A Merry but Secular Christmas!

A YouGov Poll conducted last year in 2020 shows that the majority of those who celebrate Christmas (and Easter) in the UK do so in an entirely secular way.

The survey results provide some useful evidence to support the view that religion does not play a significant role in British society, as this traditionally Christian and religious event seems now to have lost its religious meaning for the majority of people.

These findings are mainly relevant to the beliefs in society module, especially the secularisation debate.

Below I share some of the findings from this recent survey. NB the Survey looked at both Christmas and Easter, but i only report on XMAS below, ’tis the season, after all!

The Declining Significance of Religion at Christmas

According to YouGov’s sample of almost 2000 people, 61% of them celebrate Christmas in an entirely secular way.

And while 31% say they ‘combine the religious and secular’ at Christmas, if you look at what people actually do, only 20% of them go to Church with 10% reflecting on the meaning of the Birth of Christ, and there must be some kind of overlap between these, so some of those 30% above may say they mix the secular and religious, but at least some of them don’t actually do anything to express that religiosity!

I quite liked this alternative way of measuring ‘religious attitudes at Christmas’ – 71% pay no attention to what the Pope or Arch Bishop of Canterbury say at Christmas…..

Although this doesn’t necessarily measure people’s level of belief, because you can be religious and yet no believe in religious authorities, but this does show us low levels of interest in formal religious hierarchies.

TBH I’m surprised that 27% of the population do pay some attention, I expected that to be lower.

Finally, the perception people have is that Christmas is becoming less religious….

While it’s interesting to know what people think, remember that questions about perceptions don’t tell you what’s actually going on, just what people think is going on!

Sources/ Find out More

You can find out more about the results from this YouGov survey here.

Spiritual Abuse – its relevance to A-level Sociology

Spiritual abuse can be defined as the weaponisation of religious beliefs in order to coerce or control someone who shares that same set of beliefs.

This may take the form of someone with power within a religious institution using their position of authority to manipulate their congregation or followers into doing what they want them to.

However it can also occur in domestic settings, with one more dominant partner using religion to exert coercive control their partner and/ or children. In most cases it is the male partner (husband) controlling the female partner (wife).

The concept of religious abuse, and the unfortunate existence of it, is most relevant to the Beliefs in Society module within A-level sociology,

Examples of religious abuse include..

  • Authorities not allowing Divorce even when there is rape within marriage.
  • The interpretation of religious texts to justify physical and economic control over another person.
  • Men hiding women’s head coverings so they can’t go out.
  • Using religious beliefs to shame people into behaving in a particular way.

Religious Abuse…. Relevance of the concept to A-level Sociology

The fact that religious abuse happens both at an institutional level and within domestic settings suggests that religion is used as a form of control, and thus is support for mainly feminist perspectives on religion.

HOWEVER, we need to be careful about how strong this evidence is – while there are no doubt cases of religious abuse, there are no statistics on them, so we have no idea of how widespread religious abuse is.

Also, the fact that we are finally seeing the concept being discussed suggests that more conservative, traditional religions are being challenged and thus losing power, which supports some postmodern views of religion.

The increasingly vocal sources criticising traditional religions views and ‘labelling’ them ‘abusive’ basically saying that such views are only one interpretation among many and the victims of such abuse are free to take on their own interpretation and ‘break free’ of cultural and domestically imposed ‘spiritual abuse’.

The very existence of a discussion which challenges such abusive practices makes it less likely that people will be prepared to put up with being victims in silence, even though being a victims is still obviously grim, and getting out of the cycle of such abuse can still be very challenging when you are trapped within it, very much a case of ‘easier said than done’.

Spiritual Abuse: Find Out More!

There is a useful definition of Domestic Abuse here at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

This article puts spiritual abuse in the context of Covid-19.

Dr Maryyum Mehmood is one of the main dudes studying the concept in the UK today.

Jews and Muslims Unite to Help Combat Poverty

Sociology is usually all doom and gloom, but here’s a nice example of something positive for once…

This community food kitchen in Nottingham is a joint project between Jews and Muslims which takes surplus food from supermarkets and cooks it to distribute it to those in financial difficulty.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a great example of a project where religion is working to promote consensus in society, relevant to the beliefs in society module.

Although NB this is thought to be the ONLY joint project between Jews and Muslims in the UK.

But at least it goes to show that religious difference don’t have to be a source of conflict!

Just a quick post for today, they can’t all be 500 or more words long!

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Paedophile-Priests and the Declining Signficance of Religion…..

A recent report found that there have been at least 216 000 child victims of sexual abuse since the 1950s at the hands of clergy and other officials working for the Catholic Church in France.

The victims are mainly teenage boys and the figures are probably an underestimate. There could well be over 300 000 victims.

The report found evidence of 3200 abusers out of a total of 115 000 priests in France.

