearning for the spiritual abandoned unless we rethink our academics, philosophies, and intentions, which, as you know, this website here intends to re-balance with its sense-and-sensibilities approach to both the secular and divine. - res

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Author: Brad S. Gregory
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012 574 pages
ISBN: 978-0-674-04563-7

The Unintended Reformation:
How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

Reviewed by Thomas M. McCoog, SJ
August 20, 2012

Time magazine’s ‘Is God Dead?’ issue of 8 April 1966 shocked me. It was not the message – any undergraduate could discuss Nietzsche’s madman’s proclamation that we had killed God – but the medium. Time articulated the views of the educated middle-class, read by the man on the Clapham omnibus and by the woman in the pew. That they would even consider the question, especially, if I may place the issue within Roman Catholicism, during Vatican II exhilaration, was indeed noteworthy.

During the subsequent forty years, Christendom morphed into post-Christian (Western) Europe. Politicians denied any connection between Christianity and the new millennium. Signs on London buses announced ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ as if theism were life’s sole irritant. The Oxford philosopher, Richard Dawkins, a major backer of the Atheist Bus Campaign, characterised theists as delusional and dismissed the God hypothesis in his bestseller, The God Delusion (2006). The late journalist Christopher Hitchens asserted, as expressed in the subtitle of the American edition of his attack, God is not Great (2007) that ‘religion poisons everything.’ Cambridge physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking dismissed God, or at least his God-of-the-gaps, as unnecessary in A Brief History of Time (1988). There have of course been counter-arguments, for example Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught’s reply to the new atheists in God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, [Sam] Harris and Hitchens (2008), but overall God has taken a beating. Reason apparently has finally completed the promise first displayed during the Enlightenment and dispelled the fading shadows of medieval faith. Some indeed now wonder whether any questions will remain if the ‘God particle’ has in fact been discovered. In bookstores, serious religious and theological works are currently stored cheek-by-jowl with books on astrology, tarot cards, New Age and neo-paganism. In today’s multicultural cafeterias, one may mix and match religious beliefs and moral principles to conform to one’s palate. The culture of ‘whatever’ has reduced claims to objective truth to subjective comfort. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, commenting on recent financial scandals and the prominence of a Gordon Gecko, ‘greed is good’ mentality, notes: ‘We are reaching the endgame of a failed experiment: society’s attempt to live without a shared moral code. The 1960s applied this to private life. The 1980s applied it to the market’.[1] But how can we regain a common code of ethics, especially in a society that has defined diversity as its fundamental guiding principle? ‘How did we get here from there?’ if I may paraphrase a Stephen Sondheim song from Merrily We Roll Along. The book under review provides an answer.

Brad S. Gregory completed his doctorate in history at Princeton University in 1996. Currently he is the Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame. His doctoral thesis served as the basis for Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), a justly praised, comparative study of Protestant and Catholic martyrs with a distinct thesis. Repudiating contemporary, secular, ‘reductionist’ analyses of martyrdom, Gregory argued cogently for the re-introduction of religion:

‘The act of martyrdom makes no sense whatsoever unless we take religion seriously, on the terms of people who were willing to die for their convictions. When we do, the intelligibility of martyrdom hits us like a hammer’ (p. 350).

Subsequently Gregory was more concerned with secularisation and its effect on the study of religion than martyrs and martyrologies. Shorter lectures and articles[2] explore the mentality behind the deplored reductionist approach to religious phenomena; this monograph sets the origins of this mentality in the Reformation itself, the religious phenomenon par excellence later vitiated by social, economic, cultural and gender historians.

Gregory cites William Faulkner’s insight that the past is never really past but continues to be alive. The past in this case is the Reformation: the ‘ideological and institutional shifts that occurred five or more centuries ago remain substantively necessary to an explanation of why the Western world today is as it is’ (p. 7). Beginning with the phenomenological observation of the modern Western spectrum of contradictory truth claims, the author seeks their origin. Six subsequent chapters focus on specific subjects:

  • exclusion of God from the natural world;
  • loss of objective truth;
  • privatisation of religion;
  • subjectification of morality;
  • the ascendancy of consumerism; and,
  • the departmentalisation of knowledge.

Each chapter traces trajectories from the Reformation Ursprung to the contemporary world and in so doing conducts the reader on a crash course on a history of philosophy, of theology, of economic theory, etc., each rooted in the author’s firm grasp and appreciation of Reformation history.

The Six Solas

Gregory summarises the position of the above-cited ‘Neo-Atheists’ thus: ‘the findings of science either prescribe atheism as a matter of intellectual integrity or requite a schizophrenic separation of scientific findings from religious faith’ (p. 29). Faith then is about ‘ineffable feelings’ (p. 65). The multiplicity of religious options demonstrates religion’s subjective character. One generally practises (or lapses from) the religion in which one was born and raised, but does that commitment mean that one’s acceptance of the truth claims of that religion to life’s serious questions suggests the invalidity of rival truth claims? Certainly it should. The fundamental Protestant principle sola Scriptura demanded that Scripture alone be the criterion in the formulation of true answers to the ‘Life Questions.’ Ironically the principle, intended to galvanize Christians around their book, resulted in the proliferation of Protestant confessions as they disagreed over the interpretation of Scripture. Appeals to private revelation and reason failed to halt the centrifugal motion. The result:

‘in principle truth is whatever is true to you, values are whatever you value, priorities whatever you prioritize, and what you should live for is whatever you decide you should live for. In short: whatever’ (p. 77).

Religious hostilities have, for the most part, ceased in the Western world. The destruction and death during the different religious wars that followed the breakdown of Christendom ended with a general, at times reluctant, acceptance of toleration and religious liberty. But there was a price for the separation of Church and State, the transition from the defender of the faith to defender of the faiths: religion’s gradual separation from other aspects of society. Gregory comments on the unintended current state of the United States: ‘freedom of religion protected society from religion and so has secularized society and religion’ [italics Gregory’s]. Protected by appeals to individual conscience with legal guarantees of religious freedom, Americans can believe whatever they wish as long as they obey the law. The age of entitlement was born.

Similarly, moral values have devolved into subjective, personal preferences. As with religious beliefs, one may hold whatever moral values one feels good about as long as one observes the law. Inevitably Western civilisation embarked on a path that resulted in the de facto identification of morality and law. Roman Catholic insistence that morality be grounded in natural law and/or metaphysical anthropology results in frequent clashes with contemporary culture. Gregory blames the ongoing disputes between Catholics and mainline (magisterial) Protestants and the consequent religious wars for the eventual distinction between the public and private spheres. Laws defined public behaviour but left unregulated private behaviour. But here too, as with religion, we are left with a question regarding the definer of the public and the private. Who decides what is God’s and what is Caesar’s? If each prepared a reply, how they would differ!

