Religion as is practiced today is highly malleable. This means that it can be interpreted and re-interpreted, shaped or changed in order to fit the needs and expectations of the society or group that uses it. Similarly, religion is interrelated political, social or cultural issues in the society. Although very few Americans admit that religion acts as their main source of views in political, social and cultural issues, the truth is that there exists a strong link between the American people’s religious beliefs and their political and social attitudes. For instance, more than 50% of Americans confirm that they follow political affairs of their country most of the time (Pew Research Center, 2008). This interest in political news is not dependent on religious affiliations or levels of commitment to religion. Another key example of how religion affects the political views of Americans is the country’s basic political orientation. Jews, members of black protestant churches and non-religious persons are more often than not Democrats while Mormons and members of evangelical protestant churches are mainly Republicans (Pew Research Center, 2008). As pertains to social and cultural issues, the views of most Americans largely depend on their religious affiliations and level of commitment to religion. For instance, a large number of Mormons and evangelical protestants are opposed to abortion, legalized or not. Highly committed believers are strongly opposed to homosexuality while most other Americans are tolerant of it.
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Of the concepts raised, I see gender and ethnicity to be the most relevant to the modern world of religious belief and behavior. For a very long time, gender has been an issue of debate not only in religion but also in other sectors such as employment and leadership. The main question when looking at the issue of gender and religion is whether or not the sociology of gender has neglected issues of gender. The reality is that the sociology of religion has stuck to a static conceptualization of gender, which is not the case with other areas of sociology (Woodhead, 2013). Many religious systems have always being centered on the man. A perfect example of this is the Judeo-Christian context whereby in the story of creation, man is created first and given dominion over the rest of the creation. Even when the woman is created to be his companion, she is not made as her own person; she is made from the man’s rib. When the devil comes to tempt the two in the garden, it is the woman that he easily convinces to eat the forbidden fruit and not the man. This narrative has been used in Judaism and in many Christian denominations to support the exclusive male leadership characteristics of these religions. Islam shares the same narrative and is also largely patriarchal to an extent that women are not allowed into the mosque where their male counterparts pray. This is particularly the case with conservative Muslims. Buddhism has also been known to be largely patriarchal. For Hinduism, there are different views on women based on place and time (Woodhead, 2013).
There are other religions, however, that are more gender-divergent. For instance, Shinto in Japan recognizes women and men as equal partners not only in the world but also divinity as the two genders both took part in the creation of the world. Egyptian Mythology also had men and women being viewed as equals.
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The influence of religious groups supporting equality for men and women, coupled with the social and political campaigns on gender equality that have been on the rise in the recent past, have seen many of American traditional religious groups become more open to female leadership. A lot of the liberal protestant denominations have appointed female clergy and elevated women to positions of leadership. Women are just as able as their male counterparts and as such, they have continually made valuable contributions in their various positions. Conservative religious groups have, however, stuck to the male-dominated style of leadership with the Roman Catholic being a good example of such denominations. It has strongly resisted the ordaining of women into priesthood and has instead kept that position for men only.
Ethnicity has for the longest time possible been a critical issue with most societies having to deal with ethnic segregation even in the 21st century. This is the case even with religion. It exists mainly in the form of blacks and whites difference in religion .This dates back to the 18th century when slaves; mainly black people, used to go to church with their owners; usually whites. While the owners occupied the lower level in the church, the slaves were made to sit in the upper section of the church where their owners could see them so they did not try to escape (Carter, 2005). It is from this arrangement that slaves got the notion that their place in the society was away from their masters as they were less deserving. Later on, slaves and masters began to attend church separately and eventually there stemmed clear cut differences between whites and blacks in religious beliefs and practices. It is from this that the Black Church came into being. As a result of the differential treatment in the churches where the black slaves used to attend with their white masters, blacks developed a different perspective on religion. The America Black church became very strong and community oriented as there was the need to look out for each other stemming from the feeling of being segregated by whites. The white churches on the other hand leant more on political issues than in worship (Carter, 2005). Both races used Christian beliefs to support their actions and positions with neither of them wanting to admit that they had in one way or the other supported the racial segregation that ensued. To date, there are churches in America that are largely made up of white believers and others that are made up of people of color as the racial separation still exists.
Aside from the issues on racism, ethnicity has been observed to have a significant influence on religious affiliation with there being clear associations between given ethnicities and particular religions. For instance, the Latina community is inclined towards Catholicism, Asians to Buddhism, and Indians to Hinduism and Arabs to Islam. While this may look stereotypical from the outside, it is actually the case with most people belonging to those ethnic groups.
Gender and ethnicity have a huge influence on religious practices and beliefs in the modern world. On gender, men continue to hold more positions of leadership as compare to their female counterparts with only a small segment of religious groups braking from this tradition. On race, there exist clear division between people of different races and particularly blacks and whites as far as religious affiliation is concerned. Also, ethnicity affects religious beliefs and practices in the sense that certain ethnicities are inclined towards certain religions.
- Linda Woodhead (January, 2013). Gender Differences in Religious Practice and Significance. International Advances in Engineering and Technology, Volume 13.
- Pew Research Center (June 1, 2008). Chapter 2: Social and Political Views. In: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices. PDF.
- Sanchez Carter (2005). Religion and Racial Identity. Journal of College Student Development, Volume 46 Issue 3.