The report took two years and involved looking at historical records of church cases and inteviews with victims and their families.

To date (as I understand it) not one of these paedophile-priests has been prosecuted. There has been a culture in the Cahtolic Church in France of covering all of this up and allowing the abuse to just carry on even though it was widely known it was taking place.

It was only in 2019 that the Pope changed the law in the Vatican to explicitly criminalise sexual abuse, including the grooming of minors, and removed the discretion of senior clergy to simply ignore the existence of abuse if they were aware of it going on.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This grim report is of obvious relevance to anyone studying the beliefs in society option and the crime and deviance compulsory aspect of A-level sociology.

I guess students could use this material in relation to the question of whether religion causes conflict or consensus in society. Certainly now this is out in the open the church is clearly in conflict with mainstream values which see Paedophilia as one of the worst crimes.

In terms of Crime and Deviance it shows the context dependency of deviance – child abuse is universally condemned in society, but not in the Catholic Church’s recent history.

It also offers some support for the Marxist theory – that the crimes of the powerful are more costly than the crimes of the poor, and also shows us how the powerful can cover up their crimes and avoid punisment.

This will also probably lead to the further decline of the Catholic Church – now that it is out that this level of abuse has been happening but ignored it just shows how this institution isn’t really ‘sacred’ at all, it just carried on tolerating these hideous crimes to protect its own reputation.

Sociological Perspectives on Hate Crime

What is Hate Crime?

The Home Office defines Hate Crime as ‘

‘Any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.’ (Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2018-19).

There are five main characteristics which the police monitor…..

  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or beliefs
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • transgender identity.

However this is not an exhaustive list and hate crimes can also be committed on the basis of age or gender, and there are calls to include misogyny (hatred of women) as a hate crime.

Hate crimes typically include any of the following acts motivated by ‘hatred’ against any of the above characteristics….

  • Assault with or without injury
  • Harassment
  • Causing fear, alarm or distress
  • Criminal Damage

All of these crimes can also be committed in general, but if a victim feels they were motivated by hatred of their religion or gender identity etc. then the police must record the act as a hate crime.

Trends in Hate Crime

Trends in hate crime vary significantly depending on where you get your data…

Police recorded Hate Crime reports that there were 103,379 Hate Crimes in England and Wales in 2018/19, an increase of 50% over the last five years:

However, the 2018-19 Crime Survey for England and Wales shows a decline in Hate Crime the estimated number of hate crime incidents experienced by adults aged 16 has fell by 40 percent from 307,000 in the combined 2007/08 and 2008/09 surveys to 184,000 in the combined 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 surveys.

Thus it’s possibly best to reject the Police Recorded Crime Stats as being invalid as a measurement of the total amount of Hate Crime committed, given that around 50% of CSEW Hate Crimes are not picked up by the police.

Sociological Perspectives on Hate Crime

Many of the earlier perspectives seem pretty ineffective at explaining this type of crime. You’d probably have a hard time trying to apply Functionalism, for example: by definition these crimes are divisive, and a reflection of conflict in society, rather than social integration, and it’s hard to see how this particular type of crime could be regarded as functional for society or in any way positive.

Similarly with other consensus theories: there’s little evidence that a breakdown of social control, a strain in society, or of subcultures being significant causal factors (at least no more than with any other type of crime) of hate crime… many of these crimes are committed by lone individuals.

It’s possible to apply Interactionism to help understand religiously motivated crime motivated by Islamophobia, given the general negative press coverage of Islam, focussing mainly on infrequent terror attacks when they happen. However, this doesn’t explain hate-crimes agains other religions or minority groups. There’s hardly a moral panic against the LGBT community for example!

Rational Choice Theory (from Right Realism) could partially explain hate crime – possibly some of the perpetrators feel as if there’s little chance of them being caught harassing their victims because the ‘general public sentiment’ is on their side, so they won’t be reported.

This does seem to be a very postmodern crime – in that it’s a negative response to the increased visibility of minority groups and the increase in Diversity in British culture in recent years, although this is a very general level of theoretical explanation.

Possibly hate crime is a reaction to the increased relative deprivation and a feeling of marginalisation experienced by the perpetrators? Maybe they feel as if everything ‘diverse’ and ‘minority’ is being celebrated and has a place in British Culture but that more traditional British culture now has no place? So maybe there’s a possible application of Left Realism to be made here.

Conclusions>?

Hate Crime is a difficult crime to understand. It seems that many of the perspectives simply don’t apply to it, and those that do only seem to apply at the most general level.

So maybe this is a type of crime that defies sociological explanation?

NB – there may be quite a lot of it, but remember that if you take the CSEW stats, hate crime is actually going down, while the police seem to be getting better at reporting it, so whatever the causes, maybe it’s not all bad?!?