With the secularisation of society and especially the subjectification of ‘Life Questions,’ knowledge as pursued at research universities became more specialised and barren – scientific in a negative sense. One is reminded here of Chief Rabbi Sacks’s comment: ‘Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean’.[3] More damning is Gregory’s contention (as witnessed by the authors mentioned in the second paragraph of this review) that there is a general derision of ‘any firmly held religious belief’ (p. 356) in academia. The secular mission of (principally American) universities demands that they ‘instill enough skepticism to divest students of any substantive truth claims – especially religious ones – that could disrupt the demands of the most important social virtue, namely open-ended toleration’ (p. 359). Protestant reformers opened Pandora’s Box in their attempt to strengthen and deepen Christian life and doctrine. Instead they launched the trajectory that produced the secular ‘Kingdom of Whatever’: the unintended reformation.

Many readers will note that some ‘World We Have Lost’ sentiments seem to lurk behind Gregory’s arguments, but the author argues against mere nostalgia. For him the post-modern world is failing due to its failure to provide sufficient answers to the Life Questions. Said questions remain essential and must be re-addressed. Contemporary society speaks of rights, but can contemporary science discover them in the material substance scrutinised by the finest microscopes? Rights take for granted a natural law, a philosophical anthropology, a creature created in the image and likeness of God: the academy must be unsecularised.

The Unintended Reformation demands much from the reader. Through circa 400 pages of text and 150 more of endnotes, the author leads us through a maze of critical positions. Unfortunately the publisher’s decision to publish endnotes instead of footnotes and to omit a bibliography hinders our progress as we seek the sources of information. The author writes with passion, but not always with clarity. Occasionally the prose runs away from him as sentences and paragraphs seem endless. But is Gregory’s argument convincing? A glance at the many reviews posted on reveals the book’s impact. The majority are favourable; some suggest that the Ursprung is a moveable point and could just as easily be placed in the Middle Ages or the Enlightenment. Perhaps. Some commentators claim they have read the book two or three times. If you are worried about the current state of society and interested in understanding it, I recommend you read it at least once perhaps in the context of a course or discussion group, so the issues raised can be pondered and debated.


The reviewer, Thomas M. McCoog SJ is the Archivist of the British Province of the Society of Jesus.

[1] The Times, 7 July 2012, p. 23

[2] e.g. ‘The Other Confessional History: On Secular Bias in the Study of Religion,’ History and Theory, 45(2006), pp. 132-49; ‘No Room for God? History, Science, Metaphysics, and the Study of Religion,’ History and Theory, 47 (2008), pp. 495-519; ‘Can We ‘See Things Their Way’? Should We Try?,’ in Seeing Things Their Way: Intellectual History and the Return of Religion, eds. Alister Chapman, John Coffey and Brad S. Gregory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), pp. 24-45


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The God Who Restores - Divine Process in Action

As a Christian I am always perplexed by what one makes of the evil in this world. Especially when re-thinking God not as a Coercive Force as I was once taught, but as One who is always re-creating life from that which is not life. Or beauty, or wisdom, or Order, or Peace, from all that which exists apart from God we call sin and evil.

And if God is not the coercive force who created sin and evil as I was taught, can God then be found in His steady relational love which invites all creation into diverse becoming?

If so, "What then is evil?" Which is an important question to ask when perceiving past dominant theologies to have deemed God to be an omnipotent, omniscient Force who becomes the Source of all suffering - (i) either actively as evil's agent, (ii) or by assignment by divine commission, (iii) or passively when doing nothing to prevent evil from occurring, when refraining from direct Divine intervention.

But what if God was re-conceived in His Power and Presence as a God who does not abandoned us, or betrays us, or persecute us by His Divine Coercive Power? But rather as a Guiding, Presently-Acting Redemptive Force redeeming each thing/moment which is unredeemed? Restoring each event which is broken and unrestored? When renewing all that is spiritual dead and still-born? Such a theology of God, I would think, would be something we would want to look into more closely than those which say otherwise.

If God is reconceived as a Positive Redemptive Acting Force than we know that "Love is never coercive but guiding, nourishing, nurturing, and helpful"; that events are not "predetermined" but "indeterminant" allowing for creation to respond to God's love in unique and positive ways; that actions of lament and mourning, praise and adoration, thankfulness and petitionary prayer, are the result of being actively engaged in a life that is changeable and malleable by our very own actions empowered with Divine Light, Truth, and Ability; and most importantly, that God has "emptied Himself" of all that He is so that His creation might become all that it can be through its Creator.

This is the idea behind Process Theology which offers at least two possible understandings of evil (if not more) when facing the tragic nature of evil while at the same time affirming the innocence of those who suffer. (1) One view addresses evil as that aspect of reality not yet touched by God’s lure, or that part of creation that willfully ignores God’s lure. (2) Another approach draws on the thought of the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, who acknowledges that much of what we term evil or suffering is a matter of perspective. Maimonides (speaking out of the Greek Naturalism of Aristotelian thought of his day) points out how often what we term evil is simply our personal perspective of a particular event.

As example, one might say life is full of disappointments and bitterness, but had those experiences not been lived than the individual affected may not have surmounted those experiences to be a blessing to others or a source of wisdom to events occurring later in life when encountered. Life's indeterminacy can thus be faced with a spirit of redemptive resilience or resoluteness which refuses hardship to conquer in the face of open pain and loss. Christians around the world do admit this as part of their faith described by many as the power of God in their lives to redeem, to recreate, to restore, to empower, by the force of the gospel of Christ; and blood-bought in service, reconciliation, and redemptive enablement in the Spirit of God who was emptied into the world to serve. This then would grant the sublime idea that God is with us, is for us, and is ever our God in times of need and plenty, want and provide. God is there and has empowered us through His Spirit by the atonement made in Christ and by His Spirit our constant Guide, Mediator, and Comforter.


R.E. Slater
October 31, 2017

Psalm 85

English Standard Version (ESV)

Revive Us Again

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

85 Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
3 You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Can a Contemporary Reformation Re-Awaken the Church?

Lately I've been listening to the life stories of the "Major Reformers" Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox. Though many, many other voices could be added to this list of reformers such as John Wycliffe, Theodore Beza, Martin Bucer, or Thomas More (see the Wikipedia link provided at end of this article), it is a testament to those hardy Reformers of yesteryear who sought to speak the will of God for the church of their time during what would later become known as a Reformational era of spiritual crisis.

An era before there was any Protestant church or denomination knowing only one Church Universal - commonly thought of as the "Church Catholic" - which spoke for God as His singularly appointed magistrates of spiritual administration since the days of the Apostles of the Early Church. By this time 1600 years of church history had come-and-gone revealing the church's priestly commissions to be spiritually wayward and corruptible requiring deep reform away from the practises of priestly indulgences and misguided Christian teachings. Teachings which withheld God's people from the hallowed halls of His love and grace, mercy and forgiveness, as readily seen in the spiritual practises of Christian worship becoming more form than function, more works-righteousness than true faith.

At the time, the seat of church government was under the papacy of Rome having tightly integrated itself into each regional government calling itself Christian as well as into each community parish overruled by a local bishop. This then lead to a regional system of church governance overruled by a series of church Archbishops who reported directly to the Vatican and its board of Cardinals otherwise considered the Church's protectors of the faith and fatherly regents of commission.

