All posts by Erin J.

Churches and Social Activism

This week in class we presented our second congregational visit oral reports. This time people had visited sectarian churches instead of denominational ones. It was interesting to hear what other people had to say about their experiences. A number of my fellow students ended up visiting these really evangelical places that believe that if one doesn’t believe in God, they’re going to hell. Two or three of these places also stressed the “end of days” and how it’s practically upon us. Most of the students who went to these places said that those places were kind of intense, as well a little weird and awkward. However, some other students went to places that really weren’t like that. The churches they went to were just more hip and modern than your average church. Then there was one student who went to a Jehovah’s Witnesses service. She said that was definitely an interesting experience.

The other thing that happened this week was that our teacher has us go to this symposium he was giving talk at instead of having regular class. He ended up giving a talk about Catholic Workers and social activism in modern times. It was about these people who identify as Catholic, but aren’t traditional Catholics like the ones people usually think of. These people are more separate from the official Catholic Church and they are major social activists for a number of different things. The teacher then talked about some of work they’ve done, including helping the homeless in LA and having a soup kitchen. Also, while they may not be mainstream Catholics, they still hold their own services and practice their faith. In the end, this clearly demonstrates how these days people are taking religion more into their own hands and are trying to use it in the way they think is best in order to help the world.

Religion for the Individual/Community

This week in class we presented different examples from readings we read about how religion can be tailored more towards an individual or more towards a particular community. We also talked about why certain people and groups would find these certain things appealing. One reading talked about how different immigrant groups tailor religion to feel more like home. (Ebaugh, Pg. 80) They model the buildings they use after ones from their home countries, they celebrate traditional holidays, and they serve traditional food. (Ebaugh, Pg. 81, 84-85, 87-89) They use religion as a way to gather together as a community with similar backgrounds in order to hold onto parts of home while still trying to transition into a new life in a new country. (Ebaugh, Pg. 80) This is an example of tailoring at the community level. However, tailoring religion at the individual level can also include tailoring it to the community level as well. One of my groups presented on a reading about a gay bar in Atlanta that does “Gospel Hour.” (Gray and Thumma, Pg. 79) Drag queens who do shows there come out and sing gospel music and some people find that very powerful. (Gray and Thumma, Pg. 79-81) In this case, this was a place where religion and homosexuality could come together under one roof. This was important for men who were religious but needed a place where they could practice their faith, be accepted, and not be stigmatized by other Christians who think homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals can’t be Christian because of this. (Gray and Thumma, Pg. 81, 89-90) This example demonstrates how religion can be both tailored for the individuals as well as the community as a whole. This is all important in the end because it reveals peoples’ mindsets and how they can use religion creatively to get the most out of it.      

Practicing Their Faith

Recently, a federal appeals court agreed that a Texas school board can have students offer prayers at their board meetings. (, Associated Press) The American Humanist Association and another party had filed a lawsuit against the school district because of this practice, but their case was dismissed by a lower court ruling. (, Associated Press) Then, this ruling by the federal appeals court basically upheld the lower court’s ruling. (, Associated Press) The appeals court declared that prayers at meetings for legislative bodies are not the same as praying in public schools. (, Associated Press) Therefore, it does not violate the first amendment’s prohibition of a state or government religion. (, Associated Press) Some may still argue that this practice is cutting it close though. However, in the end this is just a group of people who want to express and practice their faith in their own way. Asking God to bless everyone there and to insure their meetings are productive isn’t a bad thing, and for some, prayers aren’t just something meant for church only. For them, it’s about practicing their faith more individually in day-to-day life. Practicing one’s faith in these little ways is becoming more and more common as people tailor religion to suit their lives more.

Secularization: A Growing Trend

This week in class we talked about religion in modern times. Specifically, we talked about six different trends or narratives that different sociologists have put forth to explain what’s happening to religion in modern times. (Lecture notes) Those six trends are secularization, conservative resurgence, religions as local communities, increased individualism, religious markets, and globalization. (McGuire, Spickard, Lecture notes) Each of these narratives presented different ideas about which direction religion is going. One says religion is decreasing, one says it’s increasing, one says people are shifting how they practice religion, and so on. Also, all these different narratives reveal how not all sociologists are in agreement about what’s happening to religion. In the end though, all these narratives present valid arguments and cases for how religion in changing in modern times.

