McGuire, ch.6 and Case Studies

This week, we began with McGuire’s explanation of religion as an agent of social cohesion and conflict, as well as the role of civil religion in society. McGuire notes Durkheim’s philosophy of religion as a medium of social engagement, positing that our globalized economic systems displace religion as a pivotal element of social cohesion. However, it can still function as a glue for different groups, especially when paired with a racial or ethnic identity. In our political world, national leaders utilize stories, symbols, music, and transcendent language to produce a quasi-religion connected to our country. Although almost all political leaders in the U.S. use it to some extent, nationalistic leaders are particularly well-served by civil religiosity. Finally, as a force of social conflict, religion can produce an “us-them” perspective that sets up divides in the larger population. When religious boundaries overlap with ethnic or class boundaries, as they do in Northern Ireland, the resulting cleavage can be especially stark.
Our two class presentations touched on several of the above themes. The first one, which discussed four different ways to approach religion, included an explanation of exclusivists, those who believe their religion is the only good option, and anti-religionists, who despise religion in general. Each of these people can contribute to social conflict around religion due to their absolute beliefs. In the other presentation, we learned about members of a new religious movement from India. This movement acted as social cohesion for housewives who felt undervalued and under-stimulated. Thus, these two presentations pulled together several concepts from McGuire’s reading.