Into this churchly dispensation came the priests of the Catholic Church who were trained and taught in the holy halls of their commissions greatly learned and greatly read in the Bible of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some of whom began to notice that what was being judged by God through his prophets in the OT, and later by Christ Himself and His Holy Apostles in the NT, were similarly being practiced in the Church itself during the years of their calling. To wit, one-by-one, these Spirit-burdened priests began to agitate in their ranks calling for a purifying fire of deep reform.

One such priest was Martin Luther having stepped forth on the Eve of All Saints Day (still observed by many churches in deference to the "Devil's Eve" of Halloween) by announcing his willingness to debate any priest, bishop, archbishop, or cardinal over a list of erroneous teachings of the church at any given date or time. Those teachings he considered to be most egregious were later known as Luther's "95 Theses" which he had nailed to the doors of the local parish church as would any regular communication be announced of similar manner in that day to be read by the community at large. Hence, Luther's proposal was more or less a public notice to all who felt deeply as he did about the many spiritual wrongs he was noticing within the Church's ministries.

As I have said, I have been attending a very short introductory class through Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan) over a four week period to learn of the lives and stories of the Reformation's four Major Reformers who were central figures to the schism breaking across the Catholic Church. In the Fall of 2018 would be another class to discuss the Minor Reformers of the Reformation era, all of whom would have a contributive influence to the reformation of the Church of God.

Accordingly, these early Reformational breakaway church groups became known as "Protest-Groups, " or, "Protest-ants," willing to leave their parish to re-align their faith and beliefs into a new kind of churchly dynamic. One they felt was more biblical, more ordained of God, more worthy of Christ's calling and Passion. One of the first of these groups to be born from this growing schism were the "Lutherans" of Germany readily following the strong voice of young monk named Luther no longer content to do "business as usual" under the rule of the Papacy.

For myself, knowing very little of the reformers spawning this post-Renaissance movement, I quickly realized it led the Church into new ways of adaptive thinking as it responded to the impact of a new cultural renaissance occurring in the fields of the arts and sciences. A renaissance which had launched a hundred years earlier and was beginning to grow at a rapid rate of change across poly-lingual societies soon leading into a major historic era of European Enlightenment and early Modernity. 

And although the Reformation was strictly a religious undertaking within the Church itself it was also laying the important groundwork for revisualizing God and the Christian faith in new and significant ways which would be later necessary to its own religious life and culture. However, when it did not, we then see an era of Victorian despair occurring across religious societies unable to grasp the depth and meaning of human industry and discovery (cf. Victorian art, poetry, literature). And by failing to envision God in new ways also failed to lead society in its responsibilities of human and ecological care as older religious systems fought resistance to necessary spiritual reforms leading to a kind of spiritual destruction and death. It also led me to realize once again the importance of contemporary Christians today who similarly labor around the world impassioned by the Spirit of God to the tasks of post-modernal contemporary enlightenment-and-reformation which are occurring 500 years later after the European Reformations.

It is here, in the 21st Century, I and others are finding it importantly significant that the church again revise its orthodoxies to positively participate in a post-industrial, post-modern reawakening of global ecological awareness, technological revolution, and scientific discovery, so that the Christian faith might live again in important ways it cannot live under old line thinking, study, worship, and service. Indeed, if it does not then Christianity will consequentially be relegated to the sidelines of mysticism, mythology, and superstition, even as we see occurring now with the growing gulf between Christian fellowships, associations, and sects, as they double down into their closed systems of religious faith and folk religion.

Rather than allow this, the Lord has tasked his prophets and prophetesses, priests and priestesses, with illuminating how the church might participate with the contemporary world in a sociological relevance that might grant significant revelation to those seeking truth and enlightenment in the multiple pagan endeavors of naturalism, cultism, occultism, and atheism, to mention a few. If the church does not then we leave an important Christ-filled mission bereft to the world around us to redact and refill in spiritualizing invigorations, forms and functions, less than Christian, but most certainly spiritual, as attested to in the four areas just mentioned.

I find then that re-integrating the Christian faith within a postmodern framework must also confront the growing post-truth despair found in churches and societal turmoil as an important witness spanning the gulf between the Christian faith and a growing number of unChristian mysticisms; unChristian reflections searching for a kind of spiritual enlightenment; or, unChristian hopes which lead away from a redemptive meaningfulness to life, ministry, work, and social behavior.

This then is the basic task set upon the hearts and passions of today's global prophets and priests of the Church called to its renewing Reformation. It is the deep need for another Christian  Re-Awakening spawning an Orthodox Reformation both Protestant and Catholic, religious and liturgical, missionary and service-oriented, into all the areas of Christian endeavor, academic teaching, worship, and understanding. Through the years Relevancy22 has identified a few of these Christian movements and leaders as attested to in its roll call of  topics, blogger links, and study resources.

Even so, God is breathing His revelations across the world in lands far away and alien to Western civilizaiton, into the lands of Asia, India, Africa, and South America. It is a Wind testifying to the need of humanity to reorder its chaotic turmoil back to the very thrones of God that it might have a witness to a world leaving the church behind to its superstitions and mythologies unless it regains an adapting theology which is willing to grow up and mature to testify of the God we love and adore in a post-modern world.

Having begun in the 1990s, there is developing a new hope for the Church being attested to in a steady stream of contemporary witnesses to the Christian faith of Spirit-filled men and women having grown and being knit together as one community advocating a new reflection of the Christian faith that may allow its much needed post-Reformation to grow and take shape into ten thousand reflections of the Divine Light of the Son of God and His redemption brought into this old earth by the guiding hand of the God of Creation, Atonement, Revival, and Resurrected Life.

As such, it is not unlike the reformers of old God has used in the life of the Church - from its very first Church Fathers of the early Christian centuries to the Medieval and Reformational Reformers of the Medieval Ages, to the Great Awakenings of the American and British eras of the 1700's and onwards, to the Revivals of South America, Asia, Africa, and Middle East both in the past and lately, as the Spirit of God lays upon the hearts of men and women His heavy hand of guidance, groaning, and passion to awaken the hearts of us who cannot see, nor hear, nor even feel the Wind of God blowing across our hearts and souls, to come taste the Divine Bread and Wine of our Salvation.

Even so blows such a Divine Wind as it tears down and uproots all old and impervious Christian faith structures resisting the Lord and having become devolved and unlovely to the name of Christ. More heathen in its forms of worship, more pagan in its portrayals of Christ, and similarly destructive to the Word of the Lord when living within their closed structures of religious systems unable to renew themselves under God's guidance unless they first be torn down and uprooted to hear again the living Sepulcher's tolling God's life-giving Altars to stand forth, repent, and be born again into the hope, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the Gospel of Christ.


R.E. Slater
October 28, 2017

Links to the Reformation and Reformers -

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Martin Luther’s Greatest Contribution

by Thomas Oord
October 25th, 2017

Christians around the world are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Not just Protestants, even many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians are celebrating!

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on Castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Most Christians today who read the document Luther posted would find his theses bewildering. But this event and many others before and after brought great change to the world.

