643 Wk 7: Religious Diversity

643 Wk 7: Religious Diversity


Religion touches the lives of most
everyone in a society, whether in our own society or others around the world. Even
for those of us who say that they’re not religious, don’t attend services, do not
associate with any organized religion, who say they did not believe in God, or
think of themselves as agnostic, the mainstream religions of the society in
which they live still have a great bearing on the laws that develop in that
society. The two develop hand-in-hand. What is legal is also not sinful. And
they support each other in the functioning of that society. and so it’s
worth the time to look a bit about the religious influences in the lives of the
clients that you are going to serve. First – another little mini lesson from our introductory sociology textbooks, about
the functions that religions play in a society. There are four primary functions
that are key to the functioning of any society. First, religion promotes social
solidarity. Think about the phrase “one nation under God” in the pledge of
allegiance to our flag, or look in your currency and see where it says “In God We
Trust.” The shared values of a religion create a sense of unity, common identity,
and a linkage extending even outside the group of those persons who meet on a
face-to-face basis. Secondly, religions consecrate crises. Think back to
September 2001. A few days after those events, George Bush declared war from the
pulpit of the National Cathedral in a nationwide address. Oftentimes such
services occur in a religious institution, because religions help
members of a society to deal with the threats and hardships that they have to
face, and sometimes provides answers to difficult questions. Religions often
offer comfort and solace as well, gives life meaning beyond the immediate
problems, and enables individuals to function effectively in the face of
danger, helping them to adjust to the problems of everyday
life. First of all, think about when natural disasters occur. Oftentimes
you’ll see news reports of individuals who have
gathered in churches, perhaps for the first time in a long time, to pray to God
for support. This is a good example of that. Furthermore, religion is often used
to help us get through tough times with the assurance that – if we have a tough
time in our lives here on earth, we’ll be rewarded in the afterlife.
Finally, religions reinforce the moral order. As I suggested in my opening
comments, what is illegal in a society is also sinful in most mainstream churches
in that society. Behavioral norms become moral imperatives. On occasion, religions
can also spearhead change, but oftentimes – perhaps more often – religion tends to
support the status quo, and stabilizes society. Sociologists do see other roles
of religion – as suggested here, provides those in power with a tool of social
control, and also supports the status quo and reinforces the inequalities in the
society in the process of doing so. The Council on Social Work Education
requires that spirituality be addressed along with other types of diversity in
social work education. The definitions of “spirituality” and “religiosity” are really
quite different, and when we talk about spirituality and addressing it in our
practice, we’re generally not so much talking about formalized religions as
we’re talking about spiritual and religious beliefs, and how they impact
our clients lives. But it is necessary to understand the meaning of religion in
the life of the client, in order to understand the whole client, and to
understand the worldview that they have. It’s critical to explore the experiences
that they’ve encountered as a member of a minority as a result of their religion
and their beliefs, and it’s vital to learn if the client’s religious faith is
important to them at all, and learn how its woven into their value and belief
system. In doing so, we should be prepared to understand that the client might not
feel comfortable with the professional that’s working with them, based upon the history that that client has had as a member of a religious minority.
It’s important that we understand our own religious beliefs and values, and the
attitudes that we hold towards the notion of religion, and that we recognize our prejudices and feelings towards other
religions, as well – and even our own religion for that matter – and how those
thoughts and prejudices and feelings might combine to impact our work with
other people. Issues such as abortion, sexual orientation, and sexual behaviors
are the first to come to mind when I think about how it is that religious
beliefs may influence our approach to working with others. Oppression and bigotry regarding religion has left its mark on many persons in our culture, and
this is another type of adversity that our clients experience. Religious
oppression is often ignored, overlooked, or only addressed superficially, and isn’t fully incorporated into our assessment of clients. There are some
very useful tools that you’ll pick up along the way regarding spiritual
assessments, and a discussion about religion and its role in clients’ lives,
as mentioned earlier, is something that’s very useful for you to have. Religion
serves to create a system of common understanding among its people that
serves to bond them together and prescribe the manner in which they
interact with the larger society. It defines how people are expected to treat
each other, how to live their lives on a daily basis,
and how they are to fulfill their roles in the family, the community, and the
larger society. Sometimes these definitions can be very helpful for the
client in navigating their way through life. Sometimes these definitions can be
very confining and can make life very difficult for clients, as well. Religion
helps to motivate persons to follow customs and rules that are inherent in
the society in which they live. It provides a buffer against being
marginalized, and a sense of togetherness, unity, and acceptance, and offers what is
referred to here as “compensators” – that is, rewards in the afterlife. Conflict
theorists would tell you – Karl Marx would suggest to you, when he referred to
religion as “the opiate of the masses” – that this tendency to offer compensators
is a way to preserve the status quo and to keep marginalized populations quiet,
promising reward later in life for living a good life here on earth.
Finally, religion establishes a sense of belonging and an identity that is
based in large part on religious identification. Children are very deeply
impacted by their family’s view of the world, and religion is a part of that
view. It is important to keep in mind the collective history of the client’s group,
and the historical experiences of that group, both as a religious group and as a
member of society. The experiences that family members have had with members of
other religious groups over the years also has a way of affecting the family’s
view of the world. Every culture, every religious group, has its own set of
values and practices that reflect the beliefs of the group, and these
influence how the individual performs his or her social roles. So if you run
into a situation where social role performance of a client is out of the
norm, it might be worthwhile to consider the client’s culture and religion and
how they factor into this. Such factors as the roles of women, their views of
children, manners of dress, and views of public requirements such as education
