During class last week we learned a little bit about Ethnography and how it differed from a sociologist. Ethno means people and graphy means writing, so in other words it means writing about people. Ethnographers tend to spend very long periods of time at the place they are looking at. During class we learned a little bit of background about how it started. One of the first ethnographers was W.F Whyte. He was hired to hang out with street gangs and find out how they worked, in order to try and get them to comply with society and behave with the middle class. At the time the street gangs were considered lower class and deviant, but still salvageable. What he ended up finding was that the street gangs were still people like anybody else, and he didn’t feel that they needed to be assimilated into the middle class anymore. He started to understand how they ran their lives and believed they still deserved to be treated with respect. Overall what came from this study was the complex picture of human beings that Whyte was able to portray. I think this is the most important job of ethnographers. It is imperative that they can show other people that do not understand them, that just because they have differing views, they still deserve to be treated just like everyone else, even if you don’t agree with them. This is why it is important for ethnographers to be able to realize the viewpoint they are at and express that in an article, so it does not come off as biased.
Last week in class we began to discuss six basic stories of religion that are used to try and interpret what is going on currently. One of the stories that I found explained what was going on in today’s religious culture was the story about religion acting as a source of community. This describes religion as a transaction of social relationships. Whenever people are asked what they find comforting about their religion, many say they find a sense of community there. This is very important, because of how large and impersonal our society is becoming. This gives people a place to come and feel a part of something, so it is understandable why people would turn to religion to find this. Another story I found interesting was that religion is becoming Anti-Modern. This explains religion moving back to old strict religion which helps people seek security and form, in such a complex society. There always seems to be this cycle of official religion and nonofficial religion going back and forth in popularity. I don’t think we will ever be able to say that religion will always stay either official or nonofficial because as soon as one has been in popularity for a certain amount of time, people will begin to crave the other. Recently we have seen a surge of millennials and younger generations preferring nonofficial religion, however this story states that because of the large society we are currently apart of, people will begin to move back towards official religion in search of its security. Instead of leaning to only one becoming popular over the other, I foresee a split with the public, and the preference of religion relating closely to political preference.
For class this week we finished up our jigsaw readings and my final one was by Ebaugh named “Reproducing Ethnicity”. The article discussed ways that immigrants can still find homes in America through their congregations, even though they are no longer in their homeland. Many ethnic congregations fuse important cultural events with their religion. For example, they wear outfits to church from their homeland, or design congregations similar to the ones found back at home. I thought it was very intriguing that people tried to copy places of worship so closely and replicate it back in the United States. It is a great way to help people feel more at home and find people with similar values in a place that is so unfamiliar to them. It also effects religion by creating different sub types of large religions such as Buddhism and Catholicism. This expands and creates different versions of religion for many types of people. By immigrant congregations accepting their ethnically diverse holidays, it helps promote and support different ethnicity’s cultures and reaffirms their place in the United States. Ethnic congregations also allow people to feel attached to their homeland by talking about things that are currently happening there and throwing events where they can meet new people who are of the same ethnicity. I think this article reaffirms McGuire’s chapter in “Religion of the Modern World”. Although these people might say they are Catholic or Buddhist on a survey, one cannot automatically assume they know all of their beliefs or worship practices. This is because so many people have varying ways of reaffirming their beliefs and different ways of practicing their religion.
For class, I read a very interesting and thought-provoking article by Mark Juergensmeyer called, “Is Religion the Problem?”. The article discussed if religion was the problem of violent attacks, if religion’s shady side had been exposed, or if religion was the problem or the victim. One important point that Juergensmeyer brought up was that besides the 9/11 attacks, almost all other terrorist attacks are Christian. I had never known this before, as I was under the impression all terrorist attacks were due to the Middle East. I think this fact needs to spread and be discussed more to help not only stop discrimination of Muslims around the world, but to also make Americans look internally at our nation. I think that a lot of people don’t want to believe this already because it is easier to have a scapegoat and blame an external source, rather than looking internally at the state of our nation.
