All posts by Courtney

How Powerful is Opinion?

For my site visit number two, I visited a Jehovah’s Witness church and attended a Sunday morning congregation meeting. In my site visit paper, the five concepts I drew on from the textbook were: proselytizing, sectarian stance, individual meaning system (conforms to group’s meaning system), dualistic worldviews, and the Bible as legitimation. After writing the paper, I realized that the terms and ideas I used to describe them created a generally negative picture of a group of people that I actually rather liked. I draw on Zimbauer’s  “Religion and Spirituality: Unfuzzying the Fuzzy” when the author discusses the need to interpret sociological data objectively. He claims that “contrasting the terms as good-bad or superior-inferior confounds the definition and measurement of these concepts with their outcomes” (Zimbauer 563). I then question whether or not it is possible to interpret data without any discrimination. Regarding concepts such as the ones used to describe JW, I find them to be negative off the bat. Then, I realize my opinion comes from a background that strongly values liberalism, inclusivity, and “spirituality” rather than “religion”. However, someone with a background that is just the opposite might interpret spiritual accounts as wishy-washy, and conservative religious accounts as legitimate or more likely to be factual. Is it impossible to discriminate data without imposing some opinion? As humans, we discriminate stimuli given our previous experiences, which in turn shapes our framework for interpreting new data. Thus, to what degree can we truly throw our opinions and past experiences out the window to analyze data?

Islamophobia Fueled by False Stereotyping Regarding Gender-Related Violence

It is obvious that Trump’s immigration ban was designed to prevent Muslims from moving to the country. This article delves into the idea that the President’s racism and discrimination is partially founded on an unfair stereotype of gender-based killings in relation to Islam. An example of this is his adamancy of Homeland Security to provide America with information regarding the number of U.S. immigrants who commit gender-based violence towards women. It has been noted by people nationwide that Trump is not interested in protecting the safety of women, only when it is at the hand of a foreigner so he may further ingrain his unfair discriminations. Heather Barr, a member of the Human Rights Watch, has commented on the fact that the President has spoken approvingly of sexual assaults and may have actually assaulted women himself.

I relate this back to the class article From a Community of Believers by Caitlin Killian, which discusses the French rejection of Islamic traditions in their country. The French government blatantly says that a person can either be a good French and a bad Muslim or Jew, or vice versa, but nothing in between (Killian 314). The author explains that some of the racism and intolerance may stem from a defense mechanism and serve as “a way to reassert national identity at a time when France is feeling threatened by globalization, the European Union, and immigration” (Killian 308). I read this and find the part about globalization and immigration striking similarity in the intolerance of our President and some of the country. Trump, and others, are nervous that America will not be the supreme country forever, and their fear of losing power results in an intolerance for anyone or anything that does not support American’s perceived superiority. I feel that reading this article about discrimination in France helped me better understand discrimination in America.

Course blog for 3/19: Spirituality and Religion

The article Religion and Spirituality: Unfuzzing the Fuzzy attempted to understand individual definitions and feelings regarding the state of being religious, spiritual, or both. While the study was fair, thorough, and asked the right questions, for me it lacked significant findings; the way people felt about religious and spirituality was pretty much in accordance with their religion, and could be predicted given the religion’s worldviews and history. For example, the person who identifies with religion and not spirituality (RnS) is often associated with higher levels of authoritarianism, self-righteousness, and church attendance. This could have been predicted given the fact these qualities would likely be assumed to be associated with Christians, which is the religious affiliation that primarily makes up the group RnS. On the other hand, the spiritual but not religious (SnR) are unlikely to engage in organized religion, and value nontraditional New Age beliefs and mystic experiences. Once again, this is not surprising given the fact that a majority of the SnR group identified as New Age.

In this sort of case, it seems to me that it would have been more beneficial to understand the history, culture, principles, and worldviews of a religion if one wants to find out more about how to classify them as individuals in a religious or spiritual terrain. If one looked at the history, culture, and worldviews of Christianity verses the New Age religions, one could easily assume that Christianity would be more organization-oriented, therefore practice with more structure and identify as more “religious”. (Including the fact that Christianity has existed for hundreds of years and has had significant effect on society and politics.) In contrast, New Age movements are primarily new religions that do not have ties to history and/or powerful institutions. Thus, the feelings and opinions of a Christian and a New Age “mystic” concerning spirituality and religion is very likely to coincide with the way their religion or spiritual origin functions.

