In class we learned about the importance and role ethnography plays in the field of sociology. The Greek word “Ethno” means “people” and “Graphy” means “writing,” so together it means “writings” about “people.” Ethnography allows sociologists to both investigate the lives of people, but also to report in writing those lives to others. There are two institutional sources, the first being “Colonial Ethnography,” where sociologists wrote about rulership and observed the “cultural savage,” meaning they followed natives and observed their lifestyles to be able to write about them. The second is the Chicago School of Sociology, the first major body of research emerging during the 1920s and 1930s specializing in urban sociology. There are 6 stages of ethnography: Investigating “primitive peoples,” cultural relativism, modernization theory, interpretive ethnography, colonial complicity, and focus on representation. These 6 different categories focus on different sociological aspects, making sociology and its study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society broad so that all things can be observed, written about, and talked about.
The last case study I read, “The Religious Varieties of Ethnic Presence” by Carolyn Chen, is about how the religious landscape changes for the same ethnic group when they follow different religions. Chen talks about two Taiwanese congregations: a Buddhist Temple and a Christian Evangelical Church. The assumption is that despite the fact that these are the same ethnic groups, their social experience would be different because off their religion; Christian churches would have a greater interaction with those outside their ethnic, immigrant religious group because they’re “inner-worldly” and are more assimilated into American society, whereas Buddhist Temples would find the cold shoulder. However, what was found in a study is that the Buddhist temple was actually more engaged with American society than the Christian church, despite being “other-worldly” and a religious minority. Why this all boils down to how it is, is because religious ideals determine a congregation’s public presence. The Christian church emphasizes evangelism and the spreading of the word, however this method was limiting to outreach for members due to the fact that the Taiwanese Christian church was faced with the challenge of social and language barriers. These limitations only allowed members of the church to engage with others who they could talk to and interact with, most being people of the same ethnic group. The Buddhist temple on the other hand, emphasizes more of good deeds, world outreach, and religious tolerance. These ideals enabled the members of the Buddhist temple to be more involved with the outside world because they focused on charity which allows outreach everywhere and results in more exposure for the members. Furthermore, because the Buddhist temple emphasizes religious tolerance, the members have had more religious interactions and thus, more ethnic interaction. It was really interesting to read this article because it shows how even though one may pertain from the same ethnic group, one’s experience within religion can be completely different than another’s simply due to the religious ideals one follows.
The term “Fluffy Bunny” is used as a derogatory term within the contemporary Pagan religion to refer to practitioners whose adherence to the faith is perceived as being superficial and dominated by consumerist values. As the lines between authentic pagan adherence and commercialism blur, it is hard to identify who genuinely appreciates the religion and who falls under the category of the fluffy bunny. This may not seem very troubling, but what Woodward’s article, “Fluffy Bunny Syndrome,” says is the contrary. Modern media representations of the craft is a complete misrepresentation of it; it fosters surface meanings by trivializing and fetishizing the craft into entertainment which devalues the actual spiritual practice. Many of the representations of the Pagan religion are wrong and overly induced in the magical aspect of it, but this turns people to believe falsities. Craft tools sold as commodities— wands, for example, popularized by the Harry Potter series— promotes a “dabbling” in the craft and not a serious engagement with its principles and philosophies. These practices and tools need to be conducted in an appropriate context and with right intent, but the commodification and consumerism imbued in these religious symbols eliminates the deeper meanings of craft symbolism. However, there are Pagans who say turning their practice into commodity may attract people to the craft, so it is seen as a way to advertise the religion. Pagans themselves who are serious in their practice can also fall for secretly liking the fluffy bunny stuff, like television shows that may not accurately represent the religion, but that still bring representation of such a group in the media.
This week’s case study, “Is Religion the Problem?”, is about religious violence and the debate about it here in America. In it, the author Mark Juergensmeyer puts religion in two different lenses: religion as the problem— it causes religious violence, and religion as the victim— violent instances are done under the name of religion. Juergensmeyer says religion is not a problem, rather religion in public life is; religion in politics is. Found in all religions is “sacred warfare,” examples being battles in the Old Testament, epics of Hinduism and Buddhism, and so on. This notion of “sacred warfare” is misconstrued when taken out of context— especially when it is applied to the political. Religion can personalize conflict and provide personal reward for doing things in the name of religion. It provides an organizational network, is a vehicle of social mobilization, and can act as a justification for violence when applied to an outside context. However, religion can also be used for something positive in that it can offer images of a peaceful resolution and can offer justification for tolerating differences.
In his book, American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Mark Chaves describes America’s changing religious landscape, one aspect of this being diversity within religion. Chaves explains how immigrants moving from their home country have diversified the religious congregations here in the United States. The rise of ethnic churches has become something crucial to the integration of immigrants in the U.S., as even Meredith McGuire— author of Religion: The Social Context— acknowledges in chapter 8 of her book, that congregation-level religious groups have provided an important site for integration of immigrants. Several recent studies of immigrant churches have “documented the importance of religious communities in giving new immigrants both a connection with their former countries and a toehold in the new” (Religion: The Social Context, 291). This was illustrated to me at my congregation visit where I attended a service at the Indonesian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Within this traditional, Protestant Christian denomination, an outsider could visibly see the community fostered within the church walls. I had never been in a religious setting that was not solely Hispanic or a combination of different ethnicities, but I had stepped into a church made up of a homogenous group different from my own brownness. The congregation was full of South East Asians and the only signs of diversity were myself, another student, and a white man all attending the service. Now, I do not know and cannot say if many, if at all, of these members are immigrants, but I had never really been in an ethnic church other than my own. In my own church experiences, I hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that I was among those like me, I simply was; I was comfortable in a space. Much like my experience, the members at the Indonesian SDA church appeared to be just as comfortable having found a community with people of a similar culture. Having this support allows one to feel welcomed and accepted— something new immigrants seek out in a new and uncomfortable space. A church for immigrants to go to helps them establish new and meaningful relationships while undergoing the process of integration in a new location; it is important to have such spaces to feel welcomed and seen, and as more ethnic churches arise we continue to take more progressive steps.