Another argument Juergensmeyer makes is that religion is not the problem of these violent attacks, but it is “the medium through which these issues are expressed”(Juergensmeyer 7). I found this to be extremely fascinating, because I had never thought of it like this. People that provoke or participate in violent attacks are expressing their anger of social frustration and marginalization through their religion. One way of doing this is thinking of the attacks as cosmic war, that they are a part of a greater religious battle such as those talked about in their religions. This way they can see themselves as being a part of a greater good and seeing the opponent side as inherently evil or devilish. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the article and got many new aspects of religion and how it pertains to violence.
Two concepts that I found very interesting while reading McGuire’s chapter of “Religion in the Modern World” was the concepts of societalization and privatization. McGuire begins this chapter by discussing the overall decline of religion seen in individuals’ lives. One approach to explain this is the idea of societalization which is described by Bryan Wilson. He discusses the loss of power that religious organizations have when it comes to large corporations such as media, politics, television, sports, and so on. He claims that because of the rise of these corporations, religion cannot keep up and becomes comparatively weaker. I had never thought of religion as having to compete with corporations and found this comparison compelling. When I was growing up, my friends would often say that they didn’t want to go to church because they didn’t want to miss a birthday party, or a softball game, etc. Although these aren’t large corporations, it shows that religion still has to compete with everyday life activities that may be more exciting to someone that isn’t extremely religious. Another reason for the decline of religion on the social spectrum, is due to privatization. As religion has continued to change in recent centuries, it has become an increasingly private for individuals. It is used to act as a buffer for people to express their stress and issues from social life in a different aspect. I found that church I observed, The First Congressional Church of Redlands, showed this concept. Never in the service, did the pastor share personal experiences or ask for people to share with others. The service contained a lot of rhetorical questions and time for private prayer at the end. For these individuals, church was a very private matter and a way for them to communicate their everyday issues and stresses with God.
The week before break we watched a movie in class about a Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Massachusetts. I found the movie to be very interesting because it was completely different than anything, we had studied in class thus far. The church would have been placed in a more sectarian bracket which was interesting to compare to all of the denominational churches we just discussed in the presentations. The movie followed the stories of some members of the church and their experiences. One mom discussed how surprised she was when she read her kids textbooks and did not agree with what they were learning, so she pulled them out and put them in a school that taught ideas that readily aligned with the church’s views. The kids were also interviewed and expressed how they did not like how close and personal all the families were. They felt that sometimes it would be nice for everyone not to know each other’s business and for that reason public school appealed to them. I felt bad that the kids felt like they were under a microscope and that even if they wanted to go to public school, that was not an option for them. The fact that the church was so focused on themselves internally and did not want to mix with the outside world was interesting. This was very different than the denominational groups that generally love to welcome new members and share their stories, whereas the church in the movie, did not want to involve outsiders and risk it contaminating their space. It was evident that for these members the church encompassed all aspects of their lives and they were okay between this invisible wall between themselves and the outside world. The movie was a great way to get a glimpse into the outlook involved with sectarian churches.
Last week I visited the First Congressional Church of Redlands. Over all I enjoyed my time at the church and felt very comfortable there. It was obvious after viewing the service that this church was practicing official religion. It was a very formal service, sang traditional hymns, and it was very evident who the pastor was based on his suit and tie. One aspect of this church that I found interesting was how rhetorical the service was. Many questions were asked that had to do with specific events and stories from the Bible. People from the audience would often shout out the answers, so it was very evident that a large majority of people present knew the information in the Bible. For those not as familiar, the pastor would fill in and still give a lot of background, so others could follow the service. Towards the end of the service, the pastor wrapped it up with asking everyone a question allowing people to privately reflect. Going to a service like this was very new to me. I was used to the pastor giving a lot of personal stories and reflection while only referring to a few verses in the Bible. The use of stories and allowing people to privately reflect made the service seem to carry more weight for people. I felt that it gave more people a personal private relationship with God that only they knew about, rather than sharing personal stories with other people and then praying. I would feel very comfortable going back to this church and enjoyed getting another perspective on how other churches run their services.