Social control? Yikes!

Certain concepts presented in McGuire’s seventh chapter honestly make me feel uncertain and a little paranoid. Religious legitimation is one of these ideas in which I can think of many harmful modern examples: conservative political stances fighting against abortion due to the belief that every person is a “gift of God”, extreme and radical terrorists who believe in “holy” wars, oppressive caste system societies in which awful living conditions are allowed due to a religious legitimation, etc. The idea that religion can be forced onto people and create oppression is frankly unsettling. It is disheartening that religion, which can be such a positive and beautiful light in people’s lives, is also being used to manipulate and oppress. The next concept that has the potential to cripple individuals is religious socialization. This is the idea that religions can reinforce roles that may be extremely harmful to some but are justified by the supposed religious content. This has the power to keep people “in line” and following a system without contemplating whether or not their prescribed social role or moral guidelines has their best interest in mind or not. It is apparent that this concept is a useful strategy for establishing conformity and a peaceful society, but it inhibits change and awareness that can be vital for the happiness and freedom of the people. Last but not least, social control is frightening in the sense that when religious socialization dominates a society, people become like minded and the fire is fueled by group-think. This can be harmful to people who exist in the society but have aspects of their life or lifestyle are deemed “deviant” by the religious group and are thus excluded, oppressed, or even targeted by that society. This has the potential to be possible in America where seventy percent of the people are Christian and thus, have the same set of ethics and ideas of what is “bad” and what is “good”. I am aware that these concepts are all inevitable results of religious life joining with greater society, it is frankly a little scary to think of how powerful religion can be in a negative way.

Zen and Trump

Zen master and world-famous spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh expands on some Zen Buddhist principles that can help one successfully cope with Trump. He emphasizes the need to “see” before taking action; this means that one must have stillness and generate compassion and understanding before going forward as a social activist. The goal of this mindfulness is to come to a place of ahisma— or nonviolence that is rooted in a deep sense of love. Brother Phap Dung, a monk at Plum Village, points to a Buddhist teaching of interdependence, meaning that those we perceive to be our biggest enemies can also be our greatest teachers. He argues that “Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots. The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.” In this regard, it might be helpful for some Americans to participate in an unofficial religion, and adopt some Buddhist principles to help them deal with chaos and conflict in the country. This is where I personally love the concept of using elements of religions to help an inner journey, which is labeled as unofficial religion. There is something useful in every religious ideology that can improve people’s lives in ways that their own individual religion might not provide for them. Therefore, I am a huge advocate of recognizing and responding to political and social conflict with dignity, grace, and mindfulness.


Course Blog February 12th: Tolerance vs. Pluralism

For the book “God Needs No Passport”, I have pondered the distinction made between being tolerant and being pluralistic. In modern America, where the religious landscape consists of seventy percent Christians, I am saddened to say that I find there is often very little religious tolerance, let alone pluralism. I have a hard time imagining people being pluralistic who feel very strongly about their religion. It seems that most religions preach that theirs is the right one and the right way to live life and the rest are wrong; thus, most religions would discourage people from being pluralistic. Therefore, it is simply not realistic to expect people to openly embrace other’s beliefs when the religions themselves are dogmatic. Within this, I see the root of so many religious conflicts in wars: it boils down to the fact that religions almost never approach the world with a pluralistic view. For example, Southern Baptists are strongly against abortion and homosexuality. How then, might you expect a member of that group to openly invite and inquire about a religion that blatantly disagrees with those beliefs? Or, how might you expect a Christian to be interested in Buddhism when the Christian believes that God created the world and Buddhists go against the idea that there is a creator? To believe in a religion means to believe a set of ideals are right and the rest are wrong. Therefore, how could pluralism be achieved when the existence of multiple religions essentially creates divides and labels some things as correct and others as incorrect? Or good versus evil? As much as religion can help people as individuals, it seems it also inherently possesses the opportunity for disagreement, exclusion, and conflict.

