Last week we dove in a little deeper into what being an ethnographer is. Ethnography is the writings about people, it is when you investigate peoples lives, usually a group and then you write about those lives to represent them to other people. This semester we’ve become little mini ethnographers. We’ve done this through our two congregation visits and our interview with a religious specialist. We brought the knowledge that we learned on those visits and and shared it with the class so we could all acquire the knowledge of each individual congregation in Redlands. I was driving around town this weekend and I kept passing so many of the congregations that had been talked about in the last congregation visit as well as the first one. I feel like those presentations and those visits have brought us closer to the community of Redlands and have made us more knowledgeable about the place in which we currently live. I think that’s kind of the point of ethnography and sociology to learn about society share it with others and then grow from it and learn from it.
This weekend I also went to go visit my sisters who were in town for Coachella so I drove about an hour to their Airbnb to see them. On the way down I was driving on the freeway and I passed a church with the sign Calvary Chapel. The name of the church just stood out to me automatically because I remember learning about it in one of the books that a group taught the class. So even though that group didn’t go out and do the ethnography themselves, they were still able to come back and teach us what someone else had learned. Everything that other classmates have taught me this semester and everything I’ve learned through the lectures I believe will stay with me throughout my years here. Religion is constantly changing and ethnography and the sociology of religion is an amazing tool and an amazing way for us to learn about it. As this semester comes to a close I just wanted to mention how I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this class and how all of the concepts will stick with me as I learn about other religions and religion in America.
Last week in class we discussed religion in the 21st century and where religion is going now. All semester we’ve mainly been focused on American religion and how it’s changing, but as we discussed, these changes have been present all over the world. We talked about the importance of religion going global and the impact of religion on immigrant congregations. What stuck with me after this lecture was the transnational aspects of religion. Earlier this semester I read Levitt’s book called “God Needs No Passport” and it focused on religion in the lives of several immigrant groups. The ideas that the book touched on have stayed with me all semester, but this was kind of the first time we went more in depth on transnationalism as a whole class.
Religion is global and allows people to live in two places at once because it provides a community and structure. For immigrants, religion can be the one steady thing that they bring with them that helps them assimilate and adjust to their new life. I feel that I personally know the impacts of this. I moved to the U.S. when I was four and my parents used religion as a constant stability in our lives. I grew up in my Church and it has always been with me and my family no matter where we are. So I think that the one of the reasons that religion is such a large component for immigrants is because it reminds them of home. When you move, whether to a different country or just a different house, the goal is to establish a home and a comfortable one at that. So for many immigrants they put their roots into their new country via religion. We talked about a region in East London which has 300 congregations, many of which established by immigrant groups. This is their way of assimilating and connecting to their roots as well as their new home. Although religion is very individualistic it’s roots, community, and meaning stick with one, thus allowing religion to be a comforting stabilizer for people to bring with them wherever they may go.
For the last several classes we’ve been doing the Jigsaw readings and Thursday’s was the first one where they didn’t really tie in together. The rest of them had, had an underlying theme that were all tied together from reading to reading and fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, but I couldn’t really figure out what tied them together thus time. I read the “Fluffy Bunny Syndrome” article and just reading the title at first, I was very confused. I genuinely had no idea what religion it would talk about or what bunnies had to do with it. As I read I quickly learned that it was talking about the Pagan religion. “Fluffy Bunny” is a derogatory term for some Pagans who just kind of practice the mainstream stuff and don’t really get the deeper sense of paganism. It was interesting to see it this way because to me the pagan religion seemed to be smaller and community oriented, like a tight knit group of people. But even then, they still have their own problems within each other and don’t always see eye to eye on how to practice.
When reading the article I found the Pagan Fairs to be most interesting because there were multiple sides to the people. There were some who wanted to stick to authentic Pagan ways, some who were just “fluffy bunnies”, and then there were the ones who “pretended” to be a fluffy bunny in order to make Pagans more attractive to others. This is interesting because most people in society want to be accepted by others and may change their image in such ways, but I never really looked at it from the perspective of religion. In order to attract people to a certain religion or to make it more appealing, people do give somewhat of a “false” representation. It’s not just Pagans, it’s many religions we’ve looked at. We’ve seen it in the congregations we’ve visited, with the signs and encouragement to join and welcoming new people, most religions are seeking to grow and will figure out how best to do that. Religion can be very personal or community oriented, but each religious structure is going to display themselves in a way that will most strongly connect to people because the goal tends to be to continue the religion.
Recently I have found myself stuck on what to blog or reflect on. I wanted to talk about my experience when I went back home to my Church after months of not going and the beginning of Lent in the Catholic Church, but didn’t know how to go about it. So, ultimately I’ve had writers block for this blog even after studying for the midterm and reading the chapters. But then, last weekend (3/15) I was in Virginia for a Mock Trial competition from Friday to Monday. We landed at the Dulles airport and then had to drive two hours to Richmond, Virginia where the competition actually was. Driving down one of the roads someone in the car commented about all the Churches we were passing, and then I started paying attention to what they were. Many of them were Christian, being in Southeast America that wasn’t very surprising. But, there were also many other religions evident which kind of surprised me. We passed by a Sikh temple and I recalled the time I visited a Sikh temple for my religion class my senior year of high school. We also passed a beautiful temple of some sort but, I couldn’t find the name on the outside. As we passed by all of these religious buildings and Center’s of people’s faiths and beliefs it got me thinking about this class and everything we’ve learned about in regards to the importance of religion for some and changing religion.