During the next class, we then focused in on secularization specifically. We got into groups, and we each presented different readings about secularization and what they were about. I noted that there was a lot of dialogue throughout these presentations specifically pertaining to Europe becoming more secular and America remaining more religious. Of course, each reading presented different arguments regarding these things, but it was still interesting how those places seemed to be the two main players in the question about secularization. Some of things that were talked about included what factors have made America more religious and Europe more secular. However, there were other things that were talked about in some of these readings as well. My group presented a reading about the different levels in which secularization occurs. (Chaves, Pg. 757, 765) This included the societal level, the individual level, and the organizational level within the religious institutions themselves. (Chaves, Pg. 765-769) In the end, this is all important stuff to know in order to paint a clearer picture of how religion in society is changing.

Europe Becoming More Secular

Recently, Europe’s highest court ruled that “workers can be prohibited from wearing any kind of religious symbol to work.” (Neffinger, In Belgium, a woman claimed she was fired from her job at a security company due to religious discrimination because she wore a hijab to work. (Neffinger, The high court ruled against her however, saying that prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols isn’t direct discrimination. (Neffinger, The court did add, however, that the ban has to apply to all religious symbols in order for it to be counted as not being religious discrimination. (Neffinger, Some would say this is fair, others would say this is still a blow to religions. Also, one has to wonder if this an example of Europe’s growing secularization. Fewer and fewer people attend religious services in Europe now more than ever. (Berger, Davie, Fokas, Pg. 11) There are also less clergy, and “the churches have largely lost their former importance in public life.” (Berger, Davie, Fokas, Pg. 11) Also, “European politics [have eschewed] the sort of religiously tinged rhetoric” that is found elsewhere. (Berger, Davie, Fokas, Pg. 11) Is this case an example of these politics or is it something else completely? The point is that religion is fading in many aspects of European life and this might be one of the ways in which it’s happening.

Changes and Churches

This week in class we talked about religion and social change. These things are connected in some important ways. Religion can both help cause social change and prevent it. (McGuire, Pg. 245) Religion can also be affected by social change as well. (McGuire, Pg. 280) One of the best examples is the Civil Rights movement. During the Civil Rights movement, churches were places where people could rally together as a community during those challenging times. (McGuire, Pg. 273) Churches also had extensive networks of resources and connections that were also useful to the Civil Rights cause. (McGuire, Pg. 273) In these ways and many others, religion and the church helped social change. However, after the Civil Rights era, things changed. As we saw in a film in class, the social changes from the Civil Rights movement ended up having some bad effects on churches in the African-American community. Churches were no longer needed as bases of support for people in the community. Therefore, churches lost the power and influence they had had in the community. Also, more African-Americans became middle-class and successful, and this lead to a number of them moving to the suburbs and out of the inner-cities. The people left behind in the inner-cities then became more isolated as a result, and there were less people going to these churches. However, the film did also show how certain churches were still trying to be helpful and influential in their communities by offering different services and outreach to people in the inner-cities. Therefore, it isn’t fair to say that they lost completely. In the end, this is a perfect example of how religion and social change influence each other and the effects it can have on both, for better or for worse.

