This week we learned about ethnography, which is used to learn about different cultures and religions. Part of being a good ethnographer is being able to identify and put aside your own biases in order to conduct a study from the point of view of the study subjects. I definitely had to use this skill in order to conduct studies during my congregation visits. It is very easy to judge a culture that you are not a part of. When I went to the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation, I found myself wanting to be judgmental of their worldview. When they showed signs of enforcing gender roles, I have to admit I was upset. I consider myself an avid feminist and liberal. However, I knew that I had to put my thoughts aside in order to conduct an accurate study. Therefore, I tried to think from their point of view. The gender roles may have made me uncomfortable, but it made them feel secure. I think it is a useful skill to use even if you are not conducting a sociology study. When we feel uncomfortable or upset about certain customs or traditions, we need to realize that humans are different all across the world. We do not all fit into the same mold. It is important that we try to see the world from a point of view different than our own. Just because something/someone is different, it does not mean it is better/worse. I will definitely use ethnography skills in the future.
This week I visited the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If I am going to be honest, I was very unsure of what the experience was going to be like. I decided to visit the Kingdom Hall because I have family members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wanted to experience something they consider so important. I was greeted by many friendly people at the church. They all wanted to get to know me and were very interested in my presence. I am guessing this is because they do not get newcomers very often. I thought that they would be offended that I was using their service for a project, however, they were thrilled that I was taking the time to learn about their religion. One of the women even let me share her phone to look at the Bible verses. The actual service was unlike anything I had ever been to. It was extremely structured and planned out. In addition, there was a lot of audience involvement. It almost felt like a lecture at a university. It was very interesting to see the kind of responses people gave to questions asked by the congregation leaders. I am used to being asked if I agree/disagree with something in classes. However, in this setting, there was no room for opinions, it was expected that you agreed. Overall, I really appreciated the welcoming treatment that I received at the Kingdom Hall. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have fundamentally different beliefs than I do, I can still say that it was a very rewarding and interesting experience.
This week I read the article about “fluffy bunny syndrome”. The article talked about how active members of pagan religions often get annoyed with people who commoditize the religion and do not take it as seriously as other pagans. They do this by selling trinkets and influencing popular culture in a way that misrepresents the religion. For example, fluffy bunnies might sell “love potions” or air a TV show about witches. Some of the pagans were accepting of the “fluffy bunnies” because it introduced others to the religion and helped spread awareness of pagan practices.
After reading this article, I wondered if other religions have issues with “fluffy bunnies”. I have seen Christian knick knacks all over the place in various shops and online. I wonder if some Christians have issues with people making money off of religious symbols. I also remember visiting Spanish missions as a child and I recall that there were gift shops that sold expensive rosaries and ornate Bibles. Are these expensive symbols seen as a sign of deep devotion or as a scam? I can see pagan religions having more issues with commoditization because the religion is less accepted and known about by society. It is easier to skew the public’s perception of what paganism is if it is not widely practiced. When people see Christian products in a store, it is not likely that they will change their perception of the religion because they are already exposed to it. I think that if one is going to sell a product with religious influences, they should make sure they accurately represent the beliefs of those who practice the religion.
This week I was in the group that analyzed the article “An Unsecular America” by Roger Finke. In the article, Finke argues that America does not fit into the model of secularization, and that religion is not declining because of modernization. This varies with the conditions of religion in Europe. European religious involvement is declining rapidly. Finke claims that one of the reasons American religion is not declining like European religion is because “…European countries have traditionally had a close tie between Church and State, and continue to regulate religion, the USA has attempted to separate Church and State and minimize regulation” (Finke 247). The US does have legal restrictions preventing the merging of church and state, however, I do not think that these regulations are always taken seriously. Government legislation has increasingly been influenced by religious values. For example, anti-abortion arguments are often driven by Christian ideals. In addition, anti-LGBTQ+ proposed legislation is often made using religion as reasoning. Candidates for government office appeal to voters by saying that they have “Christian ideals”. People still swear on the Bible in court. I do not think that personal religious beliefs should dictate law. The founding fathers made sure to include the separation of church and state in the constitution to prevent one religion from dominating politics. When we value Christian beliefs and practices in politics over other religions, we are undermining the diversity of beliefs in America. I think that Finke was right about the US attempting to separate Church and State, however, I think that we need to make sure that the boundaries between the two are not blurred.