Luther’s Theology

As Christians celebrate the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 29, many will correctly praise Luther for his courage.

Theologians like me who study the details of Luther’s theology often have mixed feelings about his ideas. Some of what Luther said is applicable today; other things are not. Some aspects of Luther’s theology should be left in dustbins of history.

Luther was an enigmatic figure with an odd personality. He was prone to hyperbole (all those “solas,” for example) and just plain weirdness. Few today would lift him up as a moral example. But Luther is rightly praised for his courage and conviction.


Luther’s greatest legacy and the greatest legacy of the Protestant Reformation is less about the specific theology he proposed. It’s more about the general need for changes in theology.

The Reformation reminds us that Christianity is not a static religion. It moves, adjusts, and transforms. Times change, people change, and the gospel of Christianity changes too, at least to some extent.

Some things in Christianity seem constant. Jesus is always central, although how we understand him varies over time. Love is central too, although what love demands seems to change. We could add other seemingly timeless aspects of the Christian faith.

Debates about the essentials and nonessentials in Christian faith will continue. The consensus varies from generation to generation.

Jesus may be the same yesterday, today, and forever, but the Christian faith is always in process. The Spirit is always doing a new thing!

Time for a New Reformation

It’s time again for something new. Every 500 years or so, something major seems to occur in Christian history. We’re due.

It’s time to ask ourselves, What will Christianity look like tomorrow? Who will Jesus be interpreted to be? What does love require in the present age? How should we now live?

Answering these questions is our present task. But we’re not the first. Change agents, revolutionaries, and theological entrepreneurs like Martin Luther have come before.

So let’s celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation by raising a glass to Martin Luther!

ps... When you’re celebrating Luther’s birthday on November 10, light a candle for me: I was born on that same date 482 years later! - T.O.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sociological theory of diffusion

Sociological theory of diffusion

The sociological theory of diffusion is the study of the diffusion of innovations throughout social groups and organizations. The topic has seen rapid growth since the 1990s, reflecting curiosity about the process of social change and "fueled by interest in institutional arguments and in network and dynamic analysis."[1] The theory uses a case study of the growth of business computing to explain different mechanisms of diffusion.

The concept of diffusion

In the 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers defines sociological diffusion of innovation as a process in a social system where an innovative idea or concept is spread by members of the social group through certain channels. He identifies four elements that influence how and how quickly a new idea spreads:[2]

  • The innovation itself
  • The types of communication channels used
  • The amount of time the social group is exposed to the innovation
  • The nature of the social group

In a study by Surry and Farquhar, researchers explain that the theory of diffusion is used in occupations ranging from marketing to agriculture in order to ensure that new products, ideas, and techniques are well adopted by the social group.[3] The concept of diffusion is of particular interest in the marketing field, as this concept affects the success or failure of new ads or products. Understanding this theory helps marketers influence the way the public will perceive each innovation.

The speed at which an innovation spreads through a mass of people depends on how favorably an idea is perceived by the audience. Innovations that are ill matched with existing techniques are not as well accepted and diffused through the group. Social structures are naturally designed in a hierarchy[citation needed]; thus, different ideas follow different routes or courses in the hierarchy, depending on the type and source of an innovation.[4]

The study of the diffusion of innovations has led to advancements in awareness of three important aspects of social change: the qualities of an innovation which lead to successful diffusion, the effect of peer networking and conversations when it comes to spreading ideas, and the importance of various "user segments" (Robinson). The theory of diffusion of innovations differs from other theories about the processes of change since most changes are improvements, or "reinventions", of a previously existing product or technique. These changes are generally favorably perceived by the members of the group because they usually are more in line with the values and needs of the group.

There are five important qualities that factor into the success or failure of innovations. First, the relative advantage; that is, whether the new innovation surpasses similar existing ideas in terms of satisfaction and convenience. Second, the compatibility of the new idea with the needs and practices of the group members. Third, the simplicity of the innovation: usually, the simpler the innovation, the more quickly the concept is adopted. Fourth, the "trialability"[citation needed] of an innovation; that is, whether it can be tested without commitment for a period of time. An innovation that has an available trial period provides less uncertainty to the group member who will be trying it. Lastly, whether there are observable results with use of the innovation. The more positive and visible results, the higher the likelihood it gets adopted as a permanent idea for the group.[5]

Why diffusion happens

Sociological diffusion occurs when a social group or organization develops an innovation: a new idea or behavior. Diffusion, in the context of corporations and businesses, is a way for an idea to be fleshed out. The diffusion of innovations provides insights into the process of social change: one can observe the qualities that make an innovation successfully spread and the importance of communication and networks.[5] According to Rogers, a new idea is diffused through a decision-making process with five steps:[2]

  • Knowledge - An individual first becomes aware of the new innovation, but lacks information and inspiration
  • Persuasion - The individual's interest in the innovation spikes, and he or she begins research
  • Decision - The individual weighs the positive and negative results of changing to the new idea
  • Implementation - The individual adds the innovation into the system. At this stage, he or she also begins to determine the innovation's usefulness.
  • Confirmation - The individual decides to continue with the new innovation.

The key part of the five stages is the decision; this is the main reason why diffusion exists. The decision to either adopt or reject the idea is vitally important. Those responsible for evaluating innovations either determine that the new concept is likely to provide future success, and adopt it, or determine that it is likely to be a failure, and continue to move forward in search of other ideas. It is counterproductive for an organization to invest time, energy, and in most cases money, into a poorly developed or bad idea.

An important aspect of the diffusion and decision process is communication. As an idea further develops and spreads, it flows and moves through an organization by communication. Communication is a necessary condition for an idea to take hold.[6] The innovation depends on a communication network within the organization in order to take root. In Emanuel Rosen's book The Anatomy of Buzz, Rosen points out the importance of communication networks in the spread and development of an idea within an organizational system. (Dobson)

Studies of the diffusion of innovation have shown that new ideas must fit with already established system in order for changes not only to occur, but also to occur easily. (Pinard) An innovation faced with structural or ideological barriers cannot diffuse. On the other hand, if a new idea or innovation has few obstacles and acknowledges places where change is logical, movement to it will occur. (Freeman)

Networks and environment

A firm's interaction with other players, along with its environment and organizational culture, are key in the social theory of diffusion.

The use of networks

The effects of networks and institutional environment on adoption of innovations can be explained using a social network theory model. In such a model, nodes represent agents (e.g. companies or organizations) and ties represent a connection between two entities (e.g. a company-client relationship or competitive relationship). Diffusion occurs when a novel idea, product, or process is implemented by an agent and permeates through these ties to others.[7]

Internal and external diffusion

Diffusion of information and ideas has been categorized into two modes:

Internal diffusion is the spread of information and innovations within a network, flowing within a single adopting population – a given industry or geographical network. Internal diffusion dynamics require that innovative and early adopter firms introduce new ideas into a network, which are then picked up by the majority of firms and laggard firms.[8] DiMaggio and Powell (1983)[9] argue that firms search for the best ideas and practices and mimic new ideas that prove to work. This phenomenon is known as mimetic isomorphism,[9] and ironically may lead to clustering of firm structure and practices.[7] Additionally, firms are often forced to adopt new ideas as they are constantly competing with other firms; that is, firms want to seem modernized and seek legitimacy in implementing innovative practices.

