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10 Questions with sociology professor, podcaster Dr. Daniel Morrison

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Dan-Morrison
Dr. Daniel Morrison

The Annex, one of the top social science podcasts in the nation, has a new host – Dr. Daniel Morrison, associate professor of sociology at Abilene Christian University.

Morrison began working with The Annex, hosted at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), during the 2020-21 academic year and joined the team as a host in March. Recently, the show ranked in the top 20 for both sociology podcasts and social science podcasts.

“Sociology is about anything two or more people do together, and so we cover a broad range of topics,” Morrison said. “Recent episodes have been on Christian Nationalism; xenophobia; cults/new religious movements; structural sexism; diversity, equity, and inclusion on college campuses; celebrity; entrepreneurship; nurse practitioners; policing and race; marketing (with the social media manager behind the Steak Umm account); populism in the 19th century; and loneliness, among many others.”

The show features emerging and established scholars, who discuss their work, why they do what they do, and the implications of their scholarship for the field and any practical applications.

“I’m really proud of the range of people we have, from the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and abroad to less well known places whose faculty are doing excellent work and making sociology relevant to the public,” he said.

In this Q&A, Morrison talks about the importance of sociology to a Christian, some of The Annex’s most interesting guests and why he likes working in higher education.

How did you become interested in sociology?

I remember being fascinated by people from an early age. One of my favorite things to do in high school was to “people watch” at the Battlefield Mall in Springfield, Missouri. As Yogi Berra is thought to have said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” And that’s what I did, trying to figure out why people did what they did, whether that was boys and girls flirting at the mall, couples sharing a milkshake, or parents trying to discipline their children. I started out as a secondary social studies education major in college, with the idea that I would return to my high school to help young people become active citizens. After changing majors a few times, I found sociology, which really spoke to my interests in trying to understand how social forces, like the economic and political organization of society, shape who we are as individuals and as members of families, workplaces, communities of faith, and in the civic sphere as well. For me, sociology is a powerful way to truly understand how the social world works, and how to make a difference personally and in relationship with others.

Why should sociology matter to a Christian?

So much of Christian life is about community. I grew up in the church, and my relationship with God is very important for my life. Sociology helps us think about how the relationships we have and the groups we are in also matter for our formation as Christians. Without solid Christian mentors and communal worship, it’s very difficult to sustain one’s faith! For me, sociology is key to living out the mission of Christ in the world. It comes back to what Jesus said is the greatest commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. But notice what he says next. The second is like unto it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Sociology gives us conceptual frameworks and research tools that help us discover where we have failed to love our neighbor with all our heart, soul and mind, and how to begin the process of repair and restoration. Sociology is about more than statistics, or merely knowing how many of our brothers and sisters are made poor in our society; it’s about discovering how we created a society that impoverishes so many, and the harms we all endure because of unjust social arrangements. Those Christians who are truly committed to justice, peace and human flourishing should be flocking to sociology classes. 

Would you describe the career path that led you to ACU?

That’s a long story! My first academic job was tenure-track in sociology at Pepperdine University. It is a wonderful place with many great students and colleagues. Southern California did not turn out to be right for our family, so we returned to Nashville in Fall 2015, where I took a postdoctoral fellowship in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt’s Medical Center. I also taught classes at Lipscomb and Belmont universities. From there, I transitioned to a role at Vanderbilt, teaching courses on the ethics of care and working for the dean of undergraduate education within their College of Arts and Science. When I learned ACU had an opening, I jumped at the chance to apply and was really fortunate to be hired.

During my interview, I was convinced that my department and the university more generally provided a welcoming, supportive environment for innovation and risk-taking. I was just developing a new line of research, so I needed a place that would allow me the space to try new things and experiment. I also felt a strong pull toward ACU when I discovered that this community is deeply committed to excellence in research, teaching and helping students develop in their spiritual lives. These things do happen at other places, but at ACU students and faculty are encouraged to make and discuss the connections between their classroom work, their research interests and their faith commitments. 

How did your role as a host of the The Annex podcast come about? Have you been involved in podcasting before?

I had been listening to The Annex for more than a year, and periodically I would message host Dr. Joseph Cohen to suggest someone who I thought would be good for the show. I recommended Dr. Dan Huebner from UNC-Greensboro, and Cohen suggested that I co-host. We had such a good time developing the questions and working with Huebner that Cohen invited me to set up some more interviews. We co-hosted an episode with Dr. Michele Jackson from Stanford, whose book Manifesto for a Dream had just been published by Stanford University Press. After that, Cohen let me run with it, and I’ve completed more than a dozen episodes. The Fall 2021 season features several of these interviews, with more to come. I was not involved in podcasting at all before this, but I love doing it because it’s a great way to share insights from sociology with colleagues and the public. 

