This will be my last entry in this series of politics as a polarised entry. I could have done social stratification vs social progressivism but I did not feel it was relevant to put it as a polarised entry but rather an in depth analysis of it and if I agree with it or not. So for now, this will be my last entry for the year, so I wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Hanukkah. I will now write on my opinion on religion.
I will summarise on what I have written on the Left Wing approach on this subject. The original French left-wing was anti-clerical, opposing the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and supporting the separation of church and state. Today in the Western world, those on the Left usually support secularization and the separation of church and state. Religious beliefs, however, have also been associated with some left-wing movements, such as the African American civil rights movement and the anti-capital punishment movement.
Other common leftist concerns such as pacifism, social justice, racial equality, human rights, and the rejection of excessive wealth can be found in the Bible. In the late 19th century, the Social Gospel movement arose (particularly among some Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists in North America and Britain) which attempted to integrate progressive and socialist thought with Christianity in faith-based social activism, promoted by movements such as Christian Socialism. In the 20th century, the theology of liberation and Creation Spirituality was championed by such writers as Gustavo Gutierrez and Matthew Fox.
Other left-wing religious movements include Islamic socialism and Buddhist socialism. There have been alliances between the Left and anti-war Muslims, such as the Respect Party and the Stop the War Coalition in Britain. In France, the Left has been divided over moves to ban the hijab from schools, with some supporting a ban based on separation of church and state, and others opposing the ban based on personal freedom (1)
I will now summarise on what I have written on the Right Wing approach on this subject. Government support for an established religion was associated with the original French right wing. Religious fundamentalists frequently feel that governments should enact laws supporting their religious tenets. The Christian right is a major force in North America. They generally support laws upholding what they consider religious values, such as opposition to abortion, contraception, sex outside marriage, and to same-sex marriage, and reject scientific positions on evolution and other matters where science disagrees with the Bible.
Outside the West, other religious and ethnic groups are considered right-wing. In India, Hindu nationalism is sometimes considered a part of the Right. The Hindu nationalist movement has attracted privileged groups fearing encroachment on their dominant positions, and impoverished groups seeking recognition around a majoritarian rhetoric of cultural pride, order, and national strength. Many Islamist groups have been called “right wing” including the Great Union Party in Turkey, and the Combatant Clergy Association in Iran and the Islamic Society of Engineers of Iran giving just a few examples.
The term “family values” has been used as a buzzword by right-wing parties such as the Republican Party in the United States, the Family First Party in Australia, the Conservative party in the United Kingdom and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India to describe support for traditional families, and opposition to the changes the modern world has made in how families live. Right-wing supporters of “family values” may oppose abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, divorce, teenage pregnancy and adultery. (2)
I will continue by looking at religion, and to consider if having religion as a basis to set up political policies is correct or not and also I will talk about religion in various fields.
The definition of religion is the service and worship of God or the supernatural, or the commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance, or even a personal set or institutionalised system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. (3) In this entry, the definition that is most relevant will be the institutionalised system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices.
Sociology of religion
Sociology of Religion is the study of the beliefs, practices and organizational forms of religion using the tools and methods of the discipline of sociology. This objective investigation may include the use of both quantitative methods (surveys, polls, demographic and census analysis) and qualitative approaches such as participant observation, interviewing, and analysis of archival, historical and documentary materials.
Sociologists of religion study every aspect of religion from what is believed to how persons act while in worship and while living out their stated convictions. They study the changing role of religion both in the public arena (political, economic and media) and in intimate interpersonal relationships. Global religious pluralism (this is an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society.) and conflict, the nature of religious cults and sects, the influence of religion on racial, gender and sexuality issues, and the effect of the media and modern culture has on religious practices are all topics of interest in current sociology of religion research. (4)
Modern academic sociology began with the analysis of religion in Émile Durkheim’s 1897 study of suicide rates among Catholic and Protestant populations, a foundational work of social research which served to distinguish sociology from other disciplines, such as psychology. The works of Karl Marx and Max Weber emphasized the relationship between religion and the economic or social structure of society. Contemporary debates have centred on issues such as secularization, civil religion, and the cohesiveness of religion in the context of globalization and multiculturalism. The contemporary sociology of religion may also encompass the sociology of non-religion (for instance, in the analysis of secular humanist belief systems). I will expand on this in a future blog entry.
Anthropology of religion
Anthropology of religion is the study of religion in relation to other social institutions, and the comparison of religious beliefs and practices across cultures (5)
Anthropological studies of religion had their beginnings in the late nineteenth century with the seminal works of Max Müller, W. Robertson Smith, Edward B. Tylor, and Sir James G. Frazer. These scholars, of course, were not the first to take an interest in the comparative study of religion, nor were they the first to speculate on the religions of pre-literate and tribal peoples. What set these men apart is that they were the first to suggest that tribal religions might be amenable to study following the rules of the scientific method, and the first to specify methodological procedures for the comparative analysis of religious beliefs and practices. (6)
People living in the West tend to have a clear idea of what religion should look like: it tends to take place in a building set aside for the purpose (a church, synagogue, mosque, temple etc.), revolves around appeals to a higher, all-powerful deity and involves the articulation of beliefs (often set down in texts) to which the general population may or may not subscribe. Anthropologists have studied such religions, but they have also examined contexts where religious practice looks very different. In many cultures and societies, the idea of a single God may not be present, and the notion of reading a sacred book like the Quran or the Bible would seem very strange, not least because writing and reading may not play any part in people’s lives. Even the western notion of ‘belief’ does not make much sense in contexts where ideas about gods and spirits are taken for granted, and