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.
In addition to continuing our jigsaw readings, on Thursday we read half of a chapter that Professor Spickard wrote himself. Although group pairing is fun; getting to discuss one reading as a class is enjoyable too. Finding the six stories that support how religion is viewed and practiced in the 21st century continues to be ever-changing. It was helpful how the Professor individually took each story and applied separate stories and sources for them all. First was the obvious tale of disappearing religion, which is the common discussion in today’s age due to pluralism, privatization, etc. Next was the notion that religion is anti-modern, which sounds like another off-shoot of disappearing religion; but, has different cultural trends that set it apart.
Third, is the argument that religion is individualized. The discussion of personal religious bricolage—meaning forming your own religious experience out of many different things. Fourth, the idea that religious places are a place of community. This highlights the cultural desires that we as people crave community and together-ness; and it’s the reason why an institutionalized church setting still exists. Fifth, the notion that religion responds to its market. This one stood out, to me, because of the differing markets around the world, not just America. Every country has their “religious market” structured differently, so it can take a lifetime of studying to come up with a figure of how “consumers” would “buy” various beliefs. Lastly is the idea that religion is going global, a worldwide movement of people stating their religion is not only a faith—but also their identity.
The jigsaw assignments prove to be very thorough in the way they bring us individually together to learn about if conservative, traditional religions are indeed becoming more militant and what that does to their future. I thought crafting a non-verbal display would be difficult—and it is; however, it makes it a little better in a group. On Tuesday, my group and I discussed one of Professor Spickard’s own text; and it was a doozy. The main idea followed religious change in response to the social and theological change happening all the time in America. Nowadays, people shut out religion because it is deemed too “conservative”, or “militaristic”. Professor Spickard states that this thought takes away the weight of religion and its stance in moral/ethical discussions. In other words, it undercuts people to let religion be a part of the public conversation. Nobody is talking about religion due to the way the media has displayed it as being too radical rather than something that can be seen as an ethical part of one’s life.
Then, for my next reading on Thursday, I learned all about the British organization called Quest; which is an organization dedicated to gay and lesbian Catholics as they are free to express both their religious and sexual identity. What is fascinating is most of the respondents’ positions on the current issues. For example; many Catholics are accepting of same-sex relations; as long as it is in a committed relationship—like marriage. Another majority are completely against the idea of same-sex relations—and many of the Quest community do not believe that the institutionalized church will change its mind.
This week presented many important aspects that a sociologist should and does apply in their research. Most famously is that of the six sociological narratives that answers what is happening to religion and why? I find each one to be rich with unique ideas that sometimes overlap with each other; but stay relatively separate throughout the data-gathering process. Overall, the structural change and the cultural change of society is constantly evolving to the point that, I believe, the thought of religion is divided in two parts: those who feel it is no longer relevant; and those who feel the need to change it along with the times. Whether or not people decide to follow a religious belief does not preclude the fact that religious settings can also be a place for community fellowship; and that individual choice is deeply personal.
Furthermore, the article that was chosen for me to read, and the one I chose, both had a foundation in at least one of the six narratives. Steve Bruce’s “Christianity in Britain, R.I.P.” focused on the irrefutable decline of church membership in the U.K.—thus confirming his thesis of secularization increase. Throughout his essay, he denies Rodney Stark’s claim that secularization does not exist by citing data gathered from 100 years of research. The idea that religion is disappearing from the modern world is the exact definition of secularization; and it unfortunately is what many believe has happened. The move for religion to be more private is undoubtedly why secularization is becoming more prominent.
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.
Our seventh week of Sociology was fun because we got to revisit Chaves’ book chapters five and six. In which, he discusses the size of an average congregation is declining; however, the ones people currently attend are getting larger. This feels like a contradiction, but actually makes sense once you realize the informality of worship and attendance is increasing—thus making a more casual church setting more popular. Additionally, the leadership of churches are declining since most tend to be older, white males. The leader of an organized religion is less trusted due to multiple factors; mostly in the fact that people don’t like to be told and instructed what to do, or how to believe. So, women ministries are growing as a result to further enhance a feminist perspective in a role that has been, to long dominated by men.