Who has been your most interesting guest?  

Perhaps our most interesting recent guest was Nathan Allebach, the social media manager on the Steak Umm account. My co-hosts Dr. Cohen and Dr. Sarah Patterson (University of Michigan) learned so much about how Allebach developed the “voice” of the brand, about his background, and about what it’s like to take complex ideas and make them accessible and often very funny for a mass audience. I think faculty could learn a lot about relating to their audiences by listening to and taking in Allebach’s insights. I also really enjoyed interviewing Dr. Patricia Homan (Florida State University) on structural sexism. Homan has done really important work on the health effects of structural sexism in church contexts. Structural sexism refers to the ways that organizational policies and procedures prevent women from accessing positions of authority and influence. Applying this idea to Christian churches, Homan found that women who attend churches with prohibitions on their service in leadership report worse health than women who attend gender-inclusive churches, and women who are religiously unaffiliated. Basically, being a member of a church that prohibits women from using their gifts harms their health, net of many other factors. There is some evidence that men’s health is negatively impacted, too. If we are interested in making sure that everyone in our congregations is thriving physically, mentally, and spiritually, we should pay attention to this research.

Why is it important to handle sensitive or controversial topics on the podcast?

Sensitive topics are the best, because you can find out so much about a social group by what they consider to be unspeakable or taboo. All teachers and students should have the freedom to conduct research, teach and learn controversial and sensitive topics, because hiding them or ignoring them is harmful to our growth as a profession, as an academic community and as a social body. On the podcast, we discuss controversial issues within society as they relate to sociological teaching and research. For example, we just wrapped up production on an episode with scholars at the University of Idaho on recent legislation that sought to eliminate the teaching of “divisive concepts” in public schools. Obviously, these laws could have serious consequences for K-12 teachers whose curricula include topics such as racism and white supremacy. Public universities in the state have been subject to attacks by libertarian think tanks. 

What do you like best about being in the field of higher education?  

What we do here at ACU really matters for the lives of our students, but also for the health of families, our communities and our democracy. College students are fun to be around, always creating new things and sharing their ideas. It’s exciting to see students grow into their vocations and become active citizens. In addition to following my own research interests and contributing to my field as a scholar and leader, that’s what is great about doing this work.

What professional and personal accomplishments are you most proud of?  

Earning tenure here at ACU is probably my most significant professional accomplishment. I’d also say that I’ve published more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles across sociology, medicine and biomedical ethics, and edited a special issue of the journal Sociological Perspectives. I don’t like to dwell on past accomplishments, though. I have several research projects underway now, including collaborations with colleagues at Oklahoma State University, Vanderbilt and University of California San Diego, and Auburn and Western Illinois universities. I also have my solo research in the sociology of science, technology and medicine. Personally, I am privileged to be married to Jan and to parent our 8-year-old alongside her. I’ve also completed several half-marathons and the Ragnar Relay.

What are you currently reading? 

I read a lot for class! This semester I totally reworked two of my four classes. These days, I am really enjoying Poor People’s Movements, by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward. My students and I are reading it for our Inequality and Social Justice class. In the book, Piven and Cloward develop a theory that explains the success, and failure, of the unemployed workers’ movement, the industrial workers’ movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the welfare rights movement in the United States. The book was first published in 1977, but it remains relevant – just look at today’s Poor People’s Campaign organized in part by Bishop Barber II. I recently finished The Racial Contract by Charles W. Mills and Begin Again by Eddie S. Glaude. I recommend these to anyone who is trying to understand racism and white supremacy in the U.S. today.

What do you do when you are not working?

I work a lot, administering my program, teaching four classes and an honors colloquium, podcasting, and research/writing. I also sponsor a student organization and am chair of a committee for the Pacific Sociological Association, where I’m running for treasurer this spring. When not doing that, I read books and articles not directly related to my scholarship and teaching, listen to nerdy podcasts, parent our child, and I wash clothes and dishes! I also enjoy running and am currently on a 266-day run streak, running up to 4 miles each day. The pandemic has been good for my running practice. Thanks to ESPN+, I watch ACU volleyball and college basketball, too.

 
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