Last week I had surgery to fix a chronic knee injury (it went great). My mother posted something on Facebook about the surgery, and I had a relative comment “praying for a speedy recovery”. I then thought about how religion is often strengthened when someone is experiencing an injury or illness. People use religion to pray for recoveries or as a way to maintain structure during the difficult time. In addition, people use prayer and other rituals to show support for the afflicted. I have seen many examples of people sending “thoughts and prayers” when their loved one is ill. Health problems can also cause people to become religious when they were not previously. There are many stories of people who were not religious until they were tremendously impacted by a health issue. They might attribute their recovery to prayer, God’s grace, or a sign of God’s plan. People who are religious process injuries and illnesses with a different meaning system than someone who is not religious. For example, I went into the surgery knowing it was going to go well because I believed in my doctor’s abilities. In contrast, someone who is religious might feel relaxed before a surgery because they have faith God will protect them or that God gave their surgeon the ability to help them. People find strength in difficult times though different means (it does not mean one is better than the other). Even though I am not religious, I really appreciated my relative’s comment. It shows that she placed me into a sacred part of her religious life.
It is amazing how much of an influence devout faith can have on the social dynamics within a community. It was very interesting to get such a personal view of these social dynamics in the video about the Fundamentalist Baptist Congregation. It was fascinating to see what members of the congregation valued in their lives. It seemed that the majority of the adult members of the congregation valued family, children, marriage, and faith above all else. They were extremely passionate about spreading the teachings of Christ and maintaining a stable home. However, these passions caused some of the members of the congregation to display toxic behaviors. The men in the film were so driven to maintain a Godly home that they tended to undermine the opinions and feelings of the women in the film. For example, the pastor tried to reconnect a broken and abusive marriage against the wishes of the woman. He told her that her current love interest would leave her and that she was not fit to parent her own children. In addition, members of the congregation tended to be overbearing towards those who did not share their beliefs. They claimed that evolution was bogus and that public schools were reprehensible. Even though there was a display of toxic behaviors in the film, it was nice to see how connected the community was. They were all very supportive of one another (for the most part) and they genuinely cared about the well being of their friends and family. In conclusion, I learned that fundamental religion has a huge impact on the social dynamics of a community.
It was very interesting hearing about the experiences people had at their congregation visits. It seems like we all had similarities in our visits, however, each congregation had something unique to offer. What really stood out to me was the effect music could have on worship. It seems like almost every church had some sort of musical aspect incorporated into the service. This showed me that music can be for more than just entertainment value: it can help people connect to their faiths.
Music can be the deciding factor for people to choose what congregation they attend. For example, in the Marti case study, people decided to stay in the congregation because the music was so unique and interactive. In addition, people also left the church because it “was not traditional enough”. It is interesting to see the way worship music has evolved. Churches are now incorporating music genres like rock and pop into their services. Some people find the “concert atmosphere” to be too intense and they say that it can take away from the worship aspect of church. However, others really enjoy finding new ways to worship. They really enjoy breaking tradition and listening to music that is fun to sing along to. Many churches still use traditional hymns in their services. Even though hymns are traditional and relatively unchanging, they can still have tremendous meaning to people. The LDS church that I attended still uses traditional hymns. I could tell that the choir singers, violinist, and pianist put a lot of effort into their performance of the hymns. I really admired their dedication to using performance as a means of worship. In conclusion, whether it is hymns or rock music, I am glad to see that despite all of our differences, music can still unite us.
