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William Sims Bainbridge

William Sims Bainbridge earned his doctorate in sociology from Harvard University in 1975, writing a dissertation on the history of the space program conceptualized as a social movement, and joined the sociology department of the University of Washington.  His senior honors thesis at Boston University was based on observational research inside Scientology, and while doing his graduate work he conducted an intensive participant observation study of a polytheistic communal cult that was an offshoot of Scientology, the Process Church of the Final Judgement, which became his second book.  At Washington he collaborated with Rodney Stark, and the collaboration continued after 1982 when he returned to Harvard as an associate professor.  A decade later he joined the National Science Foundation to manage its sociology program, and represented the social sciences on a number of computational programs, notably the Digital Library Initiative.  Having published a good deal of educational computer software, and programming data management and analysis software for his own research, he transferred in 2000 to NSF’s computer science directorate.  After managing a variety of programs, such as artificial intelligence, and serving as deputy division director, he helped create the new program in human-centered computing.

Bainbridge believes that science progresses best when a variety of research methods are used to develop, refine, and test formal theories.  His own work has been roughly evenly divided across four methods: ethnography, history, questionnaires, and computer simulation.  Qualitative field research can be a source of many ideas that can later be transformed into formal hypotheses, but it becomes true ethnography when used to document a distinctive culture, such as that of a new religious movement.  Having done a good deal of historical research on science and technology, Bainbridge has often applied oral history interviews as well as document research in doing studies of religious movements, and is inspired by the way his great-grandfather, William Folwell Bainbridge, combined observation with history in studying American missions in Asia around 1880.  An example of his questionnaire research is a study that administered many items from the General Social Survey to members of  The Family (Children of God), on the basis of both ethnographic and historical research.  Since the early 1980s, he has employed computer simulation techniques, notably mult-agent systems combining neural networks with social networks, to improve the rigor of theories of religious cognition and conversion.  His most recent research has been multi-methodology investigation of online virtual worlds, focusing on gameworlds like Everquest, World of Warcraft, and Rift, which are to a significant degree role-playing simulations of fantasy religions.

His religion-related publications include:

2010 The Warcraft Civilization. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

2007 Across the Secular Abyss. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington.

2006 God from the Machine: Artificial Intelligence Models of Religious Cognition. Walnut Grove, California: AltaMira.

2002 The Endtime Family: Children of God. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

1997 The Sociology of Religious Movements. New York: Routledge.

1978 Satan’s Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult. Berkeley: University of California Press. Reprinted in Italian translation as Setta Satanica, with an introduction by Massimo Introvigne, 1994. Carnago (Varese), Italia: Sugar-Co Edizioni.

With Rodney Stark:

1996 Religion, Deviance and Social Control. New York: Routledge.

1987 A Theory of Religion. New York: Toronto/Lang.  “Outstanding Scholarship” Award, Pacific Sociological Association, 1993. Reprinted with new preface, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1996. Translated into Polish as Teoria Religi, Krakow: Nomos, 2000.

1985 The Future of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press. “Outstanding Book of the Year” Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1986. Reprinted in Chinese, 2006, China Renmin University Press.

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