This week, going to the Wellness Symposium: Spirituality, Social Justice and Disability was a very interesting experience. Going into the conference, I was glad that we had read the assigned articles because I felt that I already knew the background and was familiar with the study on Catholic Workers in Los Angeles. It was very interesting to see how it was presented and the other aspects that Jim drew from his research.
Although the three presenters that we saw all worked in somewhat different fields, there was still a sense of overlap between all of them. Between the presentation on mental health awareness and the creation of the Vibe festival, Jim’s work on social justice and the Catholic Workers, and the last presentation on social justice and aspects that contribute to it, they all played very well into one another, despite what I initially thought. What I took away from the panel we attended at the conference was that there must be active thought that goes into actions or activities in the pursuit of social justice. It is not the size of the actions, but the dedication on the part of those who are giving.
If one were to take elements from all three presentations; the thought and effort that was put into such an event like Vibe that acknowledges issues of mental health awareness, the selflessness and dedication of the Los Angeles Catholic Workers, and the four elements of social justice and spiritual freedom from the third presentation, then they can form a cohesive whole.
With one of the articles that we read this week, Religion and Spirituality, by Zimbauer, the individuality and variety of different religious and spiritual interpretations were explored. Zimbauer presented his study in such a way that focused on statistics found by his team’s research. The study found what is more understood today–the vagueness of similarities and differences between spirituality and religiousness. In an attempt to understand what distinguishes spirituality and religiousness, the study found that it is a nearly impossible task. Due to the varying personal experiences and interpretations of spirituality and religiousness, it is hard to categorize individual experiences.
After visiting a sectarian congregations for our second congregation visit, the differences between religious interpretations between different groups–even if they are part of the same major religion. I was struck by how different the sermons were. The sermon from the progressive christian group was uplifting, and focused much of its attention to themes of social justice and the lives, history, and meaning we can take from many influential African Americans in honor of Black History Month. Through the entire service, only one reading was done read from the bible, simply being a parable to interpret in different ways. The service that I attended this last Wednesday was very different. From the start of the service, I cam to an understanding that this congregation and its pastor truly believed in an inerrant bible. Different interpretations of the same bible and teachings found within the text just further prove the complexity and problematic aspects of attempting to categorize a highly individualized experience.
Under the current political climate, certain legal actions have been taken that could potentially take away protections and rights from members of the LGBTQ community, causing a wave rightfully felt fear among many. There have been pushes by conservative Republicans and members of the religious right to enforce ideals of religious freedom and expression within public institutions. An article posted to a regional ABC News site writes that Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed State Bill 17 into law on March 16th. The bill was designed to protect the freedom of religious expression in public schools. While the protection of essential American freedoms are all well and good, this particular bill was written in such a way that causes concern for the affect of these religious expressions on other students. It would allow students to present religious or political beliefs through their clothing, homework, artwork, public messages. The article references other sources, stating that “Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said the bill would allow student groups to discriminate against LGBT students ‘under the guise of religion.'”(WTVQ News Desk). While inherent American rights should be protected, in prioritizing religious freedom, how can the rights–and lives–of LGBTQ members be equally protected? Freedom of religious expression should not outweigh inherent human rights that ought to protect individuals from hate and discrimination. Religious expression should not be neither an excuse nor a platform to preach hatred.
