Reading about the different religious narratives helped me to tie together a lot that we have learned in the course so far. I realized why it was somewhat difficult for me to summarize what I have learned- because the same data can be interpreted in so many different ways. The narratives of secularization, conservative resurgence, religions as local communities, increased individualism, religious markets, and globalization all have some validity to me and that is difficult for me to wrap my head around. All of these narratives invite support and critique, and there is no way that one can ever be proved the “correct” narrative.
This week in my theory class we read Michel Foucault and his thoughts on discourse seemed relevant to the debates between the different religious narratives. Discourse shapes and defines our reality and ideas. There is nothing pre-existing being discovered though discourse, but it is created through power and knowledge. When reading about the different religious narratives, I thought about how no one discovers some pre-existing truth and there are only interpretations of data. This also made me think of social construction and how scholars construct the reality of religious trends, and because they are constructions none can be classified as “true”.
In chapter 8 of McGuire’s book, she explains the different theories which sociologists have proposed to answer the question of how religion has changed in the United States and how it may change in the future. The first of these theories is secularization, which suggests that we no longer live in a society dominated by religion. Reasons which have been given for this shift include differentiation, societalization, and privatization. Institutional differentiation and societalization essentially suggest that we live in a a corporate society which is made up of many large-scale institutions and corporations. Government institutions such as welfare offices have now replaced small church organizations; people look to religion less and less to solve their problems. Privatization suggests that religion plays much less of a role in an individual’s social life. Instead, it is seen as a private aspect of life, and many are against religion playing a role in public policy and government. I wondered why McGuire proposed this reasoning for why Americans may now be less religious, considering she admits that this explanation doesn’t necessarily suggest that people are against religion or are less religious. Instead, it simply suggests that they may not make it as central to certain aspects of their lives, and they view it as a separate and private role. Privatization strikes me as being one of the central concepts in Ammerman’s “Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes” book that my group and I conducted our presentation on. While she seemed to suggest that the American people have become more private in their religious life, and are less willing to accept every part of one religion, she does not suggest that Americans are less religious. Instead, she observed that many of the people she interviewed did in fact find religion to play an important role in their lives; the role was more private and tended to be separate from their political and social lives, although it did seep in at times.
It is no doubt that we are living in a peculiar time where politics and religion intersect. With the recent events in New Zealand, I would like to address the increasing threat of radical Christianity. It is no doubt that the shooting that took place last week was based on race and religion. There was, of course, a narrative that was pushed with this recent shooting (which can be found in the manifesto left by the shooter). This narrative has many similarities to the Crusades from the 9th century and so on. The one main similarity is the narrative that the Islamic faith is a threat to Christianity. In this situation, there was a mention of a secret Christian group named “reborn Knights Templar.” Should this group exist, there is no question that they are a cult that expresses radical sectarian ideologies. In much of this, we can see an obvious trend and motivation to the shooting. The result that this murderer wanted was the balkanization of the western nations which indefinitely leads to a race war of sorts. It is clear that this attack was to provoke those that are radicalized to take action against a group of people. This attack will, unfortunately, create fear in the world, increase the cultural rift that we see occur, and drive us away from obtaining world peace. Thus leading to my claim that this event is one of many examples that we are going through a modern crusade and we are at the crossfire.
In Chapter 8 of Religion: The Social Context, McGuire describes the narrative of religious individualization, which refers to “the degree to which individuals choose among various religious options, crafting a custom-made religious life, rather than choosing a package formulated by religious institutions.”
While some may have a hard time grasping this concept of patchwork-religion, my father immediately came to mind as a perfect example. He grew up in Protestant household, and was taught to believe wholeheartedly in G-d and Jesus Christ. He went to church on Easter and Christmas with his family, but aside from that his life was very secular. With fatherhood, my dad became more interested in religion and spirituality. When I was young, he read the Bible all the time and taught me and my brothers about Protestant tradition, even though we were raised Jewish. Over time, my father started gravitating away from traditional Protestantism and seeking more spiritual fulfillment. Soon, he began meditating and worshiping Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi and guru, insisting regular meditation made his everyday life easier.
While the changes I observed pointed towards conversion, my father continued reading the Bible throughout this process, and even worshipped pictures of Jesus beside pictures of Yogananda. Eventually, I asked about his religious identity, and he explained that he identified as a “Christian yogi”. He found a way to quench his spiritual thirst without giving up his belief in Jesus, and didn’t mind the stark lack of like-minded individuals around him. This made-up title and blending of two separate belief systems into one satisfying way of life is pretty much the definition of religious individualization, and I had the opportunity to observe it first hand growing up.
Also, it would make sense that when children are exposed to religious individualization, they are more likely to explore unconventional modes of religious expression later and life, which certainly fits the religious individualization narrative.
A family friend passed away a couple of week ago, and the family asked me to sing at the funeral this weekend. The song is a gospel track called “It’s OK” by Bebe and Cece Winans. I have been practicing it all week, and for some reason, I’m finding so much comfort within this song. Gospel music is deeply rooted in African-American tradition, and my grandma played it all the time as I grew up. My parents took me to a nondenominational Christian mega church as a child, so the only Christian music I heard was contemporary. I used to laugh at my grandma’s gospel music because it sounded so different to me. As an adult, I have heard it a lot less often, so I appreciated it whole lot more.