External diffusion refers to the introduction of ideas to a network from outside actors: firms or other agents on the edge of the network. Outside actors include the mass media and "change agents." Mass media can amplify trends and movements that occur in the marketplace, introducing new innovations to network members, exposing "best-practice" ideas, and conveying new principles.[8] Change agents are usually business professionals (such as lawyers, consultants, bankers, or politicians) who spread new practices or aid in promoting new ideas.[7] These individuals often introduce business models, legal strategies, or investment techniques that are picked up by several entities within a network and continue to diffuse. Often, such external diffusion leads to conformity of a set of corporate strategies or structures, a phenomenon DiMaggio and Powell called "normative isomorphism".
Environmental and cultural factors of diffusion

An agent's environmental and cultural makeup influence the decision to adopt an idea diffusing through a network. Some of the major characteristics of firms that influence their decision to innovate are clustering, weak ties, and firm size.

Clustering', the existence of a group of tightly connected agents, is a frequent concept in network theory.[10] It includes, for example, similar firms locating themselves in close proximity to each other (Silicon Valley for technology firms; New York for banking services). Such clustering and close proximity increases the diffusion rate of ideas for firms within a cluster, as other firms are more likely to adopt an idea if another firm has adopted it within its cluster.[7]

An agent with weak ties has a connection to two or more clusters.[11] These agents are integral in connecting groups, as they provide communication between large clusters. Firms with weak ties can be isolated firms, firms with business in two or more spaces, or those which are external change agents. Firms with weak ties introduce clusters to new, proven methods.

Firm size has been shown to have an influence on the rate of diffusion. Strang and Soule (1998) have shown that large, technical, and specialized organizations with informal cultures tend to innovate much faster than other firms. Smaller and more rigid firms attempt to mimic these "early adopters" in attempt to keep up with competition.[7]

Mathematical treatment

Mathematical models can be used to study the spread of technological innovations among individuals connected to each other by a network of peer-to-peer influences, such as in a physical community or neighborhood.[12]

Complex system (particularly complex network) models can be used to represent a system of individuals as nodes in a network (or Graph (discrete mathematics)). The interactions that link these individuals are represented by the edges of the network and can be based on the probability or strength of social connections. In the dynamics of such models, each node is assigned a current state, indicating whether or not the individual has adopted the innovation, and model equations are used to describe the evolution of these states over time.[13]

In threshold models[14] the uptake of technologies is determined by the balance of two factors: the (perceived) usefulness (sometimes called utility) of the innovation to the individual as well as barriers to adoption, such as cost. The multiple parameters that influence decisions to adopt, both individual and socially motivated, can be represented by such mathematical models.

Computer models have been developed to investigate the balance between the social aspects of diffusion and perceived intrinsic benefit to the individuals.[15] When the effect of each individual node was analyzed along with its influence over the entire network, the expected level of adoption was seen to depend on the number of initial adopters and the structure and properties of the network. Two factors in particular emerged as important to successful spread of the innovation: The number of connections of nodes with their neighbors, and the presence of a high degree of common connections in the network (quantified by the clustering coefficient).

Case study: Diffusion of business computing in organizations

To illustrate how different diffusion mechanisms can have varying effects in individual cases, consider the example of business computing. The 1980s and 1990s saw a rapid paradigm shift in the way many organizations operated; specifically, the rise of computers and related technologies saw organizations adopt these innovations to help run their business (Attewell 1992:1[16]). Thus, the diffusion of business computing through organizations during this time period provides an informative case study through which to examine different mechanisms of diffusion and their respective roles.


The roles of communication networks, as described by traditional theories of diffusion, have been to facilitate information flow about a new innovation and thus remove one of the major barriers to adoption. In this model, those closest to the initial champions of a new innovation are quicker to respond and adopt, while those farther away will take more time to respond (Rogers 1983;[8] Strang and Soule 1998:272[17]). This theory about the roles of networks in diffusion, while widely applicable, requires modification in this particular case, among others. Attewell (1992)[16] argues that in this case, knowledge of the existence of computers and their business applications far preceded their eventual adoption. The main barrier to adoption was not awareness, but technical knowledge: knowledge of how to effectively integrate computing into the workplace. Thus, the most relevant networks to the diffusion of business computing were those networks that transmitted the technical knowledge required to utilize the innovation, not those that simply transmitted awareness of the idea behind the innovation.


New institutions, in particular those which acted as educators or consultants, also played an important role in the diffusion of business computing. In order to adapt to evolving trends in business computing, organizations first needed to gain the technical knowledge necessary to operate the technology (Attewell 1992:3-6).[16] The "knowledge barrier" could be reduced or partially circumvented, however, by the formation of new institutions. The new institutions that formed during this time period – such as service bureaus, consultants, and companies creating simplifications of the technology – lowered the knowledge barrier and allow for more rapid diffusion of the ideas and technology behind business computing. This explains the phenomenon in which, at first, many organizations obtained business computing as an out-sourced service. However, after these service institutions effectively lowered the barrier to adoption, many organizations became capable of bringing business computing in-house (Attewell 1992:7-8).[16]

Innovation decisions

Rogers (1983)[8] notes two important ways in which innovations are adopted by organizations: collective innovation decisions, and authority innovation decisions. "Collective innovation decisions" are best defined as a decision that occurs as the result of a broad consensus for change within an organization. "Authority innovation decisions", on the other hand, need only the consensus of a few individuals with large amounts of power within the organization. In the case of organizations adopting business computing, authority decisions were largely impossible. As J.D. Eveland and L. Tornatzky (1990)[18] explain, when dealing with advanced technical systems such as those involved with business computing, “decisions are often many (and reversed), and technologies are often too big and complex to be grasped by a single person's cognitive power – or usually, to be acquired or deployed within the discretionary authority of any single organizational participant." Therefore, a much broader consensus within an organization was required to reach the critical mass of technical knowledge and authority necessary to adapt to business computing. This provided an opportunity for collective innovation decisions within the organization.

Evolutionary Biology & Social Network Diffusion

Here are two articles today speaking to the 6 degrees of separation involving real time network orthogonal structures and affective matrices moving towards efficiency for optimal affective innovative diffusion. Its found everywhere in life. Especially in living macro systems.

Practically it shows how social networking might include innovative macro-societal thinking and affective restructuring of behavior in postmodern environments requiring deep positive change vs post-truth societies refusing learning or change in the face of new global realities. This latter movement seems to be excessively pendantic or, marooned in slavish attention to doctrinaire traditions, without willingness to expand or explore contemporary non-traditional systems requiring a new set of orthogonal societal fundamentals.

Here then is described how social innovative thinking can be a boon to societies stuck within their older, inherited, identities requiring updating, renovation and liberation.

R.E. Slater
October 21, 2017

Social network diagram. Credit: Daniel Tenerife/Wikipedia

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including neuronal and social networks, giving rise to the well-known phenomenon of "six degrees of separation".