Today we wrapped up our congregation presentations and were asked the follow up question of: what did you learn about congregational life in Redlands?
Many of us discussed how Redlands is primarily Christian based off of the congregations we visited that were listed. We found out that this is because Redlands used to be a “Southern” town that used to be very conservative. But as time passes and the demographics of the area change, we can also see just how much the churches within this new space are changing as well. The churches here have become less conservative but remain just as white unless you visit a church in the outskirts of Redlands or in a different town surrounding Redlands. Furthermore, we heard across the room that members of the churches here in Redlands are well of age or are in the ages where they’re settling and have families. From the church I visited as well as other churches in the area I have gone to before, it seems as though there is very little youth in many of the congregations which is quite interesting and I think speaks upon the kind of population that lives here. We also discussed how many of the churches are a congregational structure which generated a conversation about how America’s free market economy enables one to make and establish a church which provides people with different spaces for them to fall into. Having diversity of churches means there is something for everyone which fosters a community within that space, thus creating a congregation.
Our most current class assignment has been to visit a local congregation— one that either falls under the sectarian or denominational category— to observe and experience the different religion and church structure of the congregation we chose. For my congregation visit I went to the Loma Linda Indonesian Seventh-Day Adventist Church and it was a really great experience. Overall I noticed that it was formal attire, traditional structure in that men held all the high church positions but their beliefs as well were very traditional. They tended to have more conservative views on matters like abortion and homosexuality which was why it was interesting to hear Ellis’ (another student in the class) experience at a different congregation in which the views were less traditional and conservative. Their presentation was for Christian Science and I thought it was such a great and informative presentation that actually inspired me to go visit this congregation as well. The Christian Science church was smaller and more intimate. Everyone knew each other which fostered a communal feel which made it seemingly easier to engage in conversation about what they were going over in their sermon, but also about the relevant social matters that are happening right now. Christian Science members are traditional in that they have common Christian beliefs, but the main thing is that they believe God heals through prayer so they abstain from medical attention unless needed (but this is also a personal choice). What was surprising to me was that in Ellis’ presentation, there was a bullet point about Christian Science views on queer issues. They were not against it like the church I visited, and it was awesome to hear about the differences and similarities of these two churches, but also of all the other churches people have presented on.
Today in class we had our final case study presentation and to me this was the most profound. Peggy Levitt’s, “God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape” is a book that tells of the experiences of immigrants and their religious faith here in the United States. As a daughter of an immigrant, I loved hearing about the stories, experiences, and different meanings of religion for these different people. Levitt interviewed many people that identified with certain religions. She interviewed Protestants from Brazil, Catholics from Ireland, Muslims from Pakistan, and so on. Each of the people even within the same religion and geographical location all had differing levels of religiosity and practice. There is no “right way” to practice religion, it is what you make of it. One does not have to be a devout Muslim in order to be classified as “Muslim” and I think this book shows that: religion and borders are malleable and can be transcended from its literal and physical halt. Even from countries away, one can feel as close or as far as they want from their home and they can be as devout or as loose with their religion as they want to be. We have the option to decide what identity lenses we take on. This book really emphasizes the idea that religion has no borders and can and does evolve for immigrants trying to integrate into American culture as well as vice versa.
Today in class we were given a presentation on Konieczny’s book, “The Spirit’s Tether: Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics. ” The presentation focused on two Catholic churches that were discussed in the book: Our Lady of Assumption and Saint Brigitta. These two churches contrasted, one being more traditional and family oriented, the other more modern and community oriented. Though both Catholic, each church had different views and different interpretations of the Bible resulting in very different church environments. Being that Our Lady of Assumption is more traditional, they had more traditional views like the traditional family unit and pro-life, they also had more mandatory hours of confession, and the church architecture was more traditional with its saints and stained glass windows. On the other hand, Saint Brigitta is less traditional in that there are less hours of confession, they are pro-life and pro-choice, and their mass is held in a gym setting where they are more focused on creating a community. I found this presentation to be very interesting as it made me realize that even Catholicism can and is changing. I thought of Catholicism as the Catholicism I encountered in Mexico, the Catholic Church like Our Lady of Assumption. Our Lady of Brigitta is simply another example of the shifting paradigms that are occurring in the US in order to survive the religious decline. Denominations aren’t so black and white; they vary even within the same denomination and I think that comes to show how churches are adapting to different times and values that different generations carry.
Chapter 4 of Chaves’ book was about religious involvement. Data collected has shown that there has been a decline in America’s religious involvement over recent decades. Weekly attendance at worship services has declined as well as the percentage of new generations of Americans who have been raised in a religiously active family. The changes in American family household and structures has caused religious involvement to decline, showing that religion has become less important in contemporary America. Chaves emphasizes church attendance, saying that people report they go to church more often than they actually do, but although church is an important factor in religiosity, I do not think it is the end all be all in regards to explaining just how “religious” one is.
I say this because when looking at my mom, church attendance is not nearly as important for her as simply staying connected to God is. I think that claiming poor church attendance is a reflection of declining religiosity is faulty because people still are involved in church and religion without having always to physically be there. My mom for example, does not always make it out to church but when this happens, she makes sure to watch a church service that is broadcasted on television. She may not physically be in a seat at church— which is how data has been collected for church attendance— but she still makes it a point to stay involved. I just found it interesting that there is a great emphasis on the correlation between church attendance and religious intention, but one can still be religiously or spiritually involved without having to go to church on a regular basis.