Religion and Power

Paulo Freire coined a term that I cherish: critical consciousness. This concept encourages us to see keenly the patterns and structures that exist in our social realities that create and sustain oppression. I thoroughly appreciated Chapter 4 of Religion: The Social Context because it details the multitude of ways that religion and power intersect.

For one, the chapter discusses the tension between official and non-official religions. Official religions in both a historical and contemporary context marginalize other religious expressions in order to further legitimate the dominant religious institution. The construction of categories is a means to reinforce that sense of legitimacy. Historically, the concept of official religion was equated with the sacred and all that exists beyond that categorization was associated with profanity. Thus, socially constructed values have become embedded in how we conceptualize religions.

Secondly, gender roles are embedded in religious institutions and rituals. They have symbolic value that reaffirms the role of women as subordinate. Additionally, individuals within the religious community will sabotage the success of women members to conserve the present social structure. On page 137, McGuire asserts that male members of the clergy will inhibit female clergy members who demonstrate high performance. Despite these internal efforts to maintain the status quo, the women who acquire high vocational positions use the position to actively rework those roles for greater equality. McGuire affirms that women in high clergy positions model new ways of interaction that embody values of egalitarianism.

When illuminating these structures of inequality, formulating a solution is the next logical step to take. McGuire suggests that non-official religion, or popular religion, offers a nexus for oppressed individuals and groups to congregate in solidarity. In these collectives, self-sufficiency (and subsequently independence) and alternative production of knowledge serve as avenues for resistance. I look forward to continuously applying this concept and spirit of critical consciousness to illuminate the ways in which religion (and the process of sociological production of knowledge) maintain inequality and oppression.

Note: Absentmindedly, I mixed up the blog post assignments for this past week. I submitted today’s religion-in-the-news article on Sunday. So, this post is to fulfill the Sunday post assignment.