By Lauren Herber, Staff Writer
Professor George Thomas is one of the most distinguished professors of sociology in the country. He has been teaching for over 34 years, with most of that time spent teaching at Arizona State University (ASU). He obtained his undergraduate degree in sociology from ASU and then went on to get his Master’s and PhD in sociology from Stanford, where he proceeded to do research for two years. Professor Thomas taught sociology at Stanford and UC Santa Clara before moving on to teach at ASU, where he and a few other colleagues created the Global Studies program that is now being taught at Thunderbird.
In the ‘80s, Professor Thomas wrote Revivalism and Cultural Change, and has since co-authored a few other books that focus on modernity (the word that was used before globalization) in sociology. Professor Thomas is most interested in how culture and individualism relate to modernity and how religion/religious groups engage with the authority of the nation-state. His curiosity in understanding religion and state authority led him to look at the relationships among states as well as international organizations to try to figure out what’s going on globally.
Before teaching at Thunderbird, Professor Thomas said that while he did not know much detail about the school, he did know that it was a world-class institution. “When it came to the idea of partnering with Thunderbird,” he stated, “I was really quite excited. I thought this would be a great partnership.” Having played such an integral role in developing the Global Studies program, it made sense for him to come to Thunderbird and teach the course. His main experience with Thunderbird thus far has been in the classroom. “It’s a real bright spot for me,” he said. “I really enjoy being with the students. It’s difficult to build a continuous rapport only teaching once a week. But the students…I’m really impressed with what they bring to the classroom. I’m looking forward to hearing more…that’s been the really positive thing in my experience.”
Outside of teaching, Professor Thomas likes to spend time outdoors: he likes to landscape and do yard work while his wife gardens. Additionally, like any T-bird, he loves to travel. He spends quite a bit of time in California, where he likes to visit family and go to the beach. When I asked him to pick his favorite place out of all the destinations he has traveled to, he had to stop and think for a moment. “At the end of the day, it’s hard to beat Paris. I know it’s a bit cliché,” he conceded. He also highly recommends Istanbul.
When asked about the most influential author he has come across in his life thus far, Professor Thomas said that he finds himself re-reading French sociologist and lay theologian Jacques Elull time and again. He’s best known for his work The Technological Society, but Professor Thomas recommends that students take a look at The Presence of the Kingdom, in which Elull analyzes rationalistic culture and the place of the church in modern society. His advice for Thunderbird students both during their time in school and after they graduate? “Set your own goals. And they can be long-term, they can be intermediate, but really own your own goals.” Professor Thomas cautions students, however, not to be too selfish in setting their goals. “Think about developing your goals within a community, within friendships,” he recommends. “Those goals should be involving others; but at the end of the day, they have to be your goals, not anyone else’s goals.”
For any further questions, Professor Thomas can be reached at George.Thomas@asu.edu.