Although it isn’t very popular now, I was fascinated to hear that famous singers like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Ariana Grande, and James Brown were all influenced by gospel music. The genre has made its mark on history and the American music industry. Gospel music has also influenced a lot of the music in churches today. When I went to visit the Pathway church a month ago, I recognized one of the songs that their worship team sang as one that my grandma would play in her kitchen. I have found comfort in this song as I’ve practiced it this week, so I hope the family members at the funeral find some comfort in it as well. I would also highly recommend you all to give the song a listen.
Last Friday, in Christchurch New Zealand, a gunman killed and injured 50 people at two local mosques during daily prayers. The gunman’s apparent motivation was his anti-immigrant, racist beliefs. This has been a highly publicized case as it seems to be the latest in a long string of attacks on a places of worship, attacks which appear to be race motivated rather than religious. Another major attack in the same vein that comes to mind is the 2015 attack on a black church by terrorist Dylan Roof. In response to these tragedies and the magnitude of Friday’s event, it makes me consider the relationship between race and religion. The United States has seen a major rise in domestic terrorist attacks on Mosques which appears to be a result of anti-immigration, anti-Islam sentiment born from the conflict with ISIS. To what degree is religious intolerance masked by race supremacy and vice versa, or is it a matter of race and religion blending together in the eyes of people in a way that solely identifies these people as “other”. Why are places of worship targeted so frequently? Is it intolerance for the religion itself, or intolerance of the people who frequent it? Or do terrorists just target places of worship to create the biggest tragedy and wound a community the most deeply? Or is it a mix of everything? Its really depressing to continue to see events where one individuals hatred is able to hurt so many people in so many ways.
In chapter 8 of Mcguire’s book, there is discussion of how the role of religion in society has transformed over the decades. While some look to the role of religion in the past and view things such as the predominance of churches, higher church attendance, the prevalence of traditional religious values, and the bleeding of religion into political and social life as important pieces of religion’s “good old days,” it is argued in the book that there were also many downsides to the pervasiveness of religion in the past.
“That same firm sense of tradition and community, however, also gravely restricted individual freedom: Choices of marriage partners, occupations, leisure-time activities, and political options were all controlled, sometimes subtly and often overtly. The societies that so firmly supported traditional religion were generally authoritarian, patriarchal, highly stratified, and nondemocratic. Indeed, the very discovery of the individual, with emotional needs and human rights and prerogatives of choice, is a peculiarly modern feature of a society.” -McGuire, Meredith B.. Religion: The Social Context (Page 284)
This statement echoes some of the conclusions I drew from my sociology capstone last semester. My capstone focused on the transformation of American marriage and how definitions of modern marriage compare to those of the past. One of the conclusions I posited based off of my research is that that modern marriages in general tend to reap more emotional and psychological benefits than in the past. I believe the role of religion in society has a lot to do with this transformation. As marriage has become more about love and companionship than about creating a traditional family unit, and as people have become more and more accepting of flexible definitions of marriage as opposed to the strict definitions of marriage often enforced by churches, the institution has changed to greater benefit spouses.
The value of sociology is being able to see and make these connections. No social institution can exist without being influenced by other institutions, and it is interesting to see how the role of religion has affected other pieces of society.
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 was interesting to see these five narratives laid out, in a way, against each other. I realize now that I have seen these narratives throughout the class; however, at the time, I did not realize that they each argued a different point of view. Four of these narratives are exemplified in Peggy Levitt’s God Needs No Passport. In speaking with different religious groups, as well as different members of these groups, Levitt explains and analyzes these narratives. Levitt, herself, almost argues for a more secularized view of religion. Throughout the book she emphasizes the need for society to become more pluralistic in its view of religion. The way I saw it, secularization would allow for religions and religious practices to be more accepted across the board. There were a few people that Levitt interviewed who subscribed to “The ‘Good Old Way'” narrative. These were people who Levitt referred to as the strict faithful. They have a “reverence for rules“ in the words of Spickard. These are those individuals who adhere to the rules of their faith and take enjoyment out of it. That is how they practice their religion. The “Religious Reorganization” narrative was demonstrated by many of the individuals in God Needs No Passport since all of them were immigrants. Many of them explained how religious groups/communities that they are apart of in America help them to become integrated here, as well as keeping ties with their home country, or, in the case of the “religious global citizens”, ties with other believers around the globe. Levitt also has a section devoted to the “Religious Individualization” narrative. One could argue that the entire book follows along that narrative. Levitt speaks with individuals who explain what religion means to them, what beliefs they hold, and how they practice these beliefs. Levitt asked one woman in particular what she thought of the different ways people practice the religion she participated in. Her response was that she did not mind it since religion was such a personal thing, which fits the “Religious Individualization” narrative.
This week was super intense when we all got to put our sociological knowledge to the test. Literally, we had our long-anticipated midterm exam. I do hope Professor Spickard feels better since he informed us all he was under the weather. He had to cancel Tuesday’s class—which gave us all a little extra time to prepare for the midterm. Since he wasn’t there on Thursday, Ms. Trisha Garcia graciously gave us the test and stayed until we all were finished. Luckily, Professor Spickard gave us a very handy and helpful study guide showing us what questions were going to be there. However, it was tricky since there would be only three of the six questions on the text, but we wouldn’t know which ones.
This provided a way to study all the materials and still feel good about whichever ended up actually on the midterm. Finally, the nicest touch was that Professor Spickard allowed one 5” x 8” index card to be taken with us to class. We could write on the front and back of the card—and it could be however much info we could fit on the card. The actual time of the midterm went faster than I thought. I got the questions dealing with sociology and how it differs from other approaches; the role that sociology plays in contemporary peoples lives; and describing the congregation I visited with a friend. Luckily, thanks to the card and different bullet points I had for each question—it went rather smoothly.