Many systems show complex structures, of which a distinctive feature is small-world network organization. They arise in society as well as ecological and protein networks, the networks of the mammalian brain, and even human-built networks such as the Boston subway and the World Wide Web.

The researchers set out to examine whether this is a coincidence that such structures are so wide-spread or is there a common mechanism driving their emergence?

A study recently published in Scientific Reports by an international team of academics from the University of Leicester and KU Leuven showed that these remarkable structures are reached and maintained by the network diffusion, i.e. the traffic flow or information transfer occurring on the network.

The research presents a solution to the long-standing question of why the vast majority of networks around us (WWW, brain, roads, power grid infrastructure) might have a peculiar yet common structure: small-world topology.

The study showed that these structures emerge naturally in systems in which the information flow is accounted for in their evolution.

Nicholas Jarman, who recently completed his PhD degree at the Department of Mathematics, and is first author of the study, said: "Algorithms that lead to small-world networks have been known in scientific community for many decades. The Watts-Strogatz algorithm is a good example. The Watts-Strogatz algorithm, however, was never meant to address the problem of how small-world structure emerges through self-organisation. The algorithm just modifies a network that is already highly organised."

Professor Cees van Leeuwen, who led the research at KU Leuven said:

"The network diffusion steers network evolution towards emergence of complex network structures. The emergence is effectuated through adaptive rewiring: progressive adaptation of structure to use, creating short-cuts where network diffusion is intensive while annihilating underused connections. The product of diffusion and adaptive rewiring is universally a small-world structure. The overall diffusion rate controls the system's adaptation, biasing local or global connectivity patterns, the latter providing a preferential attachment regime to adaptive rewiring. The resulting small-world structures shift accordingly between decentralised (modular) and centralised ones. At their critical transition, network structure is hierarchical, balancing modularity and centrality - a characteristic feature found in, for instance, the human brain."

Dr Ivan Tyukin from the University of Leicester added: "The fact that diffusion over network graph plays crucial role in keeping the system at a somewhat homeostatic equilibrium is particularly interesting. Here we were able to show that it is the diffusion process, however small or big gives rise to small-world network configurations that remain in this peculiar state over long intervals of time. At least as long as we were able to monitor the network development and continuous evolution".

Alexander Gorban, Professor in Applied Mathematics, University of Leicester commented:

"Small-world networks, in which most nodes are not neighbours of one another, but most nodes can be reached from every other node by a small number of steps, were described in mathematics and discovered in nature and human society long ago, in the middle of the previous century. The question, how these networks are developing by nature and society remained not completely solved despite of many efforts applied during last twenty years. The work of N. Jarman with co-authors discovers a new and realistic mechanism of emergence of such networks. The answer to the old question became much clearer! I am glad that the University of Leicester is a part of this exciting research."

* * * * * * * * * *

Social network

Social networks and the analysis of them is an inherently interdisciplinary academic field which emerged from socialpsychologysociologystatistics, and graph theoryGeorg Simmel authored early structural theories in sociology emphasizing the dynamics of triads and "web of group affiliations".[2] Jacob Moreno is credited with developing the first sociograms in the 1930s to study interpersonal relationships. These approaches were mathematically formalized in the 1950s and theories and methods of social networks became pervasive in the social and behavioral sciences by the 1980s.[1][3] Social network analysis is now one of the major paradigms in contemporary sociology, and is also employed in a number of other social and formal sciences. Together with other complex networks, it forms part of the nascent field of network science.[4][5]


Evolution graph of a social network: Barabási model.
The social network is a theoretical construct useful in the social sciences to study relationships between individuals, groupsorganizations, or even entire societies (social units, see differentiation). The term is used to describe a social structure determined by such interactions. The ties through which any given social unit connects represent the convergence of the various social contacts of that unit. This theoretical approach is, necessarily, relational. An axiom of the social network approach to understanding social interaction is that social phenomena should be primarily conceived and investigated through the properties of relations between and within units, instead of the properties of these units themselves. Thus, one common criticism of social network theory is that individual agency is often ignored[6] although this may not be the case in practice (see agent-based modeling). Precisely because many different types of relations, singular or in combination, form these network configurations, network analytics are useful to a broad range of research enterprises. In social science, these fields of study include, but are not limited to anthropologybiologycommunication studieseconomicsgeographyinformation scienceorganizational studiessocial psychologysociology, and sociolinguistics.


In the late 1890s, both Émile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tönnies foreshadowed the idea of social networks in their theories and research of social groups. Tönnies argued that social groups can exist as personal and direct social ties that either link individuals who share values and belief (Gemeinschaft, German, commonly translated as "community") or impersonal, formal, and instrumental social links (Gesellschaft, German, commonly translated as "society").[7] Durkheim gave a non-individualistic explanation of social facts, arguing that social phenomena arise when interacting individuals constitute a reality that can no longer be accounted for in terms of the properties of individual actors.[8] Georg Simmel, writing at the turn of the twentieth century, pointed to the nature of networks and the effect of network size on interaction and examined the likelihood of interaction in loosely knit networks rather than groups.[9]
Moreno's sociogram of a 2nd grade class
Major developments in the field can be seen in the 1930s by several groups in psychology, anthropology, and mathematics working independently.[6][10][11] In psychology, in the 1930s, Jacob L. Moreno began systematic recording and analysis of social interaction in small groups, especially classrooms and work groups (see sociometry). In anthropology, the foundation for social network theory is the theoretical and ethnographic work of Bronislaw Malinowski,[12] Alfred Radcliffe-Brown,[13][14] and Claude Lévi-Strauss.[15] A group of social anthropologists associated with Max Gluckman and the Manchester School, including John A. Barnes,[16] J. Clyde Mitchell and Elizabeth Bott Spillius,[17][18] often are credited with performing some of the first fieldwork from which network analyses were performed, investigating community networks in southern Africa, India and the United Kingdom.[6] Concomitantly, British anthropologist S. F. Nadel codified a theory of social structure that was influential in later network analysis.[19] In sociology, the early (1930s) work of Talcott Parsons set the stage for taking a relational approach to understanding social structure.[20][21] Later, drawing upon Parsons' theory, the work of sociologist Peter Blau provides a strong impetus for analyzing the relational ties of social units with his work on social exchange theory.[22][23][24]
By the 1970s, a growing number of scholars worked to combine the different tracks and traditions. One group consisted of sociologist Harrison White and his students at the Harvard University Department of Social Relations. Also independently active in the Harvard Social Relations department at the time were Charles Tilly, who focused on networks in political and community sociology and social movements, and Stanley Milgram, who developed the "six degrees of separation" thesis.[25] Mark Granovetter[26] and Barry Wellman[27] are among the former students of White who elaborated and championed the analysis of social networks.[26][28][29][30]
Beginning in the late 1990s, social network analysis experienced work by sociologists, political scientists, and physicists such as Duncan J. WattsAlbert-László BarabásiPeter BearmanNicholas A. ChristakisJames H. Fowler, and others, developing and applying new models and methods to emerging data available about online social networks, as well as "digital traces" regarding face-to-face networks.

