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The Christian gospel message was intended to be public. The biblical basis for this is undisputable. Yet in recent times the visibility of the Christian perspective on issues affecting society that are often debated in the public sphere has declined in many Western societies. In “Sociology and Theology Reconsidered: Religious Sociology and the Sociology of Religion in Britain,” John Brewer states that “religion has tended to be restricted to the private sphere” in many modern nation-states over the 20th century, meaning public displays of religiosity have been frowned upon and strictly limited. The privatization of religion is a result of a decline in the importance of religion in modern societies, a process termed “secularization.” Yet the idea of increasing secularization in society is not accepted by all. Despite common-sense notions that such societies have become increasingly secular in nature, Christian values do still clearly underpin the nature and functioning of institutions of the state and government in many Western nation-states. Bryan Turner states in “Religion and Contemporary Sociological Theories” that since the late 20th century at least, there has actually been a “growing recognition of the importance of religion in public life”, something José Casanova termed “public religion.” The sociologist Peter Berger suggested that we began to witness the “desecularization” of the world in the late 20th century as there has been (and continues to be) a global resurgence in religious adherents. This situation was evident most considerably in the rapid growth of Christianity across the globe throughout the 20th century, a phenomenon that continues to gather momentum into the 21st century.

Article

Stephen M. Croucher, Cheng Zeng, Diyako Rahmani, and Mélodine Sommier

Religion is an essential element of the human condition. Hundreds of studies have examined how religious beliefs mold an individual’s sociology and psychology. In particular, research has explored how an individual’s religion (religious beliefs, religious denomination, strength of religious devotion, etc.) is linked to their cultural beliefs and background. While some researchers have asserted that religion is an essential part of an individual’s culture, other researchers have focused more on how religion is a culture in itself. The key difference is how researchers conceptualize and operationalize both of these terms. Moreover, the influence of communication in how individuals and communities understand, conceptualize, and pass on religious and cultural beliefs and practices is integral to understanding exactly what religion and culture are. It is through exploring the relationships among religion, culture, and communication that we can best understand how they shape the world in which we live and have shaped the communication discipline itself. Furthermore, as we grapple with these relationships and terms, we can look to the future and realize that the study of religion, culture, and communication is vast and open to expansion. Researchers are beginning to explore the influence of mediation on religion and culture, how our globalized world affects the communication of religions and cultures, and how interreligious communication is misunderstood; and researchers are recognizing the need to extend studies into non-Christian religious cultures.

Article

Religion encompasses many forms of communication: between groups, within groups, and with God (or other deities). Such communication can be especially powerful when group members highly identify with their religious group and the beliefs therein. Equally, it can be divisive, as evidenced by religion-based intergroup conflict and intolerance (which often overlaps along ethnic or political lines). However, not all religious communication is verbal or explicit. Religious individuals also commonly transmit their beliefs, values, and identities through symbols, physical spaces, and music. Likewise, communication with God is often pursued with silent prayer, meditation, or ritual, which also serve to reinforce one’s spirituality alongside religious group boundaries. Taken together, these varying forms of communication have implications not only for religious intergroup relations (e.g., intergroup contact or conflict), but also for intragroup relations (e.g., the strengthening of social ties) and individual health outcomes (e.g., effective communication with health care providers and coping practices). Given the importance of religious identity for many individuals, the benefits for individual well-being and intragroup relations, and yet the intergroup strife that religious group divisions can incite, the ways in which we communicate our religious group identities deserve closer attention.

