21 posts categorized "Religion"

December 18, 2015

Sociology and Holiday Rituals

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Do you have certain holiday rituals that you look forward to each year, or at least feel compelled to participate in? Sociology provides us with tools for understanding these practices more deeply.

For Emile Durkheim, one of sociology's key nineteenth century thinkers, shared values and beliefs help to form society itself. Emphasizing particular values during end of year holidays like giving, connecting with family and friends through visits, cards, or well wishes serves a very important purpose. He contends that societies are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather people learn to be part of an already-existing society. Holidays aid in this process.

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June 26, 2015

Religion, Climate Change, and Poverty

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

There is a new sociologist on the block: he does not have a Ph.D., does not teach at a university, and as far as I know, may have never even taken a sociology course. In fact, he attended a technical secondary school where he graduated with a chemical technician’s diploma and worked for a time in a chemistry lab (as well as working temporarily as a bouncer). Who is this new sociologist?  He’s an Argentinian named Jorge Mario Bergogli or, as he is commonly referred to, Pope Francis.

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April 13, 2015

Seeing Others as Us

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

In 2012, there were over 1,000 documented hate groups in the United States. A hate group is pretty much what it sounds like: a collection of individuals who come together based on their shared animosity toward others. Whether they focus on race, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality, these organizations mobilize around a clearly defined difference that they perceive to have with other people. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood, Westboro Baptist Church, and the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, use these differences not only as a basis of their hatred, but also to justify acts of hostility, aggression, and violence against those they deem to be “outsiders.”

Although most of us would acknowledge that the attitudes and actions of these hate groups are extreme, few of us are immune to engaging in similar but less severe forms of selective separation.  An example that many young people can relate to is the scene in the movie Mean Girls when Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is introduced to the seating arrangement of the various “tribes” in the high school lunch room.  Cady quickly learns that everyone sits with people who are deemed to be just like them: preps, nerds, Asians, Blacks, wannabees, burnouts, band geeks, etc.

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October 27, 2014

Is Islamophobia a Form of Racism (And Does it Even Matter)?

2014-10-16 08.40.10By Saadia Faruqi

Graduate student

Department of Sociology, Baker University

 A couple of weeks ago, Ben Affleck called out Bill Maher for being a racist because of his views of Muslims. In a world still healing from the racism of the pre-civil rights era, in a world of Ferguson and Michigan, being called a racist is no laughing matter. Sadly, we live in a society where more Americans sit up and take notice when a Hollywood actor makes a statement than when the president of the United States does. What is Islamophobia? Is it related to racism? How does Islamophobia relate to sociology?

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May 05, 2014

Good Crowds

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

College campuses can and should be places for open dialogue and communication. Those conversations can be powerful and affirming for some, and they have the potential for being hurtful or even dangerous for others. Rarely do you get the opportunity to have a campus-wide conversation about an important issue.

When UMass basketball player (and sociology major!) Derrick Gordon became the first Division I athlete to come out as gay on April 9th, he drew an outpouring of support from thousands of people on my campus and from around the world.

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April 01, 2014

Jewish? Buddhist? Atheist? All of the Above!

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I was asked recently by a colleague what religion I follow, and I was not quite sure how to answer. I was raised in a secular Jewish household, and I never considered myself religious in the traditional sense of the word. Unlike my Jewish peers, my family did not belong to a temple or synagogue, I did not attend Hebrew school, and I did not have a bar mitzvah or learn to read from the Torah. Instead, I attended a small humanistic Sunday school that was run as a cooperative, I learned Yiddish and sang folk songs, and I had a modest graduation ceremony where I had to read an essay I wrote on a notable Jewish figure.  

In my late twenties, I became interested in the teachings of Buddhism. I took classes at Buddhist meditation centers, I read books and magazines about Buddhist texts and philosophies, and I started practicing meditation. Although I never took a formal Bodhisattva vow like some of my Buddhist friends, I still try to live my life around many of the central tenets of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism.

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March 24, 2014

Sincerely Held Beliefs, the Law, and Non Believers

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Recent news on religion reminds me of one of my favorite non-fiction books, The Year of Living Biblically. Author A.J. Jacobs does his best to abide by the rules of the Bible to see just how hard it is to hold sincerely held religious beliefs in everyday contemporary life.

I think of Jacobs’ personal journey in regards to the wave of “religious freedom” laws that have been proposed in several different states. These laws use the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act to make the case that parts of the Affordable Care Act (e.g., providing birth control coverage) and servicing customers with different values and identities (e.g., particularly gays and lesbians) substantially burdens the free exercise of religion for business owners who have strong, sincerely held beliefs.

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February 17, 2014

Sociology and Mindfulness Meditation

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Clear your desk of your books and water bottles. Sit in a comfortable, but upright position. Bring your attention to your breathing. Notice your stomach expanding on your in-breath and contracting on your out-breath. At the sound of the chime, try to stay focused on your breathing for 10 breaths, with each inhalation and exhalation counting as one breath. If your mind starts to wander, try to note when this happens and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing until you hear the chime. 

These instructions describe a short exercise I do in some of my classes when I introduce students to mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being fully present in the moment. By sitting still and just following our breath, mindfulness meditation helps cultivate awareness, attentiveness, and calmness. The roots of mindfulness meditation are generally associated with Buddhism but it is often presented in a secular fashion in the West.

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September 09, 2013

Ritual and Renewal

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

At the start of the fall semester, my university held a convocation to formally welcome incoming freshmen and transfer students to the student body. Students wore ceremonial gowns, and faculty wore the decorative gowns of their alma maters. Parents of incoming students looked on with pride, and applauded loudly when their student’s dean formally “presented” them to the university president.

Although most students I observed seemed less than excited to be at the early morning ceremony, rituals have a purpose.  That’s why we have so many.

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August 12, 2013

Sacred Lines and Symbols: A Journey Through Japan

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

One of the first things I noticed when walking around Shinagawa-ku, an area in Tokyo, were these folded paper ornaments outside of many homes and businesses. They looked like this:

Jw 1

I later learned that these paper streamers, called shide, were hung in preparation for a Shinto festival. A piece of paper might not be a particularly religious object and yet, folded in this fashion, it became a significant symbol to believers. 

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