Levels of analysis

Self-organization of a network, based on Nagler, Levina, & Timme, (2011)[31]
In general, social networks are self-organizingemergent, and complex, such that a globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system.[32][33] These patterns become more apparent as network size increases. However, a global network analysis[34] of, for example, all interpersonal relationships in the world is not feasible and is likely to contain so much information as to be uninformative. Practical limitations of computing power, ethics and participant recruitment and payment also limit the scope of a social network analysis.[35][36] The nuances of a local system may be lost in a large network analysis, hence the quality of information may be more important than its scale for understanding network properties. Thus, social networks are analyzed at the scale relevant to the researcher's theoretical question. Although levels of analysis are not necessarily mutually exclusive, there are three general levels into which networks may fall: micro-levelmeso-level, and macro-level.

Micro level

At the micro-level, social network research typically begins with an individual, snowballing as social relationships are traced, or may begin with a small group of individuals in a particular social context.
Dyadic level: A dyad is a social relationship between two individuals. Network research on dyads may concentrate on structure of the relationship (e.g. multiplexity, strength), social equality, and tendencies toward reciprocity/mutuality.
Triadic level: Add one individual to a dyad, and you have a triad. Research at this level may concentrate on factors such as balance and transitivity, as well as social equality and tendencies toward reciprocity/mutuality.[35] In the balance theory of Fritz Heider the triad is the key to social dynamics. The discord in a rivalrous love triangle is an example of an unbalanced triad, likely to change to a balanced triad by a change in one of the relations. The dynamics of social friendships in society has been modeled by balancing triads. The study is carried forward with the theory of signed graphs.
Actor level: The smallest unit of analysis in a social network is an individual in their social setting, i.e., an "actor" or "ego". Egonetwork analysis focuses on network characteristics such as size, relationship strength, density, centralityprestige and roles such as isolates, liaisons, and bridges.[37] Such analyses, are most commonly used in the fields of psychology or social psychologyethnographic kinship analysis or other genealogical studies of relationships between individuals.
Subset levelSubset levels of network research problems begin at the micro-level, but may cross over into the meso-level of analysis. Subset level research may focus on distance and reachability, cliquescohesive subgroups, or other group actions or behavior.[38]

Meso level

In general, meso-level theories begin with a population size that falls between the micro- and macro-levels. However, meso-level may also refer to analyses that are specifically designed to reveal connections between micro- and macro-levels. Meso-level networks are low density and may exhibit causal processes distinct from interpersonal micro-level networks.[39]
Social network diagram, meso-level
Organizations: Formal organizations are social groups that distribute tasks for a collective goal.[40] Network research on organizations may focus on either intra-organizational or inter-organizational ties in terms of formal or informal relationships. Intra-organizational networks themselves often contain multiple levels of analysis, especially in larger organizations with multiple branches, franchises or semi-autonomous departments. In these cases, research is often conducted at a workgroup level and organization level, focusing on the interplay between the two structures.[40] Experiments with networked groups online have documented ways to optimize group-level coordination through diverse interventions, including the addition of autonomous agents to the groups.[41]
Randomly distributed networksExponential random graph models of social networks became state-of-the-art methods of social network analysis in the 1980s. This framework has the capacity to represent social-structural effects commonly observed in many human social networks, including general degree-based structural effects commonly observed in many human social networks as well as reciprocity and transitivity, and at the node-level, homophily and attribute-based activity and popularity effects, as derived from explicit hypotheses about dependencies among network ties. Parameters are given in terms of the prevalence of small subgraph configurations in the network and can be interpreted as describing the combinations of local social processes from which a given network emerges. These probability models for networks on a given set of actors allow generalization beyond the restrictive dyadic independence assumption of micro-networks, allowing models to be built from theoretical structural foundations of social behavior.[42]
Examples of a random network and a scale-free network. Each graph has 32 nodes and 32 links. Note the "hubs" (shaded) in the scale-free diagram (on the right).
Scale-free networks: A scale-free network is a network whose degree distribution follows a power law, at least asymptotically. In network theory a scale-free ideal network is a random network with a degree distribution that unravels the size distribution of social groups.[43] Specific characteristics of scale-free networks vary with the theories and analytical tools used to create them, however, in general, scale-free networks have some common characteristics. One notable characteristic in a scale-free network is the relative commonness of vertices with a degree that greatly exceeds the average. The highest-degree nodes are often called "hubs", and may serve specific purposes in their networks, although this depends greatly on the social context. Another general characteristic of scale-free networks is the clustering coefficientdistribution, which decreases as the node degree increases. This distribution also follows a power law.[44] The Barabási model of network evolution shown above is an example of a scale-free network.

Macro level

Rather than tracing interpersonal interactions, macro-level analyses generally trace the outcomes of interactions, such as economic or other resource transferinteractions over a large population.
Diagram: section of a large-scale social network
Large-scale networksLarge-scale network is a term somewhat synonymous with "macro-level" as used, primarily, in social and behavioral sciences, in economics. Originally, the term was used extensively in the computer sciences (see large-scale network mapping).
Complex networks: Most larger social networks display features of social complexity, which involves substantial non-trivial features of network topology, with patterns of complex connections between elements that are neither purely regular nor purely random (see, complexity sciencedynamical system and chaos theory), as do biological, and technological networks. Such complex network features include a heavy tail in the degree distribution, a high clustering coefficientassortativity or disassortativity among vertices, community structure (see stochastic block model), and hierarchical structure. In the case of agency-directed networks these features also include reciprocity, triad significance profile (TSP, see network motif), and other features. In contrast, many of the mathematical models of networks that have been studied in the past, such as lattices and random graphs, do not show these features.[45]

Theoretical links

Imported theories

Various theoretical frameworks have been imported for the use of social network analysis. The most prominent of these are Graph theoryBalance theorySocial comparison theory, and more recently, the Social identity approach.[46]

Indigenous theories

Few complete theories have been produced from social network analysis. Two that have are Structural Role Theory and Heterophily Theory.
The basis of Heterophily Theory was the finding in one study that more numerous weak ties can be important in seeking information and innovation, as cliques have a tendency to have more homogeneous opinions as well as share many common traits. This homophilic tendency was the reason for the members of the cliques to be attracted together in the first place. However, being similar, each member of the clique would also know more or less what the other members knew. To find new information or insights, members of the clique will have to look beyond the clique to its other friends and acquaintances. This is what Granovetter called "the strength of weak ties".[47]

Structural holes

In the context of networks, social capital exists where people have an advantage because of their location in a network. Contacts in a network provide information, opportunities and perspectives that can be beneficial to the central player in the network. Most social structures tend to be characterized by dense clusters of strong connections.[48] Information within these clusters tends to be rather homogeneous and redundant. Non-redundant information is most often obtained through contacts in different clusters.[49] When two separate clusters possess non-redundant information, there is said to be a structural hole between them.[49] Thus, a network that bridges structural holes will provide network benefits that are in some degree additive, rather than overlapping. An ideal network structure has a vine and cluster structure, providing access to many different clusters and structural holes.[49]
Networks rich in structural holes are a form of social capital in that they offer information benefits. The main player in a network that bridges structural holes is able to access information from diverse sources and clusters.[49] For example, in business networks, this is beneficial to an individual's career because he is more likely to hear of job openings and opportunities if his network spans a wide range of contacts in different industries/sectors. This concept is similar to Mark Granovetter's theory of weak ties, which rests on the basis that having a broad range of contacts is most effective for job attainment.

