Last week’s discussion on the different stories of religion and how religion is developing was really interesting to analyze. In particular, I was interested in the concept of the individual religious bricolage in the narrative, Is Religion Becoming More Individualized? I think this is a really interesting concept because of the different degrees to which people may adhere to this definition. For example, within my own family, my mother identifies as Catholic, however, she loves to study Buddhism and incorporate Buddhist values into her daily living (I even bought her Thich Nhat Hahn’s Teachings on Love for her birthday this year). However, when I ask my mother about her religious identity, she does not include Buddhism in her definition, instead she says she is Catholic in beliefs but not strongly connected to the institution of the Catholic church. This is an example of the individual religious bricolage because my mother has redefined what she considers to be Catholic in terms of her own experiences and preferences.
Furthermore, it is interesting to consider how different individuals have incorporated this concept of the religious bricolage within the diverse sections of Christianity. For example, during my two congregation visits, I have found different members who identify with different churches, despite identifying themselves singularly within a single church. This is also evident in my jigsaw reading by Ammerman, which highlighted the different levels of religiosity by two families. In this example, one family attended one church service, took part in community events of another, and took advantage of the childcare at another. In this sense, the family has created their own religious bricolage within the singular modem of Christianity. Ultimately, it has been really interesting to consider the degrees at which we can apply the concept of the individual religious bricolage, which, in some instances, is quite extreme, while in others is simply an expression of the complexity within a single religion.
This week’s jigsaw activity, where we each read different stories to be taught to each other was a really interesting class activity. My reading, Religious America, Secular Europe, was particularly intriguing because, while it definitely charted the differences in religiosity found in America vs Europe currently, it also highlighted the causes. I thought it was interesting how Berger noted that Europe had been largely unaffected by Evangelical Protestantism, which has played a major role in the rise of conservative religion across America. Furthermore, the fact that the UK has remained relatively unaffected by Pentecostalism is also very interesting, leading to the question of why Europe is unaffected by these conservative religious movements?
It is interesting to consider how Evangelical Protestantism has largely shaped the rise of religiosity in America. When we think of conservative and highly religious groups in America, it easy to immediately think of Evangelicalism. In many ways, Evangelicalism is often thought of in its extreme examples, but it is important not to overlook the fact that Evangelicalism has appealed to a large portion of people in the country. When I think of the stereotype of Evangelicalism, I tend to think of the movie Jesus Camp (2006), which detailed the goings on of a Evangelical Christian summer camp called Kids on Fire. This movie focused on profiling highly religious individuals and how it has affected the raising of their children. In the Berger readings this week, it became apparent that this experience is uniquely American in many ways, as our relationship with religion pervades politics, media, and education in ways completely different from Europe.
In this week’s reading, “Narrative vs Theory,” it was really interesting to read about the religious narrative of “religious individualism,” which Spickard defines as, “Individuals now pick from various religious options, crafting a custom-made religious life, rather than choosing a package formulated by any religious hierarchy” (14). Generally, religious beliefs have become more diverse as a way to appeal to different people. I found this to be interesting because when we think of think of religion, we usually think of formal churches tied to specific doctrine. However, this narrative highlights how religiosity is not so easily measured by one’s adherence to church doctrine. I definitely find that members of my family who claim to be religious are often in disagreement with more “fundamentalist” approaches to their church. Instead, these family members have subscribed to a multitude of religious values drawing from different organizations. This is is particularly evident in the intersection of political and religious values.
For example, many religious people in my extended family adhere to the label as Catholic. While the church that my extended family attends has an unaccepting approach to LGBT groups, the majority of my family has chosen to adhere to a more accepting stance on the issue. This is directly consistent with the observation that, “[Individuals] do not feel compelled to switch religious communities when their religious views change” (Spickard 15). Essentially, while the people in my family still consider themselves Catholics, their actual religious viewpoint draws from a multitude of different sources. Their religious viewpoint is not what one would consider to be fundamentalist Catholic, but instead is indicative of multiple religious values drawn from different sources. I also believe that this is a result of increased access to different religious teachings. One can easily access different teachings online through digital texts or sermons being delivered through streams.
Last week we watched a film detailing the lives of Fundamentalist Baptist constituents in a Massachusetts congregation. This was a really interesting film to watch because I felt that it portrayed an extremely truthful description of the church itself. I was surprised to see the honesty of congregants during their interviews, who chose to relay both their feelings of happiness as well as feelings of disappointment with their church, where it would have been easy to highlight only the positive aspects of their congregation.