Churches, Churches, and More Churches

This week in class we gave oral reports on the churches and synagogues we visited and wrote papers about. We also finished up the last of the case studies that were being presented as well. It was interesting talking about my experience, but it was even more interesting to hear about other peoples’ experiences. A lot of them talked about how friendly and welcoming the people were when they showed up for the services. This was similar to what I experienced. Some went to more traditional churches, others went to more modern ones, and two or three people went to synagogues that were pretty modern too. Some places had a lot of members, others had fewer members. Everyone also talked about what the services were like. Once again, some were done in the more traditional style, others were more informal, less Bible-based, and modern. The most popular church that a number of people went to was the Methodist church down the street. One could argue that these trips were kind of like the case studies we read about and presented in class. In both cases, we were each able to get a glimpse into these other worlds and what they were all about. For instance, the final case study that was presented was about one of the rare multi-ethnic churches that can be found in America. (A Mosaic of Believers, Marti) The book was about what this church was like and how it was able to achieve this in some new and innovative ways. (A Mosaic of Believers, Marti) This case study revealed possible ways in which other churches could become more diverse as well. (A Mosaic of Believers, Marti) In the end, these projects were all about getting a new point of view and a new understanding about different groups of people.

Feelings of Faith

A new Pew survey called a “feeling thermometer” rated how people felt about different religions. (Blumberg, Using a rating system from zero to a hundred, the survey determined which groups of faith Americans have warmer feelings about. (Blumberg, Over 4,200 people participated in this survey, and the results were clear. (Blumberg, Good feelings towards the Jewish community were the highest, and feelings towards the Muslim community were the lowest. (Blumberg, Sadly, this clearly reflects the current times we live in. However, compared to an older poll that was done a few years ago, feelings towards most major religious groups have improved quite a bit. (Blumberg, This proves that Americans are continuing to embrace religious diversity more and more. (Blumberg, People are more open to other groups of faith. Interestingly though, the group who had the biggest increase in ratings was the atheists. (Blumberg, This could possibly represent the idea that more and more people are turning away from religion or feel that religion just isn’t as important as it used to be a few decades ago. In the end though, this survey clearly reveals a lot about America’s feelings towards religions or lack there of.

Different Groups of Faith

This week in class groups of students took turns presenting case studies from books they read. These case studies each dealt with different religious groups. One dealt with Catholics, another with orthodox Jews, one dealt with a cult from the late 20th century, one dealt with newer mega churches, and there were one or two others. Each of these case studies dealt with particular places that the authors of the books focused in on for their study samples. The authors spent certain amounts of time at these places, getting to know the people and the way they did things, and they even participated in activities sometimes. They also would interview people within their case study groups as well. Then in their books, they wrote down what they discovered. For example, the case study my group talked about and presented was about a Catholic community church in the Midwest that was dealing with the changing demographic of its attendance. (The Shared Parish, Hoover) Before, it had been primarily attended by Euro-American families. (The Shared Parish, Hoover) However in more recent years, immigration from Latin America created a parish that now has both Caucasian and Hispanic families attending services. (The Shared Parish, Hoover) The book talked about this change, how it affected both groups, and how it created two separate church communities who just happen to share the same church facilities. (The Shared Parish, Hoover) It really had some interesting stuff to talk about. Another case study that was presented talked about why certain women were converting to Orthodox Judaism. Another talked about the properties of mega churches and why they’ve become so popular with people. In the end, this is all interesting stuff to read and learn about, and it offers people a glimpse into these communities and what they’re about.

Religion at the Grammys

At the Grammys last Sunday, a couple of Christian artists walked away with some Grammy awards. (Neffinger, Chance the Rapper walked away with Best New Artist, gospel singer Kirk Franklin walked away with Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Performance/Song, and gospel singers Joey and Rory Feek walked away with Best Roots Gospel Album. (Neffinger, The couple’s album was actually one that was recorded before Joey’s death, who lost a battle with cancer. (Neffinger, Also, Chance the Rapper apparently even praised God in his acceptance speech. (Neffinger, This is all just one example of how religion can reveal itself in everyday public life and in entertainment. Religiosity and even spirituality can be seen in public life in a couple of ways. Sometimes, football players pray at games. After tragedies, makeshift memorials are made with flowers, candles, and other things. It also depends on the person or group of people. Some people will show their religiosity or spirituality more regularly in everyday life than others will. Some pray more, some have home alters, some will have little display at work, some wear cross necklaces, and some just feel a connection to a higher power when they go certain places. It’s all these little things that can be seen in daily life that remind us that religion can still be part of our lives in other ways besides just going once a week to a religious service.