I sincerely enjoyed reading my Case Study: “Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium”. Alyssa, Samantha and Noel were great partners and I felt we really got to the heart of what Mr. Miller was trying to convey. The “new paradigm churches” shows how they are reinventing the way Christianity is experienced in the United States today. Certainly, a trend is starting to form within Protestantism; and it will only get more diverse going forward. Our author primarily focused on church attendance, not unlike the way Chaves conducted his surveys on if religiosity was declining in recent years—our presentation showed that to be the case. People are leaving the traditional church structure in favor of the new paradigm churches.
Then, the class got to see the Catholicism side of transformation in “The Spirit’s Tether: Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics”. The author examined two very distinct parishes, one conservative, and one more progressive, to see the dynamics and attendance of each parish. Everything from the way each parish viewed Mary, mother of Jesus to the length of masses was found in extensive research that the group presented. Learning about what constitutes an official religion and what doesn’t is probably my favorite aspect of this class so far. The difference between a “official religion” versus a non-official one comes down to where folks are, how they act and how they dress. The religious elites dismiss such contemporary practices because they no longer have the power to enforce. Is this a good thing? Well, that’s up to the individual to decide.
As we know, religious practice and affiliation has greatly declined but more importantly, religious practice and belief have changed in the U.S.. These trends can be observed and identified in the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.
For example, one trend that was identified is that belief in god has wavered: according to a Gallup survey, in 1966, 98% of Americans said they believed in God, and when Pew Research surveyed Americans in 2014, the number had dropped to 89%.
Another trend is that overall Christianity has declined and new groups have emerged. In 1948, Gallup found that about 91% of Americans identified as Christian, and in 2014, that number fell to 70.6%. Nearly one in three Americans under 35 today are religiously unaffiliated, as a whole, these “nones” make up the second largest religious group in the U.S., after evangelical Protestants.
In addition, although religious practice has declined, spirituality appears to be stronger than ever. The term “spiritual but not religious” has emerged in recent years to describe how more and more Americans identify. Even among the “nones” and there are those who say religion is important; spiritual sentiment is strong and growing. According to Pew Research, between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of atheists who said they felt a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis rose a full 17 points from 37 to 54%.
Lastly, there has been a slow, but steady rise in non-Christian faiths in the U.S.. Pew Research predicts that by 2050, Muslims will surpass Jews as the second largest organized religious group after Christians and that Hindus will rise from 0.7% to 1.2% of the U.S. population in 2050.
In class this week, we discussed several forms of organized religion, one of these ways being “charismatic” organization. As we know, in the United States, there has been a decline in the number of people who attend organized religions services over the past few years. Speaking from personal experience, I would have to say that this phenomenon could be attributed to the lack of entertainment that church provides for younger generations, and sometimes even older ones.
Growing up, I remember going to church and my parents always walking up to the pastor and thanking him for his beautiful sermon. Eventually that pastor left our church (for reasons unknown) and we got a new one, who my parents weren’t so fond of, he was older, slower and not as entertaining; he had no charisma. My family, along with many others, actually stopped going to mass because he was that boring. When presented with the idea of a charismatic polity on class, I realized that, for my family, church isn’t about the story that is being told, but rather, HOW it is being told and the emotions that the speaker evokes from their audience.
It is interesting to see this pattern repeated over and over again throughout the US. In Lakewood Church, Texas, Lakewood Church, one of the flagships of the megachurch phenomenon in America, more than 40,000 member each week attend service, and yet when asked what denomination it belongs to, the typical answer would be “none”. There is a uniquely American quality to the new post-religion spirituality that is emerging in the US. The Big Round Church that is replacing America’s Little White Churches incorporates Christian themes into a consumer-oriented experience and the authority of religious denominations is being replaced by the magnetism of a charismatic pastor.
Throughout chapter 1, McGuire discusses how sociologists may define religion and explores the challenges in doing so. A part of the chapter that really stuck out to me was the “Official Religion” paragraph on page 14. This reminded me of what I stated in my religious autobiography and provided me with a potential reason for my thoughts. I had stated that I “now consider myself spiritual rather than religious for fear of judgment…”. I have throughout my life felt like “not a proper Christian” for various reasons and would rather not even claim to be one anymore.
I grew up in a very conservative state and it’s a bit of an unspoken rule that Christianity (especially Protestant) gives the basis for human experience and understanding in the small community. On page 14, McGuire describes the changes in definition which further separated acts which were considered “religious” versus “nonreligious” and created rigid boundaries between the two. She states that these definitions created by the Christian churches are culturally accepted in the United States. I suspect that this may be even more true in small, tight-knit communities which are conservative and view religion and belief as highly important aspects of life.
Although I have not changed too much from when I was a child going to the Methodist church every week, I have fallen victim to the “accepted definition” of what it means to be a religious person. I feel that because I no longer attend church services and because I am interested in religion as a topic and study multiple religious texts, I would no longer be considered “religious” in the cultural definition of the word. I feel that gaining a higher education may have added to this feeling of uncertainty regarding my own experience and rather it would be considered “religious” or not. I have gained a wider understanding of the world and now recognize how much gray area there really is. Placing a definition on anything can be quite difficult, and once you understand that, the world becomes much more abstract.
