Last week the class presented their final congregation visits. Overall, the information presented was interesting and informative. Though this is true, it was especially difficult to hear about what happened at one of the student’s congregation visits. The student stated that at their visit a homeless individual was kicked out. It was stated that the situation became uncomfortable and became violent. It’s saddening hearing about these events. I was not personally present, so I cannot speak to the specifics of the situation but just the simple fact that it became such a scene and something that could be expressed as violent by the individual who observed it is upsetting. It is saddening that the remarks made were at the expense of the individual who was already being made such a spectacle of.
Other than this circumstance, the other congregation visit reports were interesting. Most individuals had great experiences. It is encouraging to hear that many of the congregations in Redlands are extremely inviting. Every student expressed a sense of feeling welcome and encouraged to attend once again. These congregation visits have been very useful in my opinion. They have shown all of the students that all of these varying religions can essentially create a similar feeling environment and similar mentalities in a broad aspect. They have personally shown me that attending these different congregations is not something to be scared of. I feel more empowered to continue looking into religion and possibly find what I may connect with.
Our last lecture was about ethnography. It was enlightening to be able to learn about this type of study after doing a congregation visit myself. I really appreciate all of the different stages of ethnography and how each form of ethnography generates its own results and conclusions. This was especially interesting given that the congregation visit presentations were on the class following the lecture. It made me appreciate the dedication and effort that goes into observing a religious organization by an ethnographer. We only visited a single congregational service at our assigned congregation and from that wrote an essay and did a presentation. After learning about the process that ethnographers go through it seems funny to think that we can go to a congregational service and somehow leave with a good understanding of the people and the tradition. Ethnographer or sociologist spend months even years with a group before drawing conclusions or writing about them. I also appreciate the connectedness of the entire process. An ethnographer isn’t a judgmental observer instead they participate to an extent and respect and partner with their subjects which seems incredibly transparent and refreshing especially given the religious biases inherent in nearly all observers. Additionally, it seems difficult for me to comprehend the level of analysis and depth that ethnographers are able to gather, as a religious studies major, these types of ‘site visits’ have been a regular occurrence in my life. Each time is nearly the same process, and I leave feeling fairly satisfied with my knowledge of the tradition and what is happening within the congregation. However, learning that an ethnographer spends years observing congregations was shocking!
Last week we presented to the class all of the different congregations within Redlands that we visited. It was really interesting to see all of the similarities and differences between congregations of the same faith, and how even when the same congregation from last time was presented, there was new information and observations about it. What most stood out to me was the abundance of elements besides belief that might lead someone to choose a particular congregation. For example, several locations have longer mass, while others, such as St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, where Robert and I visited, have shorter mass, lasting for a duration of about 25 minutes or so. For those who have busy lives and try to make religion fit into their daily routine, shorter masses before work or school allow them to better fulfill this goal. Another example of non belief related features of congregations were the communities within them. The presenters of the Latter Day Saints Church gave an example of this when they discussed how one man who always attends has “his spot” that everyone knows not to sit in. The UCC Congregation, which has most of the faculty from the U of R attend, is known for its open mind and inclusiveness, displayed through the rainbow flags and banners throughout the congregation, and the female Pastor Jill. Although almost all congregations were types of Christianity, they all exemplified very different morals and atmospheres of worship and community, which reinforced the idea to me that choosing a congregation is less about belief and more about what draws you to it, and therefore, the success of a congregation must have little to do with belief as well.
The study of ethnography was our focus on Tuesday. Learning that it literally translates into “writings” about “people”; made a lot more sense. Additionally, we found out about six stages of ethnography that ethnographers usually follow. The more a person knows about where they stand; the better they will understand the people they are investigating. Furthermore, writing about said people is a difficult task—but the more they explain, the better others will begin to understand the culture. Skills required for this field are, but not limited to: “listening; recognizing one’s own cultural baggage; and willingness to be vulnerable”. Professor Spickard even shared with us a template of what one might use in the field. This included helpful categories like “what I observed, my thoughts, and external details”.
