Project: International research project “The Global Recession in Christian Marriage:
What it Means for Families, Nations, and the Church”
Project duration: 2016 – 2017
Countries-participants: Poland, Nigeria, USA, India, Spain, Russian Federation, Lebanon
Russian part of the project is conducted by “Sociology of religion” laboratory at St.Tikhon’s University.
Project coordinator in Russia: Yana Kozmina
About the Project
Long-time Harvard sociologist Carle Zimmerman, writing in 1947, argued that the Church is living off the fumes of familism, the longstanding social norm of valuing family over individual. Zimmerman held that the consequences of this would be widely corrosive:
Civilization grows out of familism; as it grows it loses its original connection with the basic spring which furnished the essence of civilization. When this process has gone too far, the civilization soon exhausts its inventory of social ‘material.’ Then occurs a reaction or decay. The amount of reaction and decay and length of these ‘Dark Age’ periods seem to depend upon how quickly the culture finds its way back to the fundamental mother-source — familism.
Christians in the West are displaying increasing uncertainty about the institution of marriage—what it means, what its boundaries are, the practices that foster it, and the habits that characterize it. Marriage is in the throes of “deinstitutionalization” in the West. It is now an achieved consumer capstone for most, rather than the functional, interdependent foundation and anchor of the adult life course that it has long been. And Christians are increasingly adopting identical mentalities and practices. Even the president of the Population Association of America recently predicted that one in every three Americans now in their early 20s will never marry. Zimmerman’s fears may be being realized.
The World Family Map captures an overview of the marriage situation globally. Our project seeks to understand the constraints and advantages that people sense and experience at the personal level. We don’t want to speculate about the people behind the data without listening to their stories. We aim to go in-depth with observant Christians in nine different countries, securing interviews with approximately 30 people in each. (Higher numbers would be difficult to manage.) Their own experiences of the “marriage market” carry exceptional weight in their own understanding of, and hope for, marriage. Among the key research questions we have are these:
- Do Christians perceive their marriage prospects positively, or with discouragement?
- Are unmarried Christians actively pursuing marriage? If not, why not?
- How much “uncertainty” is there about the meaning of marriage and expectations about it, especially in light of sexual and gender orientation conflicts going in their country?
- Are there discernible “best practices” about routes to marriage in particular congregations?
Why us? Most social scientists writing on marriage and the family today are either agnostic about the recession in marriage or else active supporters of it. They most certainly do not collect data with the aim of identifying best practices around fostering marriage. Even most pro-marriage studies are focused on the individual or the couple — how to make marriage happen for you. There is little or no active interest in understanding how to make more marriages happen around us. (But that is a more pressing matter.) At bottom, we want to know how Christians in different countries are navigating the new challenges to marriage, especially since some of those challenges are mathematical — fewer Christians (and fewer men) in their congregations — while others are ideological (e.g., same-sex marriage, short-term relationship norms). We intend to emerge with a set of recommendations—and concrete steps to get there — for Christians (and their families and congregations) about how to make marriage flourish better (socially) among them.