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ASA honors professor’s career

Dan Brombach | Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Throughout sociology professor Christian Smith’s career, he has written on the influence of morality on human life. This summer, the American Sociological Association (ASA) honored Smith for his influence as an academic on his own field.

The Altruism, Morality and Solidarity section of the ASA selected Smith as the recipient of its Distinguished Career Award in July. The honor, which is awarded annually, recognizes a scholar who has significantly contributed to the section’s areas of focus.

“Over the course of my career, the main thing covered in many of the books I’ve written has been the importance of morality in people’s actions,” Smith said. “I think the award acknowledges this emphasis of mine on morality in human lives.”

As he reflected on his career, Smith said he is most proud of his work analyzing and debunking conventional models of human personhood.

“In the different work I’ve done, I think a lot of my theorizing has challenged or critiqued mainstream sociological models of human beings,” Smith said. “I’m proud of challenging these assumptions and trying to provide alternatives I think are better.”

The award put his life’s work in perspective, Smith said, but it has not altered his concrete priorities as a researcher and professor.

“It helped create a kind of background awareness that all the research one does ultimately adds up into a larger project that can have some influence, but didn’t change anything day to day,” Smith said. “I’m still focused on finishing projects and not getting buried by piles of work.”

Receiving the Distinguished Career Award from the ASA was an unexpected and deeply gratifying experience, Smith said.

“I certainly wasn’t anticipating it,” Smith said. “There are awards out there that you think, ‘I could win that someday,’ but I wasn’t really thinking about this one, so it was a true honor.”

Smith said he was not able to attend the August ceremony in person, instead sending a Notre Dame graduate student to accept the award in his place.

“I was moving into town here, into a new house, and I just couldn’t travel,” Smith said. “I apologized profusely, but it was just impossible at the time.”

He is currently studying the religious and spiritual lives of young Americans, and he said he intends to launch a new project on parenting in the near future. However, Smith said he hopes his work on personhood will become his professional legacy.

“In a decade, the youth and religion stuff will likely be outdated,” Smith said. “Ideally, my theories of human personhood will still be influencing people after I’m dead.”

Moving forward, Smith said he hopes to shed some of his administrative responsibilities and spend more time teaching Notre Dame undergraduates.

“Teaching is one of the great joys of my life,” he said. “I wish I could do it more often.”