Thursday was a real treat to hear about everyone’s 2nd congregation visit. Everything from who was in attendance, to the clothing the pastor and congregants wore were all so varied—I can see why it takes a sociologist a while to collect all this data. One of my favorites was the St. Mary’s Congregation. The fact that mass was only about 30 minutes; nobody felt close to one another; and the pastor was rather in and out of there; it was unlike any other Catholic churches we have read about. Another interesting one was the Light of the World Church. Hearing that it is the second largest religious body in Mexico is a fascinating reveal; not to mention the gender politics at play with the men on the left side and the women on the right.
McGuire names four “narratives” that dominate the sociology of religion and that paint a fundamentally different picture of religion’s place in the modern world. These are: secularization, reorganization, individualization, and supply-side market analysis. She is careful to purposely call these narratives because, while each theory is based in evidence and data, data does not have meaning until a person derives meaning from it. Each narrative is a different interpretation of the same observations about the apparent decline of religious attendance in modern society.
Secularization posits that as the separation between church and state widened, subscribing to religion became something that was no longer “mandated,” but was rather a choice, and this led to more and more people choosing to be secular. Reorganization posits that there has not been a steep decline in religiosity, but rather, people are are reorganizing into smaller, more private places of worship. Individualization posits that the shift in religious attendance is due to more people treating religion as a more individual affair rather than a communal one, and are opting to practice religion in ways tailored to their individual lifestyles. The supply-side market analysis views religion like a business and posits that changes in religiosity are normal fluctuations.
In my opinion, I think that each perspective has valid points. I think some of them could even build upon each other. But, if I had to choose one, individualization would probably be my favorite theory. This is only because I feel like I have personally witnessed this theory in action. From personal experience, I feel like more people are treating religion as an individual experience and favoring interpretations of religion that benefit them.
-Posting this late because I realized I had typed up my response, but it somehow stayed sitting in my drafts and was never actually posted.
Last week in class we discussed religion in the 21st century and where religion is going now. All semester we’ve mainly been focused on American religion and how it’s changing, but as we discussed, these changes have been present all over the world. We talked about the importance of religion going global and the impact of religion on immigrant congregations. What stuck with me after this lecture was the transnational aspects of religion. Earlier this semester I read Levitt’s book called “God Needs No Passport” and it focused on religion in the lives of several immigrant groups. The ideas that the book touched on have stayed with me all semester, but this was kind of the first time we went more in depth on transnationalism as a whole class.
Religion is global and allows people to live in two places at once because it provides a community and structure. For immigrants, religion can be the one steady thing that they bring with them that helps them assimilate and adjust to their new life. I feel that I personally know the impacts of this. I moved to the U.S. when I was four and my parents used religion as a constant stability in our lives. I grew up in my Church and it has always been with me and my family no matter where we are. So I think that the one of the reasons that religion is such a large component for immigrants is because it reminds them of home. When you move, whether to a different country or just a different house, the goal is to establish a home and a comfortable one at that. So for many immigrants they put their roots into their new country via religion. We talked about a region in East London which has 300 congregations, many of which established by immigrant groups. This is their way of assimilating and connecting to their roots as well as their new home. Although religion is very individualistic it’s roots, community, and meaning stick with one, thus allowing religion to be a comforting stabilizer for people to bring with them wherever they may go.
This Sunday my partner and I attended the Hope Center, which is a Pentecostal congregation. I went in not knowing what to expect as I had never been inside a Pentecostal Church, and I knew very little of the religion other than what I have seen in Hollywood movies. The first thing I noticed was how welcoming everyone was. As soon as Claire and I walked in, we were greeted and welcomed. We were given little slips of paper to fill out and then given a pamphlet of upcoming events. After we went down and took our seats, the reverend came up and talked to us after he noticed we were students. He welcomed us as well and said he hoped we would return.