Gov. Bevin signs SB 17, protecting religious expression in public schools
Distinctions between what constitutes religion and what constitutes spirituality are topics that have become increasingly relevant and discussed in the field of sociology of religion. In a case study headed by Brian J. Zimbauer, et al. “several questions regarding the ways in which individuals characterized themselves and their beliefs with regard to religiousness and spirituality were investigated.”(Zimbauer, Religiousness and Spirituality: Unfuzzying the Fuzzy, pg. 551-552). Through different methods of study, Zimbauer gathered data on how individuals identified: spiritual but not religious, religious but not spiritual, neither spiritual or religious, or spiritual and religious. From these data, the social scientists of the study came to two significant conclusions. The first conclusion went with the idea that religiousness and spirituality are different concepts–a belief held by many who look to constructs that make religion a religion. However, the second conclusion presented the idea that although religiousness and spirituality appear to make of very different concepts, “they are not fully independent.”(Zimbauer, Religiousness and Spirituality: Unfuzzying the Fuzzy, pg. 561). For a case study published in 1997, it seems that the same issues of distinguishing the two concepts of religiousness and spirituality remain today. The problem with attempting to understand the complexities and differences–or similarities–between the two concepts remains that both are such subjective experiences. As I have undoubtedly stated before, I find it hard to make such distinctions between the two concepts in an empirical manner when they may be individualized and carried out in countless different ways. Perhaps differences between the two concepts will never be finalized or agreed upon; but the ability to understand individual experiences rather than define and categorize them are just as well.
This week the European Court of Justice made a decision that would allow workplaces to prohibit employees from wearing religious and political symbols. A ban as such would affect many people of different religions, but would disproportionately affect Muslim women. The two cases that led the case to the European Court of Justice were both concerning Muslim women being fired solely because of the presence of their headscarves, and the companies negative connotation with headscarves. Although the ruling does not explicitly target the headscarves of Muslim women, it is framed in such a way that makes them more exploited by the ban. However, Muslim women will not be the only ones affected. Jennifer Rankin and Philip Oltermann, co-writers of the article quote Maryam H’madoun of the Open Society Justice Initiative stating that “[the ban] will lead to Muslim women being discriminated in the workplace, but also Jewish men who wear kippas, Sikh men who wear turbans, people who wear crosses”. Having the EU make decisions like this that hinder religious freedom projects a sense of instability and a cause to worry. With the political climate in the U.S. and the increasing presence of “alt right” politics in various nations of the world, it is hard for one to not be frightened by what may come of these actions if they are not stopped or brought to all of the attention of the broader public.
Individual religion has been a recurring theme over the course of the semester. How religion is interpreted subjectively from an individual perspective brings forward many different themes from McGuire, including the distinctions between official and nonofficial religions. The idea of religions having to prove themselves to be “official” or religious individuals having to justify their means of belief based on characteristics of their own religion, seems an odd way to put someone’s belief in a box and labeling it how they see fit. In chapter 8, McGuire and Spickard touch on religious individualization and how it correlates to religion in the modern world. The idea of a shift in the characteristics of religion in a modern society from practices of the past present what may be interpreted as a cycle. They state, “There is not, in this view, a general shift from religious authority to religious individualism; there is, instead, a historically specific growth of religious authoritarianism and institutional control that has been reversed in recent decades.” (McGuire, Spickard, pg. 294). It seems that many devoted religious individuals today speak to a decline of religion within the United States, but it appears that many people have chosen to devote their time to religion in different ways than are typically expected, or even in ways which are not acknowledged as “official” in the eyes of some traditional religious practitioners. If, according to McGuire, a religion should be understood as according to its experiences, rituals, beliefs, and communities, then typically “unconventional” religions or belief systems should be interpreted with the same aspects in mind, especially given the shift in religious norms and the so called blurring of lines between religiosity and spirituality.
To compare religion as an institution like that of an economic system seemed odd to me at first, but in reading chapter 7 of McGuire, especially in regards to Marxist theories, I came to understand it from a new perspective I had not thought about. In explaining aspects of social change, or lack thereof in religious settings, McGuire expands on the idea of Marxist interpretations of religion and how it naturally halts change by “support[ing] the status quo”(pg. 237). McGuire writes, “Another concept explaining the change-inhibiting aspects of religion is the idea of alienation, which is central to the Marxian definition of religion.”(pg. 239). Thinking in Marxist terms, the idea–or if one is to truly believe–the illusion of religion is merely a tool to keep society functioning smoothly. Marxist theory follows that like the way capitalism profits off of the products of labor while alienating a laborer from their finished work, religion takes the most sacred of beliefs and ideals and separates them from an individual while placing them on an unknowable deity. Thinking in these terms really does make religion appear as an institution, which in itself seems to contradict itself. Although I have not thought of myself as being particularly religious, this class has made me rethink what I previously thought of myself. If individuals are supposed to surrender themselves to a belief system and devote and sacrifice their divine beliefs–whatever they may be–for the sake of following what Marx has presented as an illusion and just another social system, how has it persisted throughout history while undergoing relatively few drastic changes in beliefs despite the evolution and creation of new religions.