Article

Gregory Perreault

The analysis of journalism and religion emerges from two different research paradigms: a post-positivist and a culturalist. The primary debate in the field stems from the two paradigmatic orientations. Post-positivist journalism and religion research argues that religious topics are already complex and so by simplifying, researchers can help explain the topic for broader consumption. Yet culturalist journalism and religion research argues that there is little to be gained from attempting to simplify religion in this way—it is better to represent religion as it is, rather than to make it palatable. The topic developed in the 1980s largely as a result of contributions from Edward Said, Judith Buddenbaum, Stewart Hoover, Mark Silk, and David Nord. Three primary approaches have become dominant. In effects-oriented research, religion serves as a variable in helping explain a phenomenon. In the culturalist approach, the journalism and religion phenomenon is examined through the lens of structure and agency—the power relations integral to the phenomenon. Finally, in the literary criticism approach, religion is examined as the phenomenon being represented in journalism. As paradigms would indicate, the post-positivist paradigm is most interested in predicting the religious representations and the culturalist paradigm is most interested in understanding the representations. Broadly, this subfield is situated within the larger umbrella of journalism and minority concerns. Implicit in this research is Said’s orientalism, a theoretical tradition that emphasizes the “othering” of minority groups, making them appear as if they are in need of being “oriented” to fit ideas of what is normal and acceptable within a society. It similarly builds on Gramsci’s hegemony, which conversely examines how a society proliferates ideas of that which is normal and acceptable practice.

Article

Alice M. Kiger, Donna M. Fagan, and Edwin R. van Teijlingen

Faith communities play an important role in health promotion in some parts of the world, notably North America and sub-Saharan Africa. They appear to be less prominent in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that it is a high-income country with a well-developed national public health system. Faith communities can be instigators of health promotion (faith-based health promotion), or they can provide settings where other agencies can conduct health promotion (faith-placed health promotion). Key opportunities and barriers for faith-based and faith-placed health promotion can be found by drawing on examples from the United States and Africa.

Article

Dennis Myers, Terry A. Wolfer, and Maria L. Hogan

A complex web of attitudinal, cultural, economic, and structural variables condition the decision to respond to communications promoting healthy behavior and participation in risk reduction initiatives. A wide array of governmental, corporate, and voluntary sector health-related organizations focus on effective messaging and health care options, increasing the likelihood of choices that generate and sustain wellness. Researchers also recognize the significant and multifaceted ways that religious congregations contribute to awareness and adoption of health-promoting behaviors. These religiously based organizations are credible disseminators of health education information and accessible providers of venues that facilitate wellness among congregants and community members. The religious beliefs, spirituality, and faith practices at the core of congregational cultural life explain the trustworthiness of their messaging, the health of their adherents, and the intention of their care provision. Considerable inquiry into the impact of religion and spirituality on health reveals substantive correlations with positive psychological factors known to sustain physical and psychological health—optimism, meaning and purpose, hope, well-being, self-esteem, gratefulness, social support, and marital stability. However, the beliefs and practices that create receptivity to health-related communications, care practices, and service provision can also be a deterrent to message impact and participation in healthy behaviors. When a productive relationship between spirituality and health exists, congregational membership offers rituals (e.g., worship, education, mission) and relationships that promote spiritual well-being. Research demonstrates increased life satisfaction and meaning in life, with health risk reduction associated with a sense of belonging, enriched social interactions, and shared experiences. Congregations communicate their commitment to wellness of congregants and community members alike through offering a variety of congregationally based and collaborative wellness and risk reduction programs. These expressions of investment in individual and community health range across all age, gender, and ethnic demographics and address most of the prominent diagnostic categories. These programs are ordered along three dimensions: primary prevention (health care messaging and education), secondary prevention (risk education), and tertiary prevention (treatment). Applying the dimensions of sponsorship, goal/mission, focus, services, staffing, and intended outcome highlights the similarities and differences among them. Several unique facets of congregational life energize the effectiveness of these programs. Inherent trust and credibility empower adherence, and participation decisions and financial investment provide service availability. These assets serve as attractive contributions in collaborations among congregations and between private and public health care providers. Current research has not yet documented the best practices associated with program viability. However, practice wisdom in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of congregationally based and collaborative health-related programs suggests guidelines for future investigation. Congregational leaders and health care professionals emphasize well-designed needs assessment. Effective congregational health promotion and risk reduction may be linked to the availability and expertise of professionals and volunteers enacting the roles of planner/program developer, facilitator, convener/mediator, care manager/advocate, health educator, and direct health care service provider.

