Chapter 5 of “Religion in Society, a Sociology of Religion”

Introduction

Based on a thorough reading of the book, I would have to say that Chapter 5: “Becoming Religious,” created the biggest impact on me. I realized that my religious orientation was, in fact, not out of personal choice, as I had originally believed, but was a direct result of religious socialization wherein my inclination towards my religion was, in part, influenced by the society and culture that I was a part of. As a direct result of such an epiphany, I researched various instances where religion was fostered, often unwillingly, onto a populace and how this impacted them as a direct result.

It is quite interesting to note that when examining the various countries where European colonization occurred, it can be seen that religious fervor and the proliferation of devout followers is a common theme among such countries at present. Krause (2012) explains this current predilection by stating that in order to overtake the cultures and original religions that used to play important roles in such cultures, European colonizers utilized religious conversion as a means by which the local populace could be influenced and as a result subvert the practices that were in existence at the time with something more akin to what the European colonizers wanted (Krause, 135-154).

The present-day fervor seen in various South American countries as well as in the Philippines is clear evidence of the effectiveness of such a tactic (Abo-Zena, 15). While Johnstone (2007) did not delve too deeply into the concept of religion as a form of indirect subversion, he did touch upon topics such as group affiliation, which explains that people are often enticed into joining a religion as a direct result of their desire to be part of a group. From my understanding of Johnstone’s work in this chapter, I have come to the conclusion that it is this intense desire to belong to some form of group affiliation that at the core of why people converge towards particular types of religion within certain areas (Johnstone, Chapter 5).

One way of understanding this is through social control theory developed by Travis Hirschi, which specifically states that all individuals actually have the potential to become criminals; however, it is the “bond” they share with society, whether in the form of friendships, recognition of societal rules and norms of conduct, parental influences, etc. that prevent them from actually committing a crime (Kyoung, 371-380).

Hirschi goes on further to explain that it is actually quite normal for an individual to desire to commit a crime or even think about it, such as desiring to steal an object, injure a person, or other forms of criminal activity; however they are prevented from doing so because of a distinct fear of the impact of this type of activity on their position in society (Kyoung, 371-380). The concept of fear in this particular case comes in the form of the loss of societal bonds, careers, social relationships, and other connections that individuals have come to rely on due to a person’s inherent nature to rely on social connections to retain a stable psychological state (Abo-Zena, 15).

In other words, people are normally so dependent on social bonds and maintaining them that the thought of losing them after committing a particular action is sufficient enough to deter them from committing a crime (Kyoung, 371-380).

Combining social bond theory with the work of Johnstone in chapter 5 creates the notion that people desire psychological stability through social bonds with religion and the community that develops around it, often becoming the necessary “attractive force” that entices people to become part of a particular religious congregation (Johnstone, Chapter 5). It is the fear of being alone, not being part of a group, and of the unknown that causes people to like the concept of religion since it helps to assuage any of the problems that were previously mentioned.

Examining Religious Socialization

After finishing the reading on becoming religious, a thought occurred to me regarding how the religious culture that defines a particular society tends to change over time into something completely different (Lövheim, 151-168). Despite this, the people, the society, and what can be defined as “religious traditions” are still considered part of the original culture despite the drastic changes that occurred.

For example, when looking at England at present, the religious culture that embodies it within the current era is drastically different from what it was during the 1880s, the 1400s, and even far before that. The society that defined itself as “religious” during the 10th to 17th century is no longer present what exists in its place is an entirely new religious culture, a far different society, and a population that for all intents and purpose is far more diverse than it was in the past yet such a population still considers itself as “religious” despite the fact that it is in no way similar to what was defined as “religious” in the past (Lövheim, 151-168).

For example, homosexuality, equal rights for women, and other such developments over the past 100 years were unthinkable 500 or 700 years ago. When examining such a disposition towards classification, it can be seen that people in the past became so used to the characteristics that define a particular gender or stereotype preconception that despite the latter proving otherwise, the same “standard” continues to stick, especially when it comes to religious stereotyping. For example, despite women showing that they were just as capable as men when it came to certain tasks, the same gender stereotype preconception continued to exist (which classifies women as being the weaker sex), which results in greater rights, privileges and distinction being given to their less than capable male counterparts.

Such aspects are of course no longer seen in the present and, as such, can be considered evidence of a shift in society which had a distinct impact on religious socialization. For me, Johnstone (2007) did not sufficiently touch on this topic within the chapter “becoming religious” despite its relevance in understanding how becoming religious now is far different from being religious back then. When examining the concept of changes in becoming religious, it can be stated that this is applicable to nearly all modern societies at the present wherein through hundreds of years of change what was used to define Catholics, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists has gone through various iterations and changes.