Lakewood Church and the Prosperity Gospel

Three out of four of the Largest churches in the U.S. preach the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ – these are megachurches which preach the idea that God is a spiritual source which individuals can call upon to ‘enrich’ their lives – popular buzzwords include ‘hope, destiny and bounty’, and the sermons are filled with optimism, with the Christian themes of guilt, shame, sin and penance hardly ever being mentioned.

Lakewood Church.png
Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas

These mega churches are attended by 10s of thousands and watched by millions, and it’s estimated that one in five Americans now follow the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, which is a sort of cross between Pentacostalism and Faith healing and run by celebrity mega preachers such as Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland.

Joel Osteen’s sermons draw in a massive 7 million viewers a week, and more on Satellite radio. Apparently he practices his sermons for hours, until he gets them exactly right, totally polished.

Osteen’s Church is the ostentatious Lakewood in Texas, and it brought in an income of $89 million in 2017, the same year it failed to open its doors to those driven to homelessness by Hurricane Harvey, at least until a social media backlash forced it to do so!

Osteen himself has a personal fortune of around $60 million and speaks broadly for the broken middle classes of America. He is a fan of Positive Thinking, as is Donald Trump.

Underlying both Trump’s and Osteen’s idea is a belief that God underwrites the justice of the marketplace – or put another way, the market rewards those who work hard!

Sociological Perspectives on Lakewood

The best fit perspective here seems to be Marxism – this seems to be a modern day version of the religious/ ideological justification for wealth and inequality in America.

Although a deeper question from this perspective is why so many people are stupid enough to believe this?!?

Perhaps it’s because it’s just too hard to accept the truth that it’s neoliberalism which has made so many people rich at the expense of so many others being relatively or absolutely poor.

Or perhaps it’s simply because it fits in with the neoliberal ideology, and the widespread acceptance of the prosperity gospel in the states is a sign of how far gone so many of the population are!

Sources

Adapted from The Week 18 May 2019

Contemporary sociology – religion in the news

Three very recent examples of news events relevant to the sociology of religion.

  • Austria recently joined the list of European countries banning the wearing of face veils in public – the headscarf is now banned in primary schools, but not Jewish or Sikh head coverings. Other EU countries to have done similar recently include France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria. This could be interpreted as a moral panic over Islam, differential treatment for women maybe?
  • Hindu agains Muslim violence in India – this documentary is a useful, and shocking example of religiously inspired violence, evidence for religion as a source of conflict. The ruling party in India is the ‘Hindu-first Bharatiya Janata party (BJP)’, so there’s an argument that the state is actually supporting violence against Muslims, who are a religious minority in India.
  • Several states in the US are introducing bans on abortion – the religious right supported Trump in 2016, and now he is an outspoken supporter of anti-abortion policies.

LifeLines – A Perfect Example of a Postmodern Approach to Religion

Lifelines: Notes on Life and Love, Faith and Doubt is a new book published in November 2018 written by Martin Rowe and Malcolm Doney, and to my mind it’s a perfect expression of a postmodern approach to religious belief.

The two authors are (respectively) a volunteer priest and one volunteer vicar in their local parishes, and this voluntarism ticks the postmodernism box straight away – no doubt being a volunteer enables them to ‘dip into’ their religions and be involved without any of the more unpleasant commitments associated with going ‘full clergy’.

To be honest I haven’t read it, but I caught a review of it by two people who had on Radio four on Sunday morning. (FINALY I get some payback for all the religious content I’m not normally interested in on a Sunday morning!).

I’ve a had a quick browse of it and it basically provides tips on how to ‘lead a good, happy life’ and reflections on some of life’s ‘deeper questions’ and ‘moral issues’ – and the advice comes from people of many faiths, and no faith, which is kind of blurring the boundaries between the sacred and the profane.

You might describe the book as well suited for our pick and mix approach to religion today, and it certainly seem to be ‘anti institutional’ yet ‘pro-spirituality’, at least judging by the brief extract below…

Anyway, just a quick update….. seems like a relevant piece of contemporary evidence for aspects of the beliefs in society course!

Karen Armstrong – September 11th 2001, Islam and the West

Karen Armstrong argues that there is no inherent incompatibility between the Western and Islamic world, but sees economic and political factors as the main reasons for increasing tensions in recent decades.

Armstrong’s arguments can be used to criticise Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civlizations’ thesis, which sees increasing conflict between different cultures/ religions as an inevitable outcome of globalisation brining ‘incompatible’ civilizations into closer contact with each other.

Islam and the failure of modernisation

Armstrong points out that in the late 19th and early 20th century, most Muslim intellectuals looked up to the process of modernisation occurring in the West at that time, and wanted Islamic countries to become more like Britain and France.

Some Islamic scholars even claimed that Britain and France were more Islamic than Islamic countries: Islam advocates the sharing of resources, and there was a trend towards this in so countries in early 20th Europe.