Then, on Thursday, we watched a movie titled “Born Again”. A documentary short film chronicling the life of a few of the members of a Fundamentalist Baptist Church. Some of the couples had deep personal issues; which resulted in them splitting. All throughout, the members looked or answers to those everyday/individual problems in Scripture. The pastor would meet with some of them regularly to discuss the Bible and their own problems and they would consult the Bible together. It gave them a sense of constancy, a rulebook to follow. However, we talked in class how this inadvertently creates a wall between them and the outside world; thus putting them in the category of a sectarian church. To be honest, I don’t think they care about what denomination they are categorized.
First, we got to finish the very last Case Study, “God Needs No Passport”. What makes this book interesting was the focus of immigrants with four different religious beliefs and the varying countries that they originated. The way the group split up the four faiths into three sections: transnationalism, diversity and Americanness allowed me, personally, to better visualize how each practitioner felt and how their experience in America has changed their faith, and what it does for their family dynamic. One quote they mentioned really stood out to me: “The way people practice religion in America shapes what it means to be an American and our vision of what a good society should look like.” Everyone undoubtedly has their own views and feelings toward America, but it sounded as if the transition of living here has allowed each group to grow more tolerant and understanding of other faiths.
This week was also interesting to learn further about my peers’ respective congregational visits and how they each either fit the mold of a traditional church setting, or they didn’t. For the majority, everybody took their sociological eye to the test to document things like age, ethnicity, and overall attendance to give a thorough analysis of what each individual congregation was like. Even though we all didn’t go together, the slides and everyone’s description truly brought it to life, and I can imagine what these various church gatherings looked like. Everyone was excited to share what they learned and how their churches were either formal or informal.
Many more case studies were presented and many more added to our multi-diverse discussion. I remember on Tuesday regarding the books “Tradition in a Rootless World” and “A Mosaic of Believers”. What was fascinating was the background research each author did for their respective church setting. Ms. Davidman did her outline surrounding the conversion of orthodoxy in Judaism with two very distinct groups of secular Jewish women. I loved the consistent theme regarding women’s role in both groups that showed not only their experience; but also, the thoughts of their fellow Jews and how they treated women’s roles and if they were going to be progressive. One common factor both groups seemed to share was that conversion happened mainly due to a sense of feeling lost, or discontent—ultimately leading them to their faith.
Next, Mr. Marti’s in-depth analysis of the Mosaic Church located in L.A. The four “havens” were interesting in their own rights; since they all have their own pros and cons. The theological, multiethnic, artistic, innovator, and age havens seem to have alienated a certain area of humanity—thus leading to more people leaving the church. They did share one quote that I found inspiring; and one that I think sums up how many contemporary religious groups feel. Gerardo Marti stated: “Change does not have to be feared; it can be embraced, especially if it accomplishes the purposes of God.” It appears that the Mosaic church truly wishes to increase its fluidity of ethnicity; because it aims to create a new shared culture of different kinds of people together; rather than adapt the varying cultures.
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.
Getting into the mindscape of a sociologist, it is nice to see some visual representation of the research that has been completed to see where we should go from here. The subdivision of data is meticulous and conflicting at times, but I think this is what we and they must deal with in order to figure out what to do next. The differing cultures and traditions allow for a multi-faith conversation to happen—now that people, especially younger people, are becoming more accepting of beliefs other than their own. The Pew Research website was a nice visual learning experience to examine the demographic differences held by various beliefs, practices, as well as political and social views. The fact of the matter, for me, came when I searched under the “reading scripture” tab and discovered that 88% of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones who read their scripture the most per week; followed by Mormons at 77%.
Also, I very much enjoyed Mark Chaves’ chapters that gently spelled out the changing trends right now. Overall, the truth is in the figures he presents, and most people already know: church attendance and belief in God in the U.S. is going down. The religious diversity, however, in America is growing. Additionally, I find it hilarious that the “nones” category must be put in quotation marks as not to confuse anyone with the actual nuns. Mostly, the way you phrase a question, makes all the difference in what kind of results you will receive. There are numerous ways to conduct a survey—and it’s up to the individual to determine which way is best for them and the results they seek.