This week in class we learned about ethnography and its role in the field of sociology. Ethnography is the study of people and cultures that is conducted from within the culture. The study examines the meaning systems of a group without judgement. The idea behind ethnography is for an ethnographer to recognize that they have inherent bias, and for the ethnographer to do their best to set aside this bias as they study different cultures. However, the benefit of inherent bias in ethnography is that when multiple ethnographies written by different ethnographer with different inherent biases are compared, new things can be learned about the culture studied as different viewpoints will emphasize different aspects of culture. So when multiple ethnographies are written about the same culture, the end result is a wider pool of information. Therefore, it is important to continue to study cultures that have already been observed, because there is always more that can be learned. Ethnography is one of the most informative, but also controversial aspects of sociology.
For my second congregation visit, I visited the Hope Center which is a local pentecostal church. This visit was incredibly eye-opening to me in terms of understanding how different groups experience and practice religion. Previously I had only experienced religious practices that I would classify as calm, introspective, and reserved. The service at the Hope Center was anything but. The service began with a high volume gospel style choir singing, and as the songs continued people began to cry out randomly, speak in tongues, and weep. It was incredibly emotional all around and the emotion in the room just continued to rise into the main sermon. By the end, I was incredibly overwhelmed and exhausted. My experience here made me very conscious of how differently people can experience religion. From what I understood, the congregation felt such strong emotional responses to the religious rituals being conducted, that they felt called to cry out and express the emotions they felt in response to the service. In a way it seemed like a very pure, whole experience of religion, where the congregants truly felt their religion and what the believed with incredible strength. Observing the service was an incredible experience, because I felt I actually, finally understood the impact religion has on people and their emotions
This past week, I read the piece entitled “Making Religion Irrelevant” which discussed religious change in response to social and theological changes. The author argues that religious decline is a result of the common belief that religious conservatism is becoming a stronger force in the modern world, but yet religion has not disappeared instead certain types of religion have risen in popularity. Specifically traditional, conservative and reactionary religions have increased in popularity. This is not an attempted revival of a traditional way of life, but a response to dissatisfaction with modern morals and attitudes. Which brings the question is the rise of traditionalist religions directly related to modernity? Is this increase a critique of neoliberalism? The author also discusses how media portrayal of religion, including church scandals and the like, has reduced the influence of religious social voice. Its interesting to think about how the social impact of religion has declined over the years and what the resulting impact of this may be.
This past week the focus of class discussions was on the various ideas about secularization presented through several Jigsaw readings. Each piece discussed a different theory about secularization and what it meant for the future of religion and society. I read the Demerath reading, “Secularization and Sacralization” which essentially discussed how secularization was a complicated topic and no single theory necessarily captured the complexity of it. I really agreed with this view after listening to the other groups present the ideas from their articles, while individual theories may be valid and explain the issue well, none of them seemed to cover the whole span of secularization. Demerath theorized that religion could be both on the decline and on the rise at the same time, which is very different from the one-or-the-other standpoints of the other readings. I think it was interesting to hear from each individual theorists view, and understand their reasoning behind that view and then encompassing all those ideas with the Demerath reading. At the same time each theorist was discussing secularization from their unique field of study so its possible that each article did not capture their whole idea about secularization. The discussion of secularization in class is super interesting to me because I have always viewed religion as something in decline, and it interests me to hear the debate on what the true state of religion is in regards to secularization and the future.
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.
Before we left for spring break, we watched a film called Born Again, which followed the lives of several members of a Fundamentalist Church in Massachusetts in 1978. One thing that struck me initially was how all the members of the church seemed to unwaveringly believe in the word of God and believed that he answered all questions. This made me think of the Chaves reading which has discussed the trend of declining confident belief in God and made me wonder if unwavering belief was still the case in members of the congregation. Throughout the course of the film, we observe how members of the church struggle with their relationships with each other and desire for a relationship with God. The church runs its own school, and, in the school, the insular nature of the community becomes more evident. The children pledge allegiance to both the American flag and the Christian flag, which seems to be an attempt to impress the importance of religion on the children by equating allegiance to religion as equivalent in importance to allegiance to one’s country. In addition, the way Bob speaks about his wife Emma, and his refusal to allow the children to see her because she “lived in sin” outside of the community, also impressed on me the insular nature of the church. The pastor’s daughter even comments on her interest in the way people live outside of the church indicating its all-encompassing influence on members lives. I previously wrote a post regarding the psychological damage suffered from negative, forceful religious experiences and watching the film I was struck by the aggressive way some matters, like the talk that was had with one church members brother to attempt to bring him to God and become born again where instead of talking it was a bunch of church members speaking loudly over the man and pressing him to the point he was clearly emotionally exhausted. I wonder if insular religious communities are more likely to result in people suffering from some sort of religious trauma. This is of course not to say that all religious communities are bad and trauma-inducing, but I wonder if the full-time religious influence and pressure has a more profound effect on people living within it.
