Category Archives: Reflection

Our weekly reflections on what we’re learning in class, our reading, and our various assignments.

Reflection 25/02/19

This week we were listening to the presentations of the different congregation visits that my classmates did in the Redlands area. It was interesting to see the different opinions people had on the congregations that they visited. As each presentation was done in pairs each presentation had the viewpoints of people with different religious backgrounds. What one person expected to find in a church was completely foreign to the other, or sometimes they agreed on what they expected. The expectations that people have when going to church based on their past experiences is larger than they assume because seeing something different tends to be shocking. In class, we learned about the differences in churches and how they operate. Despite this, seeing and experiencing a church that differs from what you are used to because it challenges the personal definition one has of religion and what one expects from it. The one that stood out the most to me was the group who presented on the Mormon church. There was a large contrast between the formality of the dress and the informality of the people at the mass. This separation was surprising to me because, from my own experience, the level of formality of dress dictates the level of formality. Learning that there are people who view that disconnect between the two as something that is normal was interesting because it shows that there are people who experience a different connection to their dress and their surroundings.


Reflection 2/25/19

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.

Reflection 2/18/19

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.

Reflection 18/02/19

This past week in class we have been able to see the presentations of the other groups and their case studies. Seeing these case studies I saw the different ways in which people experience religion. Each case study studied different religions and meeting places of those religions and covered a wide range of ways that people experienced and sought out information. The case study that interested me was Marion Goldman’s Passionate Journeys. This one struck me because it showed me a point of view that I had never considered before and a new way of presenting information. The way that the women were able to find their freedom and fulfillment in life from Baghwan’s teachings and center made me think about the reason that people look for different things in religion than I have been shown in my life. This is something that I saw in the presentation on Lyn Davidman’s Tradition in a Rootless World. In my experience, religion has been something that people use to explain the world around them, an exploration of the unknown. I’ve never looked at as a way of providing meaning and structure to one’s life. Looking through religious experiences through this lens has helped me to broaden my views on religion and reinforce the idea that each individual is seeking something different in their life. The structure of Goldman’s book also struck me as it provided a new way of sharing information. The use of the composites allowed the reader to connect fully with the women being discussed as connecting to the life of an individual is much easier than to a group of people. Learning about these composites, even second hand, I was able to understand the decisions of many different women and experience a different point of view. Which helped me to my earlier revelation.

Reflection 11/02/2019

This past weekend I visited United University Methodist Church. This was a very different experience for me based on what I am used too. In my past church experiences, as a child, I went to a separate building during mass and attended Sunday school. At this church, at the beginning of mass, they had the children in the room come up to the front and they were read a children’s book about Moses by one of the leaders. Everyone who was sitting in the pews listened to the story as well. While watching this encounter, I realized how close everyone in the church was. It is a fairly small church, and the mass is focused on fostering the community and experiencing Jesus and God together. This sense of community was very striking to me. I could tell that everyone there was very close to each other and cared deeply about each other.

Another difference between my past experiences and this church was the emphasis on song that was placed here. In the shelves, on the pews, there were only hymnals at this church, while my church of childhood had both a hymnal and a bible. This difference may be small, but during the service, there were more songs that were sung than I was expecting. The people at the church were using the songs as a way to connect with God and Jesus in a way that I haven’t seen before. In my old church, song was a very serious thing that happened less. Here, people were more casual about it and it was more often.

This was a new experience that showed me how different churches can differ. The way I was raised religiously means that I haven’t been able to experience differences in churches, and learning about the differences in class is very different than seeing happen in front of me. This was a very educational experience for me that I am glad I was able to experience.

Women’s Religion

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.

Case Studies 1 & 2

I sincerely enjoyed reading my Case Study: “Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium”.  Alyssa, Samantha and Noel were great partners and I felt we really got to the heart of what Mr. Miller was trying to convey.  The “new paradigm churches” shows how they are reinventing the way Christianity is experienced in the United States today.  Certainly, a trend is starting to form within Protestantism; and it will only get more diverse going forward.  Our author primarily focused on church attendance, not unlike the way Chaves conducted his surveys on if religiosity was declining in recent years—our presentation showed that to be the case.  People are leaving the traditional church structure in favor of the new paradigm churches.

Then, the class got to see the Catholicism side of transformation in “The Spirit’s Tether: Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics”.  The author examined two very distinct parishes, one conservative, and one more progressive, to see the dynamics and attendance of each parish.  Everything from the way each parish viewed Mary, mother of Jesus to the length of masses was found in extensive research that the group presented.  Learning about what constitutes an official religion and what doesn’t is probably my favorite aspect of this class so far.  The difference between a “official religion” versus a non-official one comes down to where folks are, how they act and how they dress.  The religious elites dismiss such contemporary practices because they no longer have the power to enforce.  Is this a good thing?  Well, that’s up to the individual to decide.

Reading Reflection 02/04/19

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.

Reflection 04/02/2019

This past week we began reading Mark Chaves’ book American Religion. In the first couple of chapters, he discussed trends in the population and different religious beliefs. What stuck with me in chapter two was his discussion of diversity in the religion. Chaves talked about how people’s everyday lives are becoming more diverse. That with time, more people have people of other religions and race. Although even with this increase in diversity in the country, churches still remain some of the most segregated areas of the country. This was never something that I’ve never thought about, but when he brought up the saying “11 a.m. Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week”, it made a lot of sense to me (p.27). Since I’ve always viewed America as a racially diverse country, hearing that there was still segregation was shocking, but not surprising. I have studied the past of racial segregation and discrimination in America and around the world and know theoretically that the effects of that are still not gone, it is shocking to see statistics about it because it’s nothing I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. As my family is not religious, while visiting the US and living here for a few months, I have not been to a church so I have not seen the environments that are there. I have always visited cities or towns that are very welcoming of diversity and have become accustomed to that being the way things are.

Sociological Surveys

Getting into the mindscape of a sociologist, it is nice to see some visual representation of the research that has been completed to see where we should go from here.  The subdivision of data is meticulous and conflicting at times, but I think this is what we and they must deal with in order to figure out what to do next.  The differing cultures and traditions allow for a multi-faith conversation to happen—now that people, especially younger people, are becoming more accepting of beliefs other than their own.  The Pew Research website was a nice visual learning experience to examine the demographic differences held by various beliefs, practices, as well as political and social views.  The fact of the matter, for me, came when I searched under the “reading scripture” tab and discovered that 88% of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones who read their scripture the most per week; followed by Mormons at 77%.

Also, I very much enjoyed Mark Chaves’ chapters that gently spelled out the changing trends right now.  Overall, the truth is in the figures he presents, and most people already know: church attendance and belief in God in the U.S. is going down.  The religious diversity, however, in America is growing.  Additionally, I find it hilarious that the “nones” category must be put in quotation marks as not to confuse anyone with the actual nuns.  Mostly, the way you phrase a question, makes all the difference in what kind of results you will receive.  There are numerous ways to conduct a survey—and it’s up to the individual to determine which way is best for them and the results they seek.