Armstrong characterises modernisation as consisting of:

  1. Technological evolution moving countries beyond being agricultural, and making people less dependent on nature.
  2. Increasing productivity and innovation.
  3. Higher levels of education for the general populace. 
  4. Greater inclusion of people from diverse religious backgrounds
  5. The development of the ‘modern spirit’ which involves more people engaging in politics, science and intellectual pursuits more generally.

Western imperialism and human rights

Western countries occupied most Muslim countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Algeria. There were attempts to introduce democracy in many countries, the historical record of Western occupation of Muslim countries has not exactly been conducive to ‘positive modernisation’ –

in many countries, the West backed autocratic leaders when it suited them (in return for access to oil supplies for example) and these leaders tended to deprive people of their human rights, suppressing freedom of speech for example.

In Iran for example, the Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi was installed in power in 1953 in a coup supported by the American and British. He was a particularly ruthless leader who ordered a massacre in Tudeh Square in 1978 in which nearly 900 people were killed. He was overthrown the year after in the famous Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Then in 1979 In Iraq, the British and Americans supported the installation of Saddam Hussein as a dictator, because he was hostile to Iran.

A further effect of Western occupation was to increase divisions and inequalities: money derived from British oil companies for example tended to go to the minority of autocrats, and very little trickled down to the ordinary people. In fact there is something of a history of exploitation of poor workers by wealthy corporations operating in Islamic countries.

In Iran for example, the British and then the Americans backed the Pahlavi shahs as dictatorial leaders. These turned out to be particular

The Causes of Fundamentalism

Armstrong argues that the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism is a reaction against the nationalist and secularist ideologies imposed on them by the West, which basically failed the average citizen in Muslim countries.

Fundamentalists believe they are fighting for their survival against a Western Imperialism that wants to wipe out Islam from existence.

Future Prospects:

Armstrong believes that there is no reason why Islam cannot co-exist with the West, because most Muslims are not Fundamentalists and there is plenty of room for interpreting Islam as ‘being all about peace’.

Like Lowkey does in this video:

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Armstrong isis thus more optimistic about the prospect of peaceful co-existence between religions when compared with Huntington.

Sources:

Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themes and Perspectives edition 8.

The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel P Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington sees ‘civilizations’ as the most significant grouping in global society, rather than ‘nation states’, or ‘global religions’, although there are often close relationships between religions and Huntington’s concept of ‘civilizations’.

Globalization has resulted in the world becoming a smaller place, which means that there are increasing interactions between ‘civilizations’, which intensifies ‘civilization consciousness’.

According to Huntington, increasing contact between civilizations often has the effect of emphasising differences rather than similarities, which can cause an increasing amount of conflict in the world.

What are ‘Civilizations’?

For Huntington, civilizations are ‘cultural entities’ differentiated from each other by history, language, cultural traditions and, most importantly, religion.

clash civilizations.png

Huntington distinguishes between the following different civilizations, as represented in the map above.

  • Western
  • Confucian
  • Japanese
  • Islamic
  • Hindu
  • Slavic-Orthodox
  • Latin American
  • African (possibly)

As Huntington sees is, sources of identity which are not based on religion have declined. Political identities matter less since the collapse of communism, and increasing international travel has weakened national identity, ‘civilizational identity’, based mainly on religion has stepped in to fill the gap.

Clashes between civilizations

To back up his argument, Huntington points to the fact that there are many conflicts on the borders between civilizations:

  • The former Yugoslavia between Orthodox Christian and Muslim civilizations.
  • In the Middle East between Judaism, Islam and Western Christianity.
  • In India the clash between Muslims and Hindus.

Huntington believes that there will increasingly be clashes between civilizations, because these identities are based mainly on ethnicity and religion, and thus foster an ‘us and them’ type of identity.

Increasingly, political leaders will draw on ‘civilization identity’ in order to try and mobilize support, as with The Islamic State claiming Muslims should unite against ‘Western civilizations’.

Religion as a more significant cause of conflict…

Huntington is one of the few academics of religion who argue against the secularisation thesis. He believes that civilizations, based mostly on religious identity, will become an increasingly important source of conflict in the future.

At the moment, Western civilization is dominant, however, as the ‘Islamic’ and ‘Hindu’ civilisations develop more potent nuclear capabilities (Pakistan, India) and as the world shrinks further, this dominance is likely to decrease, which opens the possibility for more serious conflicts.

Huntington further argues that there is no chance of a world culture developing because civilization identity is so strong.

Evaluation

  • I’m not convinced there is any real empirical basis for Huntington’s ‘fault-lines’.
  • Even if there is some empirical basis for his civilizations, I’m convinced that religion is going to remain that important as a source of identity within each of them: the global trend, as in the West, is still towards secularisation.

Sources

Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition eight.

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