“Pope Francis Threw Shade at Trump in the Classiest Way Possible”

Although not explicitly addressing Trump and his baffling immigration orders, the Pope addressed the public to remind people that welcoming refugees and helping the poor and marginalized is our duty as fellow humans and as religious peoples. As I scroll through the articles concerning religion in the news, I cannot help but notice that almost all of the articles are about Trump and the religious philosophies that his ideals are coming in conflict with. I cannot help but wonder if this very controversial president might actually unite people of different religious backgrounds. Thus far, at the women’s marches and other ceremonies, leaders of many religions have come together to agree on matters that the president has overlooked or simply ignored. I do not recall which chapter, but I remember in McGuire’s text she discusses how in times of chaos and social imbalance, a presence of religion in society can actually increase as people seek comfort in distressing times. I am curious then, as to whether or not this presidency will affect the religious landscape of America. Also, how might religious groups of people in other parts of the world view our country and our religious ideals? Will the international opinion of America’s religious values be discounted because of the actions of our president? Is the current political atmosphere making in our country people feel hopeless and depressed and stray away from religion, or are people investing themselves deeper in religion in a time of uncertainty and fear?

America’s Social Conflicts: Religious or Political?

McGuire discusses civil religion as legitimating myth, and how at times the same civil religion could be a significant source of cultural conflict. She states that “If Americans are in conflict over basic notions of ‘what it means to be one of us’ and ‘what kind of people do we want to be’, opposing civil religious sentiments are likely to be stirred in debates about abortion, capital punishment, immigration, civil rights, family values, and economic justice, among others” (McGuire 205). This prompted me to think of how the political beliefs of American are becoming increasingly polarized, with primarily young millennials arguing for liberal stances, and older baby boomers trying to maintain traditional and conservative values. While this appears to be political, perhaps this is an outcome of a religious disparity between the generations, and has created a sort of mini-crisis of values. With a very controversial president, many people have questioned the values of America, and what it means to “be American”— it seems that our identity as a nation is being heavily questioned. I wonder, then, if this is rooted in a religious turnover where more people are distancing themselves from religious institutions, not affiliating with any religion at all, or are deviating from traditional religious stances on social topics like abortion or homosexuality. This then leads me to wonder, if politic is a branch that deals with law making and protecting in order to establish order in a society, they must be basing their laws off of some moral code. Is it possible that there is no political view that does not derive from a religious conviction?

Why These People of Faith are Marching This Weekend

This article interviews many individuals who marched this weekend, and each person elaborated on why their faith has made them feel inclined to march. For example, one woman who is Muslim said her religious beliefs prompted her to march because Islam calls her to speak out against oppression. Another woman who is Sikh says that her religion states that the Divine is within everyone, thus she is marching for a just, fair and compassionate society for all people. A Roman Catholic lay woman says she was influenced to march by Pope Francis who said that the “life of Christ ought to be courageous”, and she wants to be a courageous Catholic. These many women and men’s religious views prompted them to fight for equality and freedom because each religion promotes these rights. These people of different faiths merging together to prompt social change could be viewed as a progression from a churchly stance to a denominational stance. Typically, those with a churchly stance believe their ideas are legitimate and that those of other faiths are not. However, as these people come together to march for rights there is a shift toward a denominational stance because they believe in their ideas but are coexisting with others enough that no one is dismissing other religion’s beliefs. In fact, it seems the people have found common ground by realizing that they are fighting for the same cause because their religious beliefs have prompted them to.

How Deeply Does One Internalize Their Religion’s Beliefs

As I read McGuire’s chapter 4, I am struck by the fact that she blatantly says that sociological studies of religion are often inaccurate because people’s personal beliefs are not typically synonymous to the religious organization that they identify with. Attempting to understanding an individual’s meaning system through their religious affiliation seems slightly counter-productive because most people do not strictly conform to a particular religion’s ethics. This is can be case for a number of scenarios, and the author highlights a couple of them. One being that of which a person affiliates with a religious organization but does not accept the organization’s stance on social issues. An example of this would be a Catholic who differs with the Catholic Church concerning particular social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, women’s rights etc. Another scenario could be when people who identify with an official religion adopt practices or beliefs from nonofficial religions or draw on bits and pieces of other official religions. An example of this might be someone who considers themselves Christian but engages with Zen Buddhism, modern psychology and meditates. Religious beliefs and following on an individual scale are clearly very complex and difficult to pinpoint, thus, I wonder: “Why try to understand humanity on a large scale through surveying them on their religious beliefs or affiliations if there are so many possibilities and inaccuracies?” It seems that the purpose of understanding religion and the people’s following through a sociological view is to better explain people’s opinions, beliefs, and behaviors. I suppose I am left confused with how productive this can be when research is relatively incapable of drawing accurate representations of people’s true inner beliefs.