Research clusters


Communication Studies are often considered a part of both the social sciences and the humanities, drawing heavily on fields such as sociologypsychologyanthropologyinformation sciencebiologypolitical science, and economics as well as rhetoricliterary studies, and semiotics. Many communication concepts describe the transfer of information from one source to another, and can thus be conceived of in terms of a network.


In J.A. Barnes' day, a "community" referred to a specific geographic location and studies of community ties had to do with who talked, associated, traded, and attended church with whom. Today, however, there are extended "online" communities developed through telecommunications devices and social network services. Such devices and services require extensive and ongoing maintenance and analysis, often using network science methods. Community development studies, today, also make extensive use of such methods.

Complex networks

Complex networks require methods specific to modelling and interpreting social complexity and complex adaptive systems, including techniques of dynamic network analysis. Mechanisms such as Dual-phase evolution explain how temporal changes in connectivity contribute to the formation of structure in social networks.

Criminal networks

In criminology and urban sociology, much attention has been paid to the social networks among criminal actors. For example, Andrew Papachristos[50] has studied gang murders as a series of exchanges between gangs. Murders can be seen to diffuse outwards from a single source, because weaker gangs cannot afford to kill members of stronger gangs in retaliation, but must commit other violent acts to maintain their reputation for strength.

Diffusion of innovations

Diffusion of ideas and innovations studies focus on the spread and use of ideas from one actor to another or one culture and another. This line of research seeks to explain why some become "early adopters" of ideas and innovations, and links social network structure with facilitating or impeding the spread of an innovation.


In demography, the study of social networks has led to new sampling methods for estimating and reaching populations that are hard to enumerate (for example, homeless people or intravenous drug users.) For example, respondent driven sampling is a network-based sampling technique that relies on respondents to a survey recommending further respondents.

Economic sociology

The field of sociology focuses almost entirely on networks of outcomes of social interactions. More narrowly, economic sociology considers behavioral interactions of individuals and groups through social capital and social "markets". Sociologists, such as Mark Granovetter, have developed core principles about the interactions of social structure, information, ability to punish or reward, and trust that frequently recur in their analyses of political, economic and other institutions. Granovetter examines how social structures and social networks can affect economic outcomes like hiring, price, productivity and innovation and describes sociologists' contributions to analyzing the impact of social structure and networks on the economy.[51]

Health care

Analysis of social networks is increasingly incorporated into health care analytics, not only in epidemiological studies but also in models of patient communication and education, disease prevention, mental health diagnosis and treatment, and in the study of health care organizations and systems.[52]

Human ecology

Human ecology is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary study of the relationship between humans and  their naturalsocial, and built environments. The scientific philosophy of human ecology has a diffuse history with connections to geographysociologypsychologyanthropologyzoology, and natural ecology.[53][54]

Language and linguistics

Studies of language and linguistics, particularly evolutionary linguistics, focus on the development of linguistic forms and transfer of changes, sounds or words, from one language system to another through networks of social interaction. Social networks are also important in language shift, as groups of people add and/or abandon languages to their repertoire.

Literary networks

In the study of literary systems, network analysis has been applied by Anheier, Gerhards and Romo,[55] De Nooy,[56] and Senekal,[57] to study various aspects of how literature functions. The basic premise is that polysystem theory, which has been around since the writings of Even-Zohar, can be integrated with network theory and the relationships between different actors in the literary network, e.g. writers, critics, publishers, literary histories, etc., can be mapped using visualization from SNA.

Organizational studies

Research studies of formal or informal organization relationshipsorganizational communicationeconomicseconomic sociology, and other resource transfers. Social networks have also been used to examine how organizations interact with each other, characterizing the many informal connections that link executives together, as well as associations and connections between individual employees at different organizations.[58] Intra-organizational networks have been found to affect organizational commitment,[59] organizational identification,[37] interpersonal citizenship behaviour.[60]

Social capital

Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocitytrust, and cooperation, and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.
Social capital is a sociological concept about the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to achieve positive outcomes. The term refers to the value one can get from their social ties. For example, newly arrived immigrants can make use of their social ties to established migrants to acquire jobs they may otherwise have trouble getting (e.g., because of unfamiliarity with the local language). Studies show that a positive relationship exists between social capital and the intensity of social network use.[61][62]

Mobility benefits

In many organizations, members tend to focus their activities inside their own groups, which stifles creativity and restricts opportunities. A player whose network bridges structural holes has an advantage in detecting and developing rewarding opportunities.[48] Such a player can mobilize social capital by acting as a "broker" of information between two clusters that otherwise would not have been in contact, thus providing access to new ideas, opinions and opportunities. British philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, writes, "it is hardly possible to overrate the value ... of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves.... Such communication [is] one of the primary sources of progress."[63] Thus, a player with a network rich in structural holes can add value to an organization through new ideas and opportunities. This in turn, helps an individual's career development and advancement.
A social capital broker also reaps control benefits of being the facilitator of information flow between contacts. In the case of consulting firm Eden McCallum, the founders were able to advance their careers by bridging their connections with former big 3 consulting firm consultants and mid-size industry firms.[64] By bridging structural holes and mobilizing social capital, players can advance their careers by executing new opportunities between contacts.
There has been research that both substantiates and refutes the benefits of information brokerage. A study of high tech Chinese firms by Zhixing Xiao found that the control benefits of structural holes are "dissonant to the dominant firm-wide spirit of cooperation and the information benefits cannot materialize due to the communal sharing values" of such organizations.[65] However, this study only analyzed Chinese firms, which tend to have strong communal sharing values. Information and control benefits of structural holes are still valuable in firms that are not quite as inclusive and cooperative on the firm-wide level. In 2004, Ronald Burt studied 673 managers who ran the supply chain for one of America's largest electronics companies. He found that managers who often discussed issues with other groups were better paid, received more positive job evaluations and were more likely to be promoted.[48] Thus, bridging structural holes can be beneficial to an organization, and in turn, to an individual's career.

Social media

Computer networks combined with social networking software produces a new medium for social interaction. A relationship over a computerized social networking service can be characterized by context, direction, and strength. The content of a relation refers to the resource that is exchanged. In a computer mediated communication context, social pairs exchange different kinds of information, including sending a data file or a computer program as well as providing emotional support or arranging a meeting. With the rise of electronic commerce, information exchanged may also correspond to exchanges of money, goods or services in the "real" world.[66] Social network analysis methods have become essential to examining these types of computer mediated communication.
In addition, the sheer size and the volatile nature of social media has given rise to new network metrics. A key concern with networks extracted from social media is the lack of robustness of network metrics given missing data.[67]