On the Individual

Upon my reading of Chapter Two of McGuire’s Religion: The Social Context, I was struck by her analysis of the Individual. She comes to the conclusion that individuals do not, “construct a personal meaning system from nothing,” and that every personal meaning system is derived from those around them. This begs the question, however, does the individual even exist if McGuire’s conclusions are correct? If no individual has an entirely personal meaning system, and if meaning systems help make, “sense of one’s identity and social being,” then how can the individual exist? It seems to me that McGuire’s analysis of the individual when coupled with her concept of meaning systems concludes that the entirety of society feeds off of each other to  develop their personal identities. When I first began to seriously ponder these questions, I began to doubt the validity of McGuire’s claim. I could not understand how an individual could truly be an individual if their very meaning system was something taken from those around them, rather than personally developed within them.

As I continued to question, however, I began to understand more fully what McGuire was truly saying. She does not say that the individual’s meaning system was taken from those around them, but rather, she claims that the individual’s meaning system is influenced by those around them. The distinction is crucial. The individual uses the figures that are present around them to assess their personal identities. They compare and contrast their beliefs with the beliefs of the individuals they encounter, essentially placing their meaning system with theirs and scrutinizing them both intently. By exposing themselves to their family, friends, society, etc., they are able to learn from the meaning systems of others, as well as solidify aspects of their own meaning systems.

2 thoughts on “On the Individual

  1. One thought to add to your analysis of the individual, is how their reception to influence greatly differs based on their personality. Some individuals are very easily influenced, while others seem to have been born with a strong sense of self and are rarely influenced.

    1. Very interesting! I was thinking of that point as I was writing as well. One has to wonder where that comes from however. There are individuals who seem to be born with a stubbornness and strong sense of self for sure, but was it something they were born with? Or was it nurtured? I personally believe in a mix of both. I think some people may simply be a bit more disposed to a strong will, perhaps it is even coded in their DNA. However, I believe that the environment shapes the individual as well. Certain environments allow for someone with a strong sense of self to flourish, where others do not. Just something to think about!

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