Could LGP6 have existed in 1955; or is it for such a time as this?
Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction is a survey of social theory, including and addressing older and newer social theories. The book seeks to answer the question: “What is society?” Its topics bring into focus the realities of how globalization has affected societies around the world.
My impression is that a D Min studying Leadership and Global Perspectives is more relevant and pertinent now than ever before. My life-experiences in my home town as well as in Hong Kong and many other countries support the notion that we truly have become a global community, with significant cross-cultural influence for any society that engages with those outside their own social grouping.
“Globalization” is a key term in contemporary social theory. I have seen globalization in many ways. I stood one evening in the entryway of my church in Corvallis and could hear English, Spanish, and Korean being spoken by three different churches having meetings in our building. Last Sunday I preached in a Spanish-language church and may have been standing in the sanctuary of a corner church in Corvallis, OR, but during the two hour worship service I was not in the U.S.A. as I know it.
The world is increasing in globalization. Personally, I have been in 38 foreign countries and think nothing of getting onto an airplane and flying half way around the world. As a child/adolescent in the 1950’s and 1960’s this would have been unthinkable.
As the book addresses a number of different schools of thought that seek to analyze and critique culture, it becomes apparent that how we understand societies is changing. Structuralsim, feminism, and a number of other approaches to social theory affect society and are affected by society. The reality of complex society is quiet clear.
Contemporary Social Theory is both intriguing and irritating. Social theory, as a discipline, is fascinating, but by the time I reached chapter three, I thought that if I read the words “oppression” or “repression” one more time I would scream. That the Frankfurt School has philosophical ties to Marxism seems blatantly obvious. As a non-social-theorist my impression is that the social theories presented are too heavily weighted toward seeing society through the lense of issues related to authority and repression and controlling behaviors. This seems to be a rather monolithic world view.
However I found helpful aspects of this book.
Dr. Elliott writes, “The term ‘globalization’ has been social theory’s most famed recent reply to the complexities of people’s lives today. Again, social theorists have invented new terms to capture, and indeed define our new global times…’global transformations,’… ‘borderless world,’… and ‘glocalization.’” 
This quotation establishes the value of a course entitled “Leadership and Global Perspectives.” It is because of the societal phenomenon described by Dr. Elliott and the scholars he quotes that we see the necessity of our D. Min studies. If we are going to provide quality Christian leadership in our inter-connected world, studying these issues has great value.
As I look to my D Min project of developing ministry training for the global community that is on our doorstep in Corvallis, my current semester research focus is developing Cultural Intelligence. Developing Cultural Intelligence would be, in part, to gain a little working knowledge of social and linguistic cues in other cultures. For example, a friend helped me learn a couple of years ago (as she stopped me as I tried to extend my hand) that as an American male I should not shake hands with a middle-eastern woman.
Reading of the diversity of social systems and thinking toward Cultural Intelligence I am trying to determine the kinds of questions I can ask international students in order to relate leadership principles to them in culturally understandable ways. As I read Contemporary Social Theory, possible interview questions formed in my mind:
-How are individuals influenced by other people in your culture?
-How do leaders most effectively influence people and groups?
-What is similar living in the United States to your life at home? What is different?
(Yesterday I attended a weekly lunch for international students. I asked a graduate student from Nepal, “What is different…?” He replied, “Everything.”)
As I read I also began to wonder how much social structures affect my behaviors. It is risky, but I asked myself the question, “Why do I honor my marriage covenant?” If I am honest, the reality is there are at least four reasons.
1. I love my wife.
2. Fear of the Lord – in terms of respect, reverence, and belief that obedience to God is good.
3. The institution of marriage is still esteemed in our society, and I want to avoid the shame of breaking this social convention.
4. Realizing the damage caused to parishioners and Kingdom work by a pastor breaking the marriage covenant, I strive to honor my vocation.
# 1 and 2 are internal values and commitments.
# 3 and 4 are the influence of social structures
As life plays out, there may be days that # 1 and 2 keep me motivated. On other days, #3 and 4 may hold more power.
As I read this book, I also reflected on the movie/book “The Help.” In that story we see small white children cared for by African-American maids employed by wealthy white families. It is apparent that these small children deeply love the maids. I asked myself, “How can children be so loved and influenced by black maids/nannies when they are very young, and yet grow up to be so racist? What are the societal influencers that override the influence and quality of care they experienced as children?”
Contemporary Social Theory has been a helpful book because it caused me to ask personal questions, American society questions, and it showed the value and relevance of our D Min studies. Because life has become so globalized, Leadership and Global Perspectives is more needed and relevant today than any time in history.
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