Religion comes in many forms and it is not a “one size fits all” scenario. Whether one is religious or spiritual, there is a changing dynamic in what people are looking for and in America today. Examining religion through the sociological perspective as we have been doing has been eye opening to see how deeply religion truly affects people and their way of life. Religion provides a community, experience, and beliefs for people to help them intertwine these with society as a whole. I’ve been enjoying what we are learning about in this class as it has also made me more aware of religion around me.
Last week we finished up the presentations on the case studies, my group was the last one to present. Our book is called God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing Religious Landscape by Peggy Levitt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and sharing it with the class. Levitt interviewed many immigrants, more than we mentioned in our presentation, but they all had one thing in common. Religion was different for each of them, no matter if they came from the same country or not, their religious experience differed and this is the one thing that tied them all together.
As an immigrant, I was really excited to read this case and see the experiences of other immigrants. I moved here with my family when I was four years old from Venezuela and we found a home and a second family at our church. Some of the people in the book found new religions or new beliefs once they moved to the U.S, but many also kept the same religion and changed how they practiced. For my family we came to America as Catholics and remained Catholics. It was a stable belief in an otherwise unstable change. We left our families and the life that my parents had known and built, in order to live a better life. Like many of the people Levitt interviewed, we returned to our country often in the first few years of our move. We even returned to our church to see my cousins get baptized, but our roots were no longer there. We were and still are as the book describes “dual nationals”, concerned about our new community and our homeland as well. We returned and visited and we bring attention to the political climate of Venezuela and the inhumane treatment of its people. When you immigrate, or at least when I did, we left the country but the country didn’t leave us. That is still where my parents grew up and where many of my childhood memories were made, it’s still my home country. I really enjoyed reading this book and connecting with the people Levitt interviewed because I could relate to so many or see how their stories differed from my own. The story of every immigrant is different, but religion continues to be important for everyone, whether one is native born or an immigrant.
This past week we got to hear more of the case study presentations, all of which were very interesting. Something thats stuck with me though came from the Passionate Journey’s by Marion Goldman presentation. Overall the entire book seemed very fascinating with all of the different people and their unique stories. But what I found most enticing was that the author purposefully used the word “cult” when describing the movement. I found this interesting because the word “cult” tends to be used in a extremely derogatory way and that is what the author wanted to get away from. She wanted people to understand why women seek connections and spiritual meaning and I thought the book was a compelling idea. Cults tends to be a devotion or spiritual practice towards something seen as different by others or even seen as strange as defined by google. But Goldman strays away from this specific and negative outlook in order to show the movement in a brighter light.
Something else that I found very interesting is that all the women that joined Rajneesh were looking to find themselves. I feel like most people join religions looking for answers and guidance in life and this did not change for these women. They were also looking for answers and they just happened to leave everything they had ever known to find these answers. Whether one is spiritual or religious or neither I feel that everyone wants to find themselves and figure out their purpose in life. People turn to religion for these answers because religion goes deeper than we even know including divine nature. As we’ve discussed in class and read throughout these past couple weeks, people seek individual relationships in their religion which is why non-official and official religions exist. There is something out there for everyone because everyone is looking for answers to life or death.
Last week while reading chapter four in McGuire’s, Religion The Social Context, I became very intrigued with her discussion about gender roles. She evaluates how women’s religion influences their gender roles and identities in everyday culture. McGuire affirms that historically, definitions of gender roles have been highly influenced and created by religion. To me, this is very obvious because in many religions the men do everything and some religions don’t even allow men and women to sit together. Men are the ones who lead congregations, who are the leaders of a Church, and who are assigned the important roles; while women’s role is to tend to the children and take care of the men. This is why I was not shocked when McGuire attests that “nonofficial religion is one vehicle for women’s assertion of alternative religious roles” (McGuire128). This is not surprising to me because the role of women in official religion has been asserted through tradition and will be near impossible to change, so women look for another way. If women want to dictate their religious experience and be more active in their religion then they will find somewhere where they are able to do this because women are strong and will find a way to be heard. But, I’ve never really thought much further into how men affect women’s religion aside from their roles.
McGuire goes on to discuss not just how men have dictated women’s roles in religion, but also how women’s religion can be influenced by “men’s idea of what a properly religious woman should do and be” (129). She goes on to say that is not only because men have held all positions of authority, but also because they have decided what the beliefs, practices, norms, rituals, and organizational practices will be. I guess I never really thought of it in this way because for centuries, in almost all societies, women have been subordinate to men. In reality, they are the ones who taught us (women) to think and act this way in the first place. I never really realized how men have dictated everything in religion and because of them we believe what we do. Thus, men not only affect gender roles in religion but also how a woman’s interaction with religion is as a whole.