One of the most interesting relationships within the film, for me, was the relationship between the married couple who had recently split up, as well as the pastor’s engagement in the conflict. Despite the fact that the husband had treated his wife very poorly, because the wife had chosen not to return to church, the pastor chose to support the husband in his decision to restrict their children’s access to their mother. I found this relationship to be very interesting because, while watching the film, I found myself sympathizing with the wife, rather than the husband. This was indicative of how my own upbringing and morals affected my view of the situation. I also found it interesting how the husband chose to leave the church after his wife filed for divorce. In this sense, I found that the church’s emphasis on how the text of the Bible can explain and resolve issues ultimately did not resolve the husband’s situation. As a result, he left the church because he felt that it could not fulfill what he desired in his religious life. This was really interesting to observe because, on some level, this mirrored my own relationship with religion, as I left because I did not feel that religion is something that would contribute to my life significantly. In the case of the husband he felt that the Fundamentalist church in Massachusetts could not fulfill his spiritual needs because the Bible text did not resolve his relationship issues.
It was really interesting this week to listen to the different congregation visit presentations, specifically how different people observe congregations different from their own. As a person who grew up in a Catholic congregation, it was interesting to see how those in the class who observed Catholic congregations pointed out things that I never considered unique. For example, I observed that a lot of students who visited Catholic congregations were surprised by the custom to genuflect before entering the pew, as well as the sign of peace. As a person who grew up Catholic, these practices were the norm for me. In fact, I was surprised in my own congregation visit that the Baptist church did not even have pews for me to genuflect before entering, and the informality of the congregation that I visited was quite surprising. It was also really interesting to see how different Catholic congregations practice these customs differently between the differing groups. In particular, it was surprising to learn how different congregations approached the sign of peace. In my own experiences, the sign of peace constituted shaking hands and hugging family members and friends. However, it became clear that this was not the norm for every Catholic church, despite the meaning being the same.
In this sense, the importance of anthropological strangeness became really clear to me, as it is really easy to ignore aspects of communities that you are a part of. I realize that if I had chosen a Catholic congregation to visit, I would have likely ignored the importance of such practices because I would generally regard them as “normal.” In fact, it was the lack of these things that were really evident to me in my own congregation visit.
This week I visited the First Missionary Baptist Church for my first congregation visit. This was a really interesting visit for me in comparison to my own Catholic upbringing. My experiences with Christian Mass up until this point were, as a result, largely in a Catholic context. When I was growing up going to Mass consisted on being silent while the pastor spoke. Because of that, I was immediately surprised when many parishioners would speak out in agreement during the service. Furthermore, I was surprised by the familiarity between parishioners and the pastor. Many times the pastor referenced specific members of the church, usually in small jokes or in examples. This was really indicative of the small community present in First Missionary, which was sometime I was unable to experience in my history with larger Catholic parishes.
In this sense, it was difficult for me to get comfortable in the parish at first. Many people introduced themselves to me and it was encouraged to speak out your opinions during the sermon. At the end of the service, different congregation members chose to speak of their own familial struggles so that other members of the congregation would pray for them. Furthermore, I was interested to see that the sermon delivered by the pastor had relatively little use of Biblical texts, rather, the Pastor utilized personal anecdotes to lead the congregation into his point. In addition, the sermon itself was based largely on the concept of correct action and intention, rather than a focus on religious texts. Overall, I was really impressed by the intimacy between the parishioners and the pastor. This congregation demonstrated a strong sense of community that I had not experienced myself in my own religious background.
In my reading of the case study, The Spirit’s Tether: Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics by Konieczny, it was really interesting to see the analysis of the religion to which I personally belong. It was definitely interesting to see the spectrum of communities within the broader community of the Catholic church. In my reading, I found that I related a lot to Konieczny’s description of Our Lady of Assumption. This church practiced more conservation values and operated under the organization of church as a family. In my personal experience, my family and I did not have the same interests of our church. As a result, we felt alienated from the Catholic church and thus left our religious community. While reading Konieczny, Assumption felt very familiar to me, but at the same time, uncomfortable, considering my conflict with a similar community.
Interestingly enough, reading about the second church, Saint Brigitta, was equally interesting in its espousal of egalitarian views and tension with the Catholic institution. In some ways, I feel like if my family had been involved with a Catholic church more similar to Saint Brigitta rather than Our Lady of Assumption, we may have not had a falling out with the church. Overall, it was really interesting to see how people’s attitude concerning religion can be vastly different depending on their church of memory, and how the church we attended played a major role in my family’s separation from Catholicism, rather than Catholicism itself.