Who they are at the present cannot even be considered a similar facsimile of the original religious culture within their respective societies. While it may be true that some vestiges of the original religious culture are left it can be stated that there are more differences than similarities wherein if you had brought someone from the 1600s to England, Japan, China or the U.S. they would be hard pressed to find what they could define as “familiar”.

Dynamic Development of Religious Culture

It is based on this that I developed the notion that to consider religious culture as a static event that is isolated to particular periods of time is actually fallacious. Rather, what is known as religious culture to most people is actually a dynamic process that constantly changes over the years into different iterations. To a certain extent it can be stated that the different religious periods throughout history are nothing more than stages in a development cycle that never truly ends.

It is based on this perspective that the religious distinctions that we have at the present will very likely undergo even more changes in the coming years into something completely different to our present day experience of religious culture yet the society of this future iteration will still define themselves as Catholics, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.

The Concept of Religious Identification

This enduring method of “religious identification” is for me not necessarily a result of religious culture but rather a manifestation of the sense of community that is inherent in us all. Various studies have shown that man (i.e. humanity) is a social creature and actually craves societal contact and desires to be identified with a particular type of group. It is based on this that I came up with the conclusion that the concept of religious identification (i.e. calling oneself Catholic, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist etc.) is a way in which man has created a means by which he is able to identify himself with a particular social group and once this particular sense of identification is set that is when distinct aspects related to religious culture begin to manifest itself.

If you think about it, from this particular perspective, this helps to explain why societies that live within a relatively close proximity to each other can still develop drastically different religious cultures despite having the same religion (ex: France, Spain, and the U.K. which all have different forms of Catholicism).

Are People still becoming Religious today?

Based on the work of Snell (2012) which examined the societal origins of atheism it can be seen that the disbelief in the concept of an omnipresent and omniscient all mighty being is a prevalent aspect of present day society (Snell, 291-308). This is in part due to advances in the general understanding of the way in which the world around us works and operates through science and technology. Vaidyanathan (2011) points out that natural phenomena in the past was at times attributed to the actions of Gods and Goddesses as seen in the case of the Ancient Greek civilization (Vaidyanathan, 366-387).

It is only within the past 400 years that science has enabled us to better understand how natural phenomena occur and through such developments ushered in a period of understanding rather than ignorance (Vaidyanathan, 366-387). This in turn has caused a significant development in society at the present wherein people have started to doubt various aspects of religious doctrine involving creationism, miracles and a variety of other phenomena that have been elaborated on in such scriptures such as the Bible, the Torah and the Qur’an.

When examining the view of theologian Jonathan Edwards and the phrase “he that believeth not is condemned already” it can be seen that this is a statement indicating that those who do not believe in the concept of the almighty and his teachings through Jesus Christ are in effect condemned to an eternity of suffering in hell (Fisherman, 272-298). From a certain perspective it can be implied from the aforementioned statement and the way in which Edwards phrases his arguments in the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that what is needed in the case of the Christian faith is not a doubting mind but rather one that wholeheartedly believes in the teachings of the bible and in the message of Christ (Fisherman, 272-298).

The inherent problem with such a point of view is that science has in effect proven that many of the acts of God that have been listed in the Bible are actually the result of natural phenomena. It is based on this that another shift is evident wherein instead of religion being thrust upon a person and remaining with them for life, people unlike in the past are beginning to see the concept of choice wherein they no longer feel that they have to be part of a religion in order to feel that they “belong”.

Works Cited

Abo-Zena, Mona M. “Faith From The Fringes.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.4 (2011): 15. MasterFILE Premier. Web.

Fisherman, Shraga. “Socialization Agents Influencing The Religious Identity Of Religious Israeli Adolescents.” Religious Education 106.3 (2011): 272-298. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion, 8th Edition. 8th ed. New York: Pearson, 2007. Print.

Krause, Neal. “Parental Religious Socialization Practices, Connectedness With Others, And Depressive Symptoms In Late Life.” International Journal For The Psychology Of Religion 22.2 (2012): 135-154. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Kyoung, Seol. “The Effects Of Religious Socialization And Religious Identity On Psychosocial Functioning In Korean American Adolescents From Immigrant Families.” Journal Of Family Psychology 26.3 (2012): 371-380. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Lövheim, Mia. “Religious Socialization In A Media Age.” Nordic Journal Of Applied Ethics / Etikk I Praksis 6.2 (2012): 151-168. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Snell, Patricia. “Accidental Inequality: How Religious Youth Socialization Reproduces Social Inequality.” Sociological Spectrum 32.4 (2012): 291-308. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Vaidyanathan, Brandon. “Religious Resources Or Differential Returns? Early Religious Socialization And Declining Attendance In Emerging Adulthood.” Journal For The Scientific Study Of Religion 50.2 (2011): 366-387. Academic Search Premier. Web.