Today I came across an interesting article discussing recent developments taking place at the United Methodist Church’s General Committee. Apparently a bill had been proposed to the committee that would allow for each church to individually decide whether or not they would accept LGBT identifying individuals as ministers and whether LGBT individuals would be able to marry within the church. While this motion did not pass the initial perusal by the committee, the issue will still be discussed in one of the next meetings of the Committee. Interestingly, an opposing movement to strictly enforce the anti-homosexual language in the greater Churches rulebook did pass through the committee to be voted on again in coming weeks. I was interested in the idea of the inclusive plan and what it would mean for the organization as a whole if each individual group had the power to make a decision on such a divisive issue independent of one another. Would that sort of autonomy create greater conflict in the organization as a whole? Should individual congregations be allowed to have that power to decide what should and should not be strictly adhered to from the rulebook? In addition I thought this related to a previous post I made discussing the trauma experienced by people who are attacked/shunned from their religious organization due to some factor of their gender or identity that did not mesh with the religious organizations ideals. Based upon the results of this delegation it would appear that the United Methodist Church is not taking steps to become more inclusive of diverse individuals, what will the long term impact of this decision be on LGBT members of the church? Personally I felt that this article gave an interesting insight into the continued struggle for diversification and tolerance within many religious organizations, and raised several interesting questions about acceptance of individuality by religious organizations going forward.
The article I read: https://religionnews.com/2019/02/25/united-methodist-committee-rejects-one-church-plan-which-would-allow-lgbt-clergy/
This week I came across an online article entitled, “When Religion Leads to Trauma”. The article discusses the impact of condemnation by one’s own congregation for example, “Gay, lesbian and trans people are told that God condemns them, unwed mothers that they are living in sin, and many natural human desires are deemed evil”(Schiffman 2019). According to the article, the psychological impact of negative religious experiences is becoming more recognized by a variety of religious organizations, and groups like Dr. Harold G. Koenig and his team at Duke University, and Dr. Marlene Winells organization, are seeking ways to combat the symptoms of such experiences. What I found most interesting about the article is that people are coming together and recognizing that people can be hurt by something that is supposed to be good, and attempting to find ways to combat this type of trauma. It seems like many organized religious groups are condemning groups that weaponize religious teachings but I had not seen any long term solutions being instituted to attempt to solve the problem. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that specialized therapeutic techniques are being developed to best help people experiencing religious trauma, and I think it’s so important because reflecting on the group discussion of religious experience at the beginning of the semester it appeared that a significant portion of the class had experienced some sort of religious trauma that soured them towards a religious group.
This information makes me wonder, What really must change to reduce the number of people who feel victimized by religion? Is it going to be a congregation by congregation change? Is it even possible to prevent people from being hurt by religion? What do you think of the new awareness and medical treatment for people with religious trauma?
The past weeks reading focused on the decline of religious participation, the decline in confident belief in God, and the decrease in belief of the Bible’s truth. Chaves presented a multitude of interesting statistics to support his statements, but the most interesting conclusion he drew from data was that there was not found to be an increase in belief in life after death among regular attendees of religious service. I find that interesting because I would have assumed that ongoing attendance would strengthen or at least create such a belief due to prolonged exposure to that message. That fact makes me wonder if the group responding to the survey that indicated regular religious service attendance only attends out of habit, or some other factor? Is attendance at religious services more of a social event than a religious one? It is a curious question. Another concept Chaves discussed as being a significant force in decreased population religiosity was generational turnover. Chaves found a significant impact of frequency of childhood religious service attendance on adulthood attendance, meaning as fewer parents take their children to church when those children grow up they are less likely to attend religious services or take their children to them leading to an overall decline. Chaves pointed out the connection between family structure and religious involvement in a way I had never considered, that the decline in traditional two-parent families has greatly impacted religious service attendance. It makes sense in a variety of ways, for example a single, working parent likely does not have the time or desire to spend what is potentially one of their days off in a multi-hour religious service. I really enjoyed this section of reading because it represented generally known information with significant data as well as new insights to why the trends are what they are, which I greatly appreciated.
This week we read Chapter 5 of McGuires book, “The Dynamics of Religious Collectives”. This chapter was a lot to digest as it covered a significant amount of material, despite this I found it to be a very interesting introduction to how religion is categorized and influenced by/influential of society. I think the explanation of how religious categories can change and how groups shift and change in focus over time to be very interesting. Previously I had never considered something that could change radically, I thought it was the sort of thing that evolved very slowly over a long period and even then, the changes would be minor. Clearly this is not the case. Another part that caught my interest in the chapter was the discussion of how cults can be incorporated into formal religion. Particularly I was interested in the social component of this, this quote spells it out, “By absorbing local popular cults as optional devotions, these churches were able to build organizations that transcended familistic, localistic, or tribal barriers (153)”. I found that fascinating how organized religion, in this case Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, could integrate cults as a way of strengthening legitimacy and reaching a wider audience. This makes me think of the worship of Santa Muerte and Santeria, and how they are perfect examples of this phenomenon, as cultic faiths that are incorporated into more formal religion as a way of expanding church influence. In this thread I think it would be interesting to examine the impact of colonial rule and religion on indigenous faith in countries undergoing decolonization, especially by using the ideas presented by McGuire in this chapter.