I was very interested to hear about the various roles of women in the case studies that were presented this week. It amazed me how different religious experiences can be for women. There was a wide range of experiences, some women had complete freedom while others were completely confined. The women who converted to Orthodox Judaism were under very strict regulations. They were told to repress their sexual urges and were encouraged to have domestic life be their sole purpose. In addition, they were almost completely controlled by patriarchal influences. In contrast, women who joined the cult were escaping domestic life to find a greater purpose. They were told to experiment sexually and were given full freedom to express themselves. They were still under the influence of a patriarchal figure, however, he urged them to live life under their own conditions. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Church I studied (Mosaic Church) is also making efforts to include women. They are currently making a special retreat just for girls. It is refreshing to see a Christian church making an effort to overcome traditional gender roles. As a feminist, it is important to me that women get to choose their religious paths. Even though the Jewish women’s experiences were disturbing to me, I had to remind myself that they made a conscious choice to live that way. I think that there are still many boundaries for women to cross in the religious realm. Women need to be free from coercion and abuse, and it would be empowering if they could have more leadership roles. These case studies proved to me that there is social progress being made because women are starting to have more power to choose their religious lifestyles.
This week I was interested in the section of Chapter 4 in McGuire’s book that discussed the “Paranormal and Occult” (McGuire 120). The section made me think about how “belief in paranormal occurrences is fairly widespread” (McGuire 120). Most of the people I interact with believe in some sort of paranormal aspect of life. From what I have observed, belief in the paranormal/occult can be as simple as the belief in ghosts or as complex as a completely altered worldview that revolves around mystical occurrences. I have noticed that the paranormal and occult is particularly prevalent and appreciated in popular culture for entertainment value. There are countless movies and television shows that are about ghosts and other paranormal experiences. In addition, astrology and horoscopes are present all over the internet and social media. These types of paranormal beliefs are seen more than those that are from other cultures. It seems unfair that certain types of paranormal/occult experiences are appreciated in Western society but non-western “beliefs and practices are [seen as] characteristic only of the poorly educated or of recent immigrants from other cultures” (McGuire 121). It is unreasonable to value some beliefs over others, especially when they are of considerable importance to an individual. In addition, many people do not realize that official religions have aspects that are paranormal/occult. For instance, in the Christian faith, it is widely believed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Why is it reasonable for one to believe Christ rose from the dead, but it is unreasonable for someone to believe that they still have connections to those that have past? We cannot make a double standard that only accepts certain cultures’ and official religions’ beliefs as “worthy”. Even if we do not agree with someone else’s beliefs, we have a duty to respect them as we would want our beliefs to be respected.
I was very interested to see the various statistical mappings of religious involvement in the United States. What stood out me is that religious “nones” are becoming a larger percentage of religious diversity in America. “After 1990 more people thought that saying you were religious was tantamount to saying you were conservative Republican” (Chaves 17). Many people are abandoning organized religion because they refuse to be associated with the controversial conservative political party. I tested this notion on the Pew Forum website to determine whether or not Chaves was correct in his statement. The data on the Pew Forum revealed that the religious “nones” overwhelmingly supported the liberal political agenda. I have met many people who have abandoned their past religions because they would rather stick with their liberalism. I have to admit that I am one of these people. In addition to avoiding the Republican party, I think that young people are becoming more wary of religion because science is becoming more advanced. People previously used religion and faith to explain things they did not understand. Modern science has provided explanations for things that were once considered supernatural. Some people are faithful enough to look past some of these scientific explanations. There can be major contention when there is a pressure to choose religion v. science or religious conservatism v. liberalism. This contention can cause people to avoid conflict altogether by becoming a religious “none” (even if they still have spirituality). It is unfortunate that there does not seem to be much progress in having these different mindsets coexist. I am interested to see if the trend of religious “nones” will increase in the future.