One of the groups presentations that stood out to me this week was about the book, “A Mosaic of Believers.” The group shared about the Mosaic Church and one thing that surprised me about this church was the idea of havens. They had many different groups that someone could join based on their interests which grouped them with people similar to themselves and gave them a smaller community within the large church. They had five havens which were: theological, multiethnic, artistic, innovator, and age. The havens seemed similar to small worship groups at other churches because it gave people a way to feel connected on a personal level to others. This also gave the opportunity for people to express themselves. For instance, the art haven allowed people to make films and design, while also trying to spread the church’s message. One large draw back from the church is that it mostly resonates with younger people and isolated older ones. Many people that are middle age found it hard to feel encompassed in the church. Although it is mostly millennials that can be found, many similarities can still be seen when comparing Mosaic Church to churches with an older following. Both types of churches still had smaller groups within the church that gave them a sense of place and identity within the church. Just because these groups met however did not take away the importance of everyone coming together for a large service on Sunday. Music is also very important to the places of worship and although it is expressed in different genres, it is still very evident. I think these three ideas can always be found no matter what type of church you are looking at and serve as very important ideas for any type of religion to encompass.
Last week in class we began presenting our group projects. My group presented on Miller’s book, “Reinventing American Protestantism”. I thought the book was an interesting read that gave a lot of insight into the changing aspects of many churches. The main focus of the book was to point out the ways that Calvary, Vineyard, and Hope Chapel are now appealing to many people who are no longer interested in strictly structured religion. Many of the individuals that are joining these movements want to feel freer and have a more personal interaction within the service. They no longer want to feel that they have to go through a hierarchy in order to make a relationship with God. Moving away from structured religion has a lot to do with the hippie movement and the freedom that was found during that time. This led me to wonder: what may have happened with structured religion, had the hippie movement never occurred? Would there have been a surge of movements such as Calvary, to make religion less structured? Maybe not immediately, but I do believe there would have come a time in society to branch out from structured religion to allow more people to have religious freedom. However, there are still plenty of people practicing structured religion, which was brought up by another group presentation. This group discussed a Catholic Church, Our Lady of Assumption, and contrasted it to another Catholic Church, Saint Brigitta. It was interesting going from Miller’s book which took the stance that in order for churches to survive, they would need to be more relaxed, and the other book which contrasted two popular structured Catholic churches. Although Our Lady of Assumption was much stricter in their views, both Catholic churches showed that many people still prefer the more structured aspects of religion and may not want it to become more relaxed.
In class right now we have been discussing a lot of charts and looking at the trends such as the populations of Protestant and Catholic churches, over many years. Overall one connection that can be drawn is that the populations in churches have decreased over many years and the population of unaffiliated people has increased. Although we can deduce this correlation from the chart, it does not tell us the reason for this decline. One might be able to speculate, but cannot prove causation based on the graph. One topic that was brought up in class that intrigued me was the discussion of someone identifying themselves as spiritual or religious. One chart from Chaves novel showed that there is a growing minority of people becoming more spiritual and less religious. He states that one interpretation of the graph would be that more people are concerned with spiritual matters, whatever that might mean to them, and less concerned with being a part of organized religion. He goes on to claim that as this group of individuals continues to grow, that it may give rise to a new type of religion. I found this to be very fascinating that we could be witness to a new, completely different form of worship. A new form of religion that has been becoming more popular among individuals is the Calvary Church, a new paradigm church mentioned in Millers novel, “Reinventing American Protestantism”. Here it is much more laid back, people can dress as they want, and the music is less traditional than what you would consider “typical” gospel music. I think that if spiritual individuals were to begin to congregate and share their beliefs it would be similar to the laid-back structure of the Calvary Churches. However, it would be very interesting to see how they ran their meetings, to see how closely they resembled churches now, and what they felt were important, core features to their new spiritual religion.