The very first thing that happened as the service started was singing; there was a lot of it! The music was definitely a main part of the service, and it lasted for about an hour. The whole first half consisted of the choir singing songs which revolved heavily around the Lord and forgiveness of sin. A couple of the singers were very highly enthusiastic, and a few were clearly having very intense spiritual experiences through the music. The congregants were clapping their hands, raising their arms, and jumping around. This was like no other church experience I have ever had. It really did feel like I was at some kind of rally or concert. After the singing portion, the reverend started his sermon. At first, it simply consisted of reading from the Bible. However, before long, he was yelling and red in the face. Some of the congregants and other religious officials would periodically yell out “yes!” in agreement to his statements. During the sermon, a few people started speaking in words I couldn’t make out; I then realized they were speaking in Tongues.
What I noticed about this particular congregation was the intensity of the religious experience. Although the message didn’t quite reach me and I didn’t feel the same sense of spirituality that those around me felt, it was obvious that many shared a very intense spiritual experience. This experience was achieved and shared through song, scripture, and stories. I did not observe much in the way of ritual, although they did talk of baptism. The main message was of salvation through Christ, and repentance of sin.
This past week we discussed the remaining narratives about the future of religion, religion as a market and the globalization of religion. I found discussing the globalization of religion as particularly striking because of the way that I was raised in a highly globalized society. My father works as a professor at the National University of Singapore and specializes in research on family firms among other topics. In his research, he has worked with many other people all over the world, so it is not uncommon to hear him on a conference call at 6 am in the living room in order to fit everyone’s schedule in different time zones. Learning about how with globalization, religion is changing to fit this new world was a narrative that I was easily able to accept and conceptualized based on what I’ve seen. Many of my friends remained in close contact with those of their home town and religious community. There were many times in which friends would go home on public holiday’s for the day to celebrate the religious holiday with their family. Discussion on religion is one that is commonplace and done in a way that is very respectful of other’s beliefs and done in order to learn.
Religion is being shaped in a way that it is no longer confined to one’s home or congregation, it is able to travel across borders and become stronger through interaction and connection. It was interesting to be able to learn about the different ways that the globalization of religion is classified and other ways that it is being affected outside of my personal experience.
Considering I have been a member of a religious community for most of my life, a lot of my views on certain subjects have been opened up and I now have so many different perspectives of things whether they be social or political. My new perspectives branch from my original (religiously effected) viewpoint, though I always wonder what characteristics of being on a college campus influence some students to either lean to a more liberal or conservative viewpoint. Religion tends to be a big part of this campus whether we believe in it or not, considering we offer so many types of religious studies courses and obviously have a very large chapel as a monument on our campus. However, we are also known for having a very liberal stance on political and social current events and topics. For most people, your religious orientation tends to affect your political party preference and ultimately your opinion on issues. But I always question why it is that there is a stigma that whenever students go to college, a majority of them tend to change their political views. For myself, my opinions changed just from being around people from different backgrounds and being able to listen to the opinions of others. But specifically on this campus I just wonder if the fact that we have so many religious symbols, churches and classes surrounding us; does it have an affect on other students to lean in a more liberal way or if the fact that there is religion around us, if that has an effect or none at all on students.
This week our articles examined how congregations function as a source of community for their members. The article our group analyzed, titled “Reproducing Ethnicity,” specifically looked at how immigrants use religious congregations as a way to connect them to their home cultures while simultaneously helping them to adjust to their new culture. Because religion and culture are so closely entwined in many parts of the world, it is virtually impossible to separate one from the other. Being able to take part in the religion of one’s homeland even from far away is one way that immigrants are able to reproduce their heritage and pass on traditions to their children. By creating spaces where people can gather to celebrate their native languages, foods, and holidays, those cultural ties can be perpetuated.
While on one hand I can understand how church attendance is declining and why people are moving out of more organized places of worship, I also don’t think that they will ever completely disappear. I think the desire to believe, or to at least entertain the thought that there is something “greater” than us is something that is something that could be considered innate. Since the dawn of humankind people have practiced religion. Because we wield a complex consciousness that allows us to look critically at our place in the world and encourages us to ask questions about our purpose and the reason for our existence, I think religion will always be a part of the human experience and religious congregations will always provide a space for people to seek those answers together.