This week was a very eventful one. On Monday we presented our congregation visits. It was truly fascinating to see the wide variety of differences, not only between the sectarian congregations and the denominational ones, but between the sectarian congregations and each other. The congregations held many positions on the spectrum between giant, loud services and very small congregations with no more than fifteen parishioners to their names. This highlighted an incredible diversity in the forms of religious worship.
On Wednesday we attended a symposium led by the teacher, which provided an interesting look at the religious lives of the catholic workers’ union and how their social activism tied into their methods of worship. This was a unique opportunity to learn more about an even more unique organization, and I greatly enjoyed the talk. The other two talks, while not as relevant to the class, were also interesting, and overall the symposium was an engaging event that I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to attend.
This next week the class is going to be discussing their religious interviews, and I can’t wait to see what people learned from the religious experts they chose to interview. I know that my interview, for one, gave me some fascinating insights into the life of the religious specialist and their worldview, and I greatly look forward to comparing what my interviewee said with what was learned by the rest of my classmates.
This week we learned about religion becoming more individualized, as well as it being a source of community. The former was an interesting, if rushed, look at how people are taking preconceived notions of religion and changing them to better suit their own needs and desires. Fascinating stories like those of the Gospel Hour and the Dragon Festival were incredibly unique real-world perspectives on how radically personalized religion can be, and the essays by McGuire, Woodhead, and Zimbauer were really interesting discussions of how and why these trends are being introduced. The discussion of religion being used as a source of community also raised some interesting new viewpoints. It was a valuable experience for me because I have recently been having doubts regarding religion’s place in this world, but the idea of religion fostering a sense of community growth and acceptance illuminates quite a bit for me. The article I was assigned, regarding the reproduction of an ethnically faithful space for immigrants to America, was particularly helpful in this regard, showing me just how valuable religion can be as a way of bringing people together when everything else in their environment is strange and foreign to them.
Going forward into this next week we will be discussing our second congregation visits. I am very excited to see how other people experienced this vastly different religious world. I know that when it comes to me personally, this was the first time I’d ever visited a sectarian congregation, and the contrast between it and the congregations I’m used to was very startling. I look forward to comparing notes with the rest of the class.
In this article, Garrett Epps of “The Atlantic” discusses the views held by Neal Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court; particularly those beliefs appertaining to religious freedom. Epps discusses Gorsuch’s views on the recent Hobby Lobby case, wherein the crafts store fought against the ACA’s amendment requiring employers to provide insurance for medically approved forms of birth control. The owners of Hobby Lobby resisted, claiming that their religious beliefs were being violated. Gorsuch, as it is revealed, agreed with Hobby Lobby, writing: “All of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others. For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability. The Greens [owners of Hobby Lobby Stores] are among those who seek guidance from their faith on these questions.” This, Epps argues, is a dangerous opinion to have, because it infringes on the same religious freedom rights of the employees being discriminated against. Epps also mentions the proposed First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect employers from any repercussion for discriminating against LGBT individuals, as their right to observe a religion which condemns such individuals is protected by the Act. Epps expresses concern that Gorsuch, if elected, will maintain such narrow and selective views of religious freedom during his time on the Supreme Court.
This week we discussed the theory of secularization and how it applies to the landscape of religion in Europe and Britain. There were many conflicting articles with many conflicting views on the topic, and overall it was very interesting to see so many different interpretations on the concept. The question of whether or not religion is disappearing proved to be a much more complicated question than I would have expected going into this class. Beforehand I never would have thought that there was a chance of religion dying out anywhere, but now I understand that there’s a very real possibility that it could vanish completely, at least from some areas of the world. And I must admit that while I was apprehensive of this “jigsaw” format of teaching at first, it has proven to be a much more interesting method of education than I would have thought. It’s proven engaging and meaningful, and an excellent way to introduce students to many different standpoints on an issue. I look forward to how this teaching method applies to the concept of individualized religion tomorrow, as it proves to be a very interesting topic to discuss. Already the article I’ve been assigned to, “Everyday Religion as Lived,” by McGuire, has raised interesting points about the nature of individualized religion, and I look forward to seeing what’s discussed by the other articles. This topic is especially interesting to me because it seems rather related to the case study I read, Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the articles connect.
The European Court of Justice ruled recently that employers in countries governed by the EU can ban employees for wearing visible symbols of religious affiliation, such as Muslim headscarves or Christian crosses. This decision was reached after two Muslim women, fired from jobs in Belgium and France for wearing headscarves, took their cases to court. The court ruled that it was up to the employers to decide whether or not they would ban visible symbols indicating religious or political beliefs.