A part of the reading I found really interesting this week was Chaves discussion of the rise of religious pluralism. This was definitely something that I could relate to as I know that my family has become more accepting of different religions, particularly because, what Chaves describes as, “People’s families and friendship circles are more religiously diverse than they used to be” (Chaves 19). I know that in terms of my extended family, until around the last 15 years, the family and friendship circles of my grandparents was exclusively Catholic. As supported by Chaves, there is strong concentration of Catholics in the Northeast (19). As a result, for a long period of time, my grandparents and their children’s social circle was largely made up of other Catholics, with a few exceptions.
This created strong conflict within my mother’s family when she decided to marry my father, who was raised nonreligious. At the time of my parents’ marriage, it was completely unheard of to marry someone outside of the Catholic faith. However, since then, religious opinions within my extended family have changed significantly. The “Aunt Susan Principle,” named by Putnam and Campbell and explained by Chaves as, “If your Aunt Susan is Catholic or Protestant of Jewish or Muslim or completely nonreligious, and you love her, it is more difficult to despise people whose religion than yours.” (19), was particularly evident in my family’s situation, where previously harbored religious biases were overturned by meaningful relationships and honest discussion. While my extended family was initially wary of my nonreligious father, they were able to become more accepting of religious diversity. This accepting attitude has expanded since my parents’ marriage, and I found it interesting to learn about this experience as a national trend in America.
A really interesting part of class this week was our viewing of the documentary, Separate Realities, which described the religious lives of two different individuals in similar locations. This film was really impactful for me because i have always found it interesting to understand how different perceptions one’s relationship with God can change one’s viewpoint on life. My personal experience with religion is very similar to Susan Anderson’s, the Episcopalian worshipper in the film. I deeply related with her doubts concerning God as well as her search to find a fair and intimate relationship with God. This is much more closely related to my experience and interest in religion, as I have personally looked deeper into religion as a grew older and found that my own doubts in the Christian faith would ultimately lead to my distance from the church. I think in the case of Susan Anderson, it was possible to come to terms with the doubts in her mind about worship and faith and still remain a strong member of her church.
As a result, it was really interesting to see Glenn Stover’s experience as a Baptist. Although I have been exposed to the concept of Baptist worship, it was helpful to see an individual’s perspective on this form of Christianity. For Glenn, his relationship with the Lord was heavily dependent upon his ability to spread the Word of God to others. This is a more churchly approach to religion (as defined by McGuire to consider themselves, “uniquely legitimate and exist in a relatively positive relationship with society.” (156)). When watching the film, I couldn’t help but find myself disagreeing with Glenn’s opinion about his purpose in the church, which I realize is indicative of my own Episcopalian upbringing that emphasized a personal relationship with God rather than a duty in the community.
A major element of the readings that resonated with me this week was McGuire’s discussion of “The Individual’s Religion” (McGuire 55), specifically how children may become exposed to religious worldview before actual involvement in a religious community. McGuire describes this as, “Especially for women and children, the family and home are central religious sites.” (McGuire 55). This was interesting for me to read because it is incredibly similar to my own religious experience growing up. While my time actually spent in church was limited, the basis of my religious experiences are rooted in private religious activity within my family. As a result, my self-identity was mostly based in my early childhood and family, rather than community. My religious identity was mainly developed through the desire of my mother to provide the religious environment that she grew up in, this was largely reflected in McGuire’s reference to religious studies where, “the most memorable aspects of growing up religious occur within families, especially through the daily routines and sacred objects, the holidays, and the intimate relationships of which families are composed” (Wuthnow qtd. In McGuire 54).
In this sense, I definitely connected my mother’s experience with religion and her subsequent choosing to expose me to Catholicism with McGuire’s observations of the development of self-identity. My mother’s experience in a Catholic Filipino family intersects with McGuire’s comments on ethnicity and religion, and the options for people to choose “which cultural elements to make personally meaningful” (McGuire 57). Ultimately, the readings this week were particularly interesting for me because I could really easily apply my own experiences with religion to McGuire’s understandings of how one cultivates a self-identity. Furthermore, McGuire’s discussion of ethnic self-identities was interesting to apply to my understanding of my mother’s interaction with religion, and how her self-identity influenced my initial exposure to religious life.