This past week we read chapter 4 of Chaves’ book American Religion, this chapter’s title is Involvement. Alone this title enticed me because I grew up being extremely involved and active in my church so I wanted to see what the facts were. Chaves says, “Religious involvement in youth is one of the best predictors of religious involvement in adulthood…”(Chaves 48). He goes on to describe figure 4.2 and the declining religious socialization across generations. As time goes on American’s are less likely to be raised in a religiously active family compared to prior generations. This lack of activity leads future generations to also remain inactive. I found this very interesting because growing up, going to Church was everything. For my family our church was our community and I was very active until the latter part of high school. So, learning that as new generations come people will be less likely to be active in church is shocking and kind of sad.
Growing up active in my Parish meant that I knew so many people from my community that I would have otherwise never known and I wish everyone were able to experience that sense of community. Chaves describes why this decrease is happening and relates it to the ever changing family dynamics. The numbers of traditional families, as Chaves describes having two parents and children, are declining and thus are also declining the amount of religious involvement. Families with children are more likely to be religiously active compared to single and childless people. I grew up in a “traditional” family so maybe that’s why I was so involved, but I think it is so beneficial no matter what the family dynamic may be. Demographic trends are affecting the amount of religious involvement, but I don’t think it needs to continue this way. He describes how the elderly are more active now because they grew up being religiously involved and as the generations age the numbers will continue to decrease, but I think it doesn’t matter how old you are if you want to go and be active in your church then go and do it. This changing demographic is going to affect the downward trend, but people can always take initiative and just do something they weren’t raised with. I know that it is difficult and probably rare for people to go out of what they know, but it is not impossible and future generations can change.
Last week in class we watched the film “Separate Realities” where two people who go to church across the street from each other lead completely different religious lives. I found two things in this movie to be quite interesting, first how differently they view religion and second what led them to their church. The woman in the movie goes to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, while the man goes to First Baptist Church across the way. For the woman, her religious journey was focused on herself. She was trying to establish a relationship with God in order to help her figure out who she is as she felt she’d lost herself. She attended a woman’s retreat to help her connection with God, but even after that she still struggled with her faith and even being open to discuss her faith with others. She felt that religion was private and shouldn’t be talked about with others.
Across the street the man in the film had a completely different view. He believed God had “saved them” to tell people about their Christ the Savior, so that is exactly what he did. He went out and became a minister by teaching classes at the church and spreading his faith with friends and strangers. He turned to religion when he was having a drinking problem and was looking to quit the habit, he feels that his faith saved him. His experience with his faith was far more community and preaching centered than the woman’s was, but they had one important similarity. They both found their beliefs and religion when they were struggling. Their religion affected them in the same way as it allowed them to find guidance in their lives when they felt lost. I found this interesting because although they came from different religions, they were drawn to a faithful life when they needed it most. They both turned to religion, to their faith, seeking answers and guidance and I feel this is the case for many people.
There are so many religions out there because everyone relates to different things and is spiritually fulfilled in different ways. Religion allows people to form a community and find answers that they would not encounter otherwise. Although they practice their religions in different ways, they came to know their faith for similar reasons. As discussed in McGuire’s chapter 5, every religion differs based on their stance and the way they are organized. If all religions were the same and fulfilled everyone, then there would be no need for a variety. Religions evolve and change over time, but there will never stop being a need for a variety of beliefs.
Meaning systems. We all have them; we all interpret situations and events in our own way, but what formed them? Why do I see a certain situation differently than the person next to me? Reading McGuire’s chapter two made me think about my own meaning system and how it was formed. McGuire discusses how each individual’s meaning system is learned from socialization, especially through religion. It is important to have a meaning system in order to define or find answers to things we don’t comprehend. Meaning systems help us define things such as death, poverty, illness, and other misfortunes. McGuire goes on to describe groups that all have one meaning system, or people who, for their whole lives, only surround themselves with those who share similar views. She describes these groups as “plausibility structures” and gives examples of religion in parts of Latin America where, “Most people spend their daily lives solely in the company of people who share major elements of their worldview” (38). This baffles me. I believe that we would all grow if we surround ourselves with people who think, see, and believe differently than us. I find it more beneficial for people to surround themselves with others who think differently in order to learn different views than to just stick with what they know and not expand outside of that.
I grew up in a devoted Catholic home and attended a Catholic high school where students did not need to be religious nor be specifically Catholic to attend. One might think that going to a religious school with the beliefs and meaning system that I already agreed with would cause my points of view to remain limited, but this is the opposite of what happened. Because my school accepted all religious backgrounds, I learned from many others with different meaning systems than those that I knew. This allowed me to grow as a person both in my religious views and in my evolving meaning system. Now in my life, I like to surround myself and talk with those who think differently than I do. I will admit that I am closest with those who have similar values as me, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if someone has different political or religious views, because as long as they respect mine, I will respect theirs too. These are the people from whom we learn most. We cannot learn from those who already know what we know and see life as we do. We must expand, go outside of what we know, and go outside of our comfort zones so we may grow. Once this is achieved, I believe we will prosper.