marital laws, and so on. Historically speaking, persons and religious
minorities have been excluded from institutions and systems, and they’ve
learned that the environment doesn’t always welcome them into joining the
majority. Our history in the United States is full of such examples. And
here’s a list of only some of them. Native American and Alaska Native religions were seen as savage and heathen, as Christian missionaries established
churches and boarding schools in the expansion to the West, to Christianize
those peoples. The phrase “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” reflected some of the
attitudes of the Christian missionaries that interacted with Native Americans
and Alaska Natives in the early days. More recently in the 1850s and beyond,
there was an actual American political party – actually called the American Party –
which was more informally known as the Know-Nothing Party. The Know-Nothing
Party was an outgrowth of the strong anti-immigrant and anti-Roman Catholic
sentiment that started to manifest itself during the 1840s. They even ran a
former president, Millard Fillmore, for another term as a member of their party,
although he was not elected. In case you’re wondering, the Know-Nothing Party
got its name because of the fact that the party itself kept its presence
rather secret – outside of their running a member of the party for president one or
two years – and so members were instructed to say they “knew nothing” when asked
about the party. I guess they weren’t very proud of themselves. In 1882,
Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first time a whole people was
excluded from the United States, and in the prejudiced language of that day, the
Chinese were Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, and were thought of as pagans and heathens, from the Evangelical point of view. This was cited as one of the
reasons why they needed to be kept out of the country. The KKK reappeared on the
national stage in the early 1920s, and agitated against racial minorities,
immigrants, Catholics, and Jews. The Klan infiltrated the Democratic Party, and in
the state of Indiana, actually took over the party and won the whole state in the
1930s. When it might have mattered if the US government had done something, the US government instead excluded Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany from coming
to America. Racists of the time argued that German Jews shouldn’t be admitted,
because Nazi agents might covertly exist among them. Since September 11th, 2001,
Muslims have been singled out for suspicion and retribution in the United
States. Our president has incorrectly and repeatedly claimed to have seen
“thousands and thousands of people” cheering the September 11th terrorist
attacks, in an area of New Jersey with a large Arab community, and later called
for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. The
Trump administration’s travel ban, recently approved by the US Supreme
Court, primarily focuses on those arriving from nations with large Muslim
populations. Incidents of vandalism and violent assaults at Jewish synagogues
and Islamic mosques have spiked significantly since this president’s
election. Oppressed minorities have used religion
to assist in coping with discrimination. For instance, Michelle Lamont mentions in
an article “Euphemized Racism” about how important religion was for African
Americans throughout history. Blacks used religion to demonstrate that we all
share something fundamental, thus rebutting racist ideologies. Historically
black churches helped to sustain communities against the ravages of
slavery, Jim Crow, poverty, and racial violence that contoured African-American
life throughout this period. Oftentimes the churches have offered the only place
of lawful assembly for blacks in our history, thus a few opportunities for
community development and collaboration. This is of course a very effective way
to manage the power of assembly for blacks, and to maintain the status quo. But the importance of religion in the history of African-Americans is one
reason why the church burnings that have occurred from time to time throughout
the South, even recently, and the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in
Charleston, South Carolina, are particularly significant. “Black churches,
specifically AME and Baptist, give spiritual, religious, and material
sustenance to African-American communities, during and after slavery. The
church drew from African folklore and religions, and Christianity, to develop a
unique blending of a sectarian and secular belief system that allowed black
people to survive slavery and its aftermath. The black churches’ radical
humanism harbored a fierce resistance to slavery, a love of freedom, and a thirst
for citizenship and equality that made it a hotbed of internal debates,
discussions, and controversies over the best course for black liberation in
America.” This is from a website with an article “Why The Black Church Has Always
Mattered.” Many different religions in the United States have a lot of different
ethnic roots, and this needs to be understood in the meanings, values, and
standards of the culture from which they come. Religious teachings help members
identify how to cope in many areas of life, including such things as identified
here – marriage, sex, health, children, food and diet, death and burial, mental health and mental illness, and so on. These beliefs and practices may
differ significantly from those with which we are familiar, and it’s important
in our work that we understand those differences. It’s important that we avoid
judging the customs of those cultures, based on our own cultures and norms, keeping in
mind that the lens through which we view others always has its roots in our own
upbringing, our own values, and our own core culture. Even those of us who have
very carefully studied diversity and are committed to supporting other ways of
life and other views of the world, nonetheless, we must be careful to be
aware that our own upbringing will impact our interpretation of things
around us. As I say here, in all areas of diversity, the social worker must
approach clients with an open, accepting mind – the attitude of a learner. How our
national systems interact with persons from religious minorities, both recently
and historically, has shaped the person that we come in contact with, into who
they are today – and how they respond to the systems and individuals with whom
they interact. This may mean the social worker. While
identifying and supporting the practices of persons from marginalized religious
groups, we must be able to encourage clients to share their stories with us.
This will convey the experiences of the client’s life, as well as the personal
meaning of those experiences, and will give us an opportunity to learn about the
discrimination that the clients themselves have experienced because of
their religion – because this does help to shape their world view. Keep in mind that
the memories of prejudice and oppression experienced by previous generations in
the client’s life, and how those stories have been passed down from older
generations, will impact their view today. So this short talk on religion may have
some useful concepts for you to consider in your work and development in the
areas of diversity – and I hope you’ll let me know if any questions arise from this
talk. Thank you.

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