The two cases concerned Samira Achbita and Asma Bougnaoui. The former was a receptionist for Belgian security services firm G4S. There was an “unwritten rule” in the workplace stating that employees could not wear visible religious symbols, but when Achbita informed the firm in 2016 that she intended to wear her headscarf, the ban was made official, leading to Achbita’s firing and subsequent court case. The latter, Asma Bougnaoui, was an engineer at Micropole, a French consulting, engineering, and training firm, but was fired when a customer complained about her headscarf. The firm asked her not to wear it, and when she refused, she was fired. The ECJ did decide that workplaces could not demand that customers not wear religious symbols based solely on customer wishes if there was no policy in place banning them.
The court ruling has sparked much controversy throughout the EU, with many claiming that it supports prejudice and discrimination.
This week we discussed religion and its impact on social change, in addition to preparing for our midterm. We took a very interesting in-depth look at African American religiosity and its role in the social world, which was a fascinating look at a culture that I, as a white man, am obviously very unfamiliar with. But it also proved to be one of the best examples I can think of for the influence religion has on society, and I greatly enjoyed getting to learn so much about it. Another fascinating aspect of this week’s class was the insight into how religion can influence its own community. The one we looked at was a fascinating example of how religion can protect a community’s unique cultural identity from the cultural bias around them; the community of the church viewed in the film reclaimed their congregation from a more white way of thinking about society, and made their service unique to their cultural identity.
Moving forward I look forward to discussing the excerpt of this next chapter, Religion in the Modern World, and the four narratives it proposed. This is clearly going to be a very complex and in-depth issue, and I cannot wait to explore it in more depth.
This last week of class was focused on religious congregations and the differences and similarities between them. On Monday we discussed our visits to various religious congregations throughout Redlands, and what we learned and observed during these visits. The number of different congregations that people visited and the similarities and differences between them were fascinating to see all at once. On Wednesday we saw the very last case study presentation on the Mosaic church. This was a really unique and interesting congregation and seeing such an in-depth look at it was a very new experience. Overall the last week was very interesting, and provided an excellent opportunity to experience new spiritual methods and practices and how so many disparate people take their own individual paths to enlightenment and religion. Going into this next week and the classes that come after Midterm, I cannot wait to more closely examine the various ways in which religious groups interact with each other and society at large. This has been a very interesting class, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
This week’s news article discusses the tragic vandalism of dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. According to the article police are in the process of reviewing security footage, and are not yet prepared to declare whether or not the act was a hate crime. However, on the same day as the vandalism occurred, 11 Jewish community centers were targeted with another wave of bomb threats; the fourth this year. The FBI is currently looking into the matter. The cemetery in question is the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which was founded in 1893 and has been serving the community for more than 125 years. According to the cemetery foundation’s website, “It operates in accordance with Jewish tradition as is telling from its name: Chesed – loving kindness; and Emeth – Torah Truth and integrity.” This is a very tragic occurrence, and highlights our recent discussion about religious conflict among different congregations and society at large. Assuming this act of defamation was indeed a hate crime, it is truly tragic what this indicates for the political situation in America.
This week we saw many interesting case studies, learning about such diverse topics as women in Orthodox Jewish congregations, protestantism in the new millennium, and the fascinating conundrum of a parish shared by two different groups of Catholic worshippers. As we move into the next week and look at the many denominational congregations right here in Redlands, I look forward to seeing if any of the themes and core concepts brought up in this presentations will apply. So much was discussed in these case studies that I am sure real-world application is inevitable, even if the particular circumstances and environments discussed in the studies is not replicated. Even if no real connections to the case studies can be made it will of course be fascinating nonetheless to see how diverse the worship services throughout our city are. I know I for one am looking forward to visiting a congregation tomorrow, as it will be the very first time I’ve attended a regular religious service somewhere other than the RUCC, the church of my childhood, and indeed the very first time I’ll have attended a church service since the last the time I was there roughly ten years ago. All in all this exposure to a new cultural viewpoint and a new view on spirituality and religiosity is going to be a stupendous learning experience, cutting to the core of what interested me in this class in the first place.
Students in the Religion Department of Baylor University, a private Baptist academy in Waco, Texas, launched a petition online, requesting the campus to commit itself to being a “sanctuary campus” and stand against the government’s efforts to deport and detain immigrants. The students state that the recent orders of the Trump administration are “incompatible with Baylor’s Christian commitments.” At the time of writing the petition has gathered roughly 1300 signatures. According to the school’s newsletter, administration is aware of the petition and is working to make Baylor a safe space for affected students. The petition has, however, met with resistance, most notably from the Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas, a student group, who is staunchly opposed to efforts to make the campus a sanctuary. They “do not condone the actions of those who attempt to circumvent the law simply because it does not fit their ideology,” as stated in social media communications. This conundrum is a prime example of the interests of a religious group contradicting the interests of an outside society, and the various ways in which people connected to the issue respond. The travel ban issue is a vastly significant one, and Baylor University is only one of many places across the country that is being impacted.