Religion: The Social Context- Ch. 2

In the reading for this week, McGuire discusses the impacts of meaning on belief systems. Chapter two explains how religious people give an experience its meaning by the choice of their interpretations of that experience; people associate meaning with events to help them understand the event itself. Specifically, meaning is significant in religious institutions as it is the church’s members who keep the meanings of their beliefs consistent and alive. If such members were to simply not exist, the meanings of those beliefs could be gone or could be skewed to signify something completely different than its original given meaning. Though a foreign concept to me, “Plausibility structures,” or the social interactions within a network of persons sharing a meaning system, plays an interesting role in the significance of belief systems. The structure protects those with same beliefs and fosters it because there are no outside beliefs that may change or challenge the current meaning of the beliefs already held. Being with people of the same faith engenders the same or similar beliefs, but it can become challenging in a situation of religious exile. McGuire explains that for exiles, they become cut off from members of their society but are also cut off from the social support for their meaning system. Ultimately, this means that there is less protection for the beliefs of the exile as well as less protection for the person. I had never thought about the idea of cutting someone off from a meaning system— it allows one to be exposed to other beliefs that may not align with their own, one can encounter different interpretations of those same beliefs, or they can also encounter ridicule for their beliefs. Having a homogenous group of people allows them to create a space where similar meanings are associated to their beliefs, ultimately allowing those beliefs to stay consistent.