screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-7-51-14-amThis week in one of my classes, a student asked me what the word nuance meant. We were talking about how to conduct data analysis as part of research. I walked them through the process of coding qualitative data to find themes within open-ended survey response questions.

To do this, I told them them the story of writing the Negotiation chapter for the Voices for Equality book. Early in the process of trying to understand the data, my colleagues and I realized that we were coding the data too simply. We were looking for easy answers when we needed to be understanding the complexity of how Mormons understand gender. We assumed it would be a straightforward task and it wasn’t. Shortly before the deadline for the book chapter, we had to go back and re-code the data. It was frustrating, but it lead to new and better conclusions and a much deeper understanding of the topic.

I told my student that finding nuance was about resisting easy answers and seeking to understand the complexity of problems. Good research seeks for and finds nuance. We, as humans, crave easy answers. Uncertainty is psychologically uncomfortable for many of us. Our desire to resolve our uncertainty motivates us to find solid resolutions. Decades of psychology research supports that idea.

Right now, as I am thinking about nuance, I am thinking about how we seek to find easy answers to God and religion and how many sought easy answers in the slogan “Make America Great Again.” I am also aware of how all of us are pointing to groups of people and identifying them as the obvious source of our problems. I see plenty of evidence of this online and in my conversations with others. I feel this desire to blame other people and make them carry the whole weight of social issues, the full impact of racism and homophobia and xenophobia. But none of that seeks to understand the complexity of the problems before us. We must resist easy answers.

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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7 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    The Christian Science Monitor is putting together articles with unheard viewpoints (appropriate articles!) to help everyone have a better (more nuanced?) understanding of this election. This is in beta testing right now. I hope they will actually roll it out. It’s been pretty interesting so far. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Jenny says:

    Yes Nancy! I completely agree with this. This election has opened my eyes to the complexity of our current social and political condition. My natural response is usually to rally behind my people, live in my echo chamber so that I am comfortable with my views, and assume that I am on the right side. You are right that simple solutions like that that feel comfortable are not going to help us understand the complexity of it all. Great thoughts.

  3. Liz says:

    I totally agree with you, and yet going back to recode my data sounds tedious and long and even though I know it’s necessary… gah. I suppose this is what is demanded of us as Christians. And it is hard.

  4. Ziff says:

    Well said, Nancy. Great comparison. (And I say this as someone who loves to jump in and reduce data to something super-simple so I can bash big points with a sledgehammer. 🙂 )

  5. EFH says:

    Loved it. Thank you for putting this idea into words so eloquently. This reminds me of the posts I started seeing on FB after Trump was elected about not to worry what happens in the world but only focus on the love at home. I did write to these friends who love the gospel to make sure they took notes that the gospel was about “the neighbor” and not “MY family”. It is about relationships, about collectivism and community. Nuance does matter, indeed. Thank you.

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