It seems that every day of the new Drumpf presidency bring a new concern. With all of the policies that he has attempted to put in place and the seemingly un-American actions he has taken against a land that was founded on immigrants and the taking of an entire people’s land, one has to wonder if those who voted for him have had any regrets. Some conservative Republicans and members of the Religious Right seem to regret their voting decisions and wish to recant what they so powerfully expressed before the inauguration now that they have seen the consequences of a Drumpf presidency. In an article written by John Stoehr for U.S. News and World Report on February 21st, Stoehr shines light on the hypocrisy of the Religious Right and their inflated moral superiority. He writes that the “Republican view of politics vis-a-vis religion grew dramatically myopic, so much so that in 2016 the same Christian conservatives who agonized over Clinton’s besmirching of the presidency chose to unite behind a lying, thieving, philandering sadist in order to achieve a long-coveted and long-denied goal: outlawing abortion.” (Stoehr, A Come-to-Jesus Moment for Liberals, 2/21/17). Liberals and leftists must learn from the failings of the Religious Right: we need to influence our politics by the simplistic morality of Jesus’s teachings, those of tolerance, freedom, and equality for all.
In listening to the case study presentations given this past week has been a great way to learn about and explore different perspectives on many topics in religion. One presentation that was really memorable to me was on Nancy Tatom Ammerman’s Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life. After hearing what the group presented on the book, and learning the objectives of the case study, I became interested in reading the book after the fact, just to learn more about the different religious perspectives, and the presence of spirituality in different peoples’ lives. I related to the idea of subconsciously practicing means of spirituality throughout one’s day. Forcing myself to think of all of the things that I routinely do that may be perceived as spiritual made me realize just how much I do. Such a revelation has me somewhat baffled, because I have never really thought of myself as being religious even though I acknowledge my own spirituality. I correlate my overlooking of spiritual practices to the way in which I was raised, which seemed to normalize the spiritual, like a daily meditation or grounding oneself to nature. Because of this, I had a moment of confusion when I went to do my congregation visit and as part of the service, we were asked to silently pray for a couple of minutes; I realized I did not know how to pray. This confused me in the moment, because I could not distinguish praying from my own meditations and mantras and chants that went along with it. This revelation gave me a new perspective, and made me realize that perhaps what I deem my own spirituality has more in common with other religions, in that there is a certain way and order in which I go about my spiritual rituals throughout the day.
In an article written for Religious News Service on Monday February 13th, Erin McFarlan Miller, points to the heavily religious symbolism present in many of the performances held at the 59th annual Grammys, especially looking at the performance made by Beyonce. In a political climate that is strife with arguments from opposing sides of religious freedom and discrimination in regards to Trump’s failed “un-official” Muslim ban, many highly recognized people are speaking out along with the rest of the angered public. Beyonce’s performance utilized what can be interpreted as borrowing from many different religions and displaying different religious and cultural interpretations of divine beings. McFarlan Miller quotes professor Elizabeth McAlister, stating “…the singer was ‘performing brilliantly the image of the powerful divine mother, and that image can be found in the Virgin Mary, the Afro-Creole goddesses and the Hindu goddesses.'”(McFarlan Miller). In doing this, one can interpret Beyonce’s intentions of bringing to light figures from different religions, focusing on a divine motherhood, and especially drawing on her own Creole roots. McFarlan Miller continues to quote McAlister, stating, “The professor described it as ‘a performance of religious Creolization in action, in movement,’ describing the way colonized peoples have continued to practice indigenous religions ‘under the cover of Catholicism’ by blending the traditions.”(McFarlan Miller). The embrace of one’s culture and religious symbolism seems like a way to combat and resist the rising religious and political tensions of America.