Article

One of the most difficult puzzles of contemporary international relations is how to balance the human rights of freedom of opinion, religion, and expression that are set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with calls for criminalization of blasphemy (defamation of God, religion, religious dogmas, personalities, scriptures, and artifacts) on the part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States, Iran, and other Muslim countries, in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States, publication of Danish and French cartoons that satirized Prophet Mohammad and equated Islam with terrorism, and the Islamist terrorist attack against the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015. The question is how to strike a balance between freedom of expression, which includes non-verbal symbolic speech and legal expressive conduct, with calls for respect for religion (in word and deed), as well as the installation of a global, anti-blasphemy regime under international law. Calls for international criminalization of blasphemy and enactment of global anti-blasphemy laws that would globalize respect for religion under international law began in 1988, when Salman Rushdie, a British-Indian novelist, published the Satanic Verses, an unorthodox narrative of the life of Prophet Mohammad and of Islamic dogma. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini promptly issued a fatwa (religious decree) pronouncing the death sentence on Rushdie. In 2001, Buddhists, art historians, and scholars around the world were horrified when the Taliban destroyed the 1,700-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan. From 2013–2017, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (the Islamic State) went on a rampage, destroying ancient, pre-Islamic, Greco-Roman, Christian, and other monuments in Iraq and Syria. The actions of the Ayatollah, the Taliban, and the Islamic State represent a deployment of the argument of force and coercion rather than the force of argument and dialogue to impose acceptance of religious dogmas, personalities, and narratives. People of all religious faiths condemned the death sentence passed on Salman Rushdie, as well as the destructive actions of the Taliban and the Islamic State, drawing a distinction between modes of expression—books, cartoons, news reports, and the like—that criticize religion and illegal actions such as religiously motivated intimidation and violence. However, historically, the major religions—Christianity (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church), Islam, certain strands of Buddhism, Hinduism, and others—have not made a distinction between protected speech that is critical of religion and illegal actions directed at believers. They have not distinguished between their religion’s beliefs as philosophical worldviews and individual believers as human persons subject to criticism. In Islam, criticism or satirical cartoons of Prophet Mohammad or of Islam, as well as desecration of the Qur’an, are considered offensive actions that constitute insults against all Muslims. Most member countries of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation interpret national and international law as criminalizing all anti-Islamic expressions and call for a global anti-blasphemy regulatory regime. This would be tantamount to a universal, anti-humanist posture that places religious rites and sentiments over human rights. The question is whether putting religion and other metaphysical worldviews beyond the reach of critical examination and scholarly interrogation is consistent with the libertarian values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Legal interpretations of the human right of freedom of expression and of the politico-theological concept of blasphemy are grounded in specific national, religious, historical, and politico-cultural contexts. These different national and cultural postures toward freedom of expression and blasphemy can be explained by the concept of “establishmentality,” a neologism that describes different politico-cultural mentalities or logics with respect to the role and place of religion in the life of the state, the law, and the public sphere. In Muslim countries with constitutional or statutory state religions—Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Maldives, and others—the penalty for blasphemy is death. Blasphemy is also criminalized in the rest of the Middle East. In Western countries with established (state) religions—the United Kingdom and Scandinavia—blasphemy laws have either been repealed or are not being enforced. By way of contrast, the United States has an anti-establishmentarian constitutional regime. The First Amendment is a charter of negative rights that forbids the establishment of religion (creation of a state religion). In the last few years, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League have put pressure on the United Nations to ban blasphemy and institute a regime that puts region and religious sentiments above criticism. The danger is that the establishment of a universal anti-blasphemy right grounded in the theological concept of respect for religion would be clearly at variance with the freedom of opinion, religion, and expression provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article

Families are not immune from intergroup processes that pervade other social relationships and institutions in society. Family relationships are often constituted by individuals with different identities and worldviews, especially when considering the changing landscape of families (e.g., multiethnic–multiracial families, interfaith families). Moreover, many of our most personal relationships emerge from the joining of two distinct familial groups (e.g., in-laws, stepfamily members). Whether considering different social identities salient in family interactions (e.g., ethnicity-race, age, political affiliation) or formative dynamics as families merge, intergroup communication processes are central to managing difference in a constructive manner that facilitates development of a shared family identity and individual well-being. Further, an intergroup perspective on family highlights the manner in which families directly and indirectly socialize family members’ intergroup attitudes and worldviews.