As we discussed in class this week, religion comes in various shapes and sizes, so to speak. Perhaps the most popular answer to the question of why there are so many religions is that we are each seeking our own path to God or enlightenment, and our paths vary because we vary. Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism are all examples of religions, but , as mentioned in class, religious systems come in a wide range of forms. For example, to a certain extent, sports could be considered a religion. People often say that some of the things these religious ideas have in common that makes them a religion is that they involve rituals, sacred spaces and commitment to a particular idea. When we think about sports, there are some elements of them that are similar to our ideas about religion.
In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, their constituents regularly visit their respective church/synagogue/mosque to think about and practice their religion. In football, it can be said that a stadium or a home ground is the equivalent. It is a place where people go to participate in their group activity and to cement the ideas of that group within their lives and their ideals. Going along with that, a common feature of religion is that they are usually exclusive: a person is a member of one religion not many. Similarly, people often support one particular sports team, not many, and they remain committed to them whether they do well or not.
It is safe to say, that a reason as to why some fans are highly committed to their favorite sports stars and teams is because it gives focus and meaning to their daily lives, just as any other religion would.
Reading this article, “How Islam Took Root in One of South America’s Most Violent Cities”, reminded me of all the ways in which religion can bring people together and also empower them in some ways. The people of Buenaventura, Columbia live in a city in which there is much violence, crime, and poverty. In the 1960s Islam was first brought to this community by Esteban Mustafa Melendez, and African-American sailor who taught about the Nation of Islam. To the people of this city, “The Nation of Islam offered an alternative identity and it was a way to fight back against the situation of structural racial discrimination in the port.” 90 percent of the population was Afro-Columbian and to them the message of black power and self-esteem united them in a time that was fraught with racism and violence.
The people who joined the small Muslim community learned to read Arabic, read the Qu’ran, and looked to Saudi Arabia for guidance on Sunni and Shia interpretations. The community that started off small quickly took off in the 1979 following the Islamic Revolution. A community center that doubled as a mosque was built as well as a school that integrates Spanish and Arabic songs praising Allah. portraits of Malcolm X and the Ayatollah Khamenei are hung on the walls and the people greet each other with ““Salaam alekum” and then switching back to Spanish.
This is an amazing example to me of how religion can take root in a community and bring people together as well as provide a means for self-empowerment and a haven from the violence that surrounds their daily lives. This community is also an example of how religious organizations can interact with their social environments and embed itself into the culture of a people. In McGuire Chapter 6, she talks about social cohesion in society and how religion is the expression of social forces and social ideals. The people in this community wanted to change the rhetoric of how they view themselves and strove towards ideals that were accomplished partially through the adoption of Islam.
How Islam Took Root in Buenaventura (Link)
After the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday, many anti-Muslim people have been attacking one of the organizers of the march, Linda Sarsour, and accusing her of being a terrorist since she is Muslim and wears a hijab. An article from The Huffington Post by Christopher Mathias explains how one of the main leaders of Saturday’s march is being accused for supporting terrorism and are falsely connecting her to terrorist groups. The only comment that Sarsour has ever made about terrorist groups is when she posted a tweet about how ISIS should be defeated. Some are accusing that post to be fake and just a cover to her “true identity”. Many supporters are now using and spreading the hashtag: “#IMARCHWITHLINDA” to show their solidarity with her and that they support her. Additionally, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted yesterday and thanked Sarsour for her efforts with the march.
The article about Linda Sarsour does not include anything about her own religious community, but it is assumed that her own community is in full support of her actions. People of other communities, however, are not. This brings up the issue of stereotypes attached to certain religious faiths, and how some people make assumptions about people’s intentions just because of their religion.
To most folks, life is a mysterious adventure. There is no true certainty as to what will happen to any individual within the next hour, the next week, or in the next decade– let alone after death. This uncertainty is universally scary. In order to find meaning and purpose in the midst of such uncertainty, people often turn to religion. Whether that is organized religion, or a personal worldview and set of rituals, religion is used as a way to find meaning in life. This search for meaning runs deep in human history and serves a plethora of purposes. Meaning provides a reason to persevere through life’s challenges, it explains inevitable crisis like death and suffering, and functions as a way to connect to a community. Whether an atheist or a devout Catholic, it seems that few individuals go through life without any sense of personal meaning. However, this meaning does not have to be legitimized, or told through a specific, organized story. These stories are present in organized religion, and function as a platform for communities of people to believe in a united meaning. One of the benefits of organized religion is that it is less frightening to put your faith into something when a community is also devoting themselves to the same cause. The tradition in organized religion runs deep. However, organized religion has lost prominence in recent years as many modern social standards began to contradict that of ancient sacred texts. Although organized religion has seen a demise, personal, spiritual religious practices are more present than before, and the search for meaning is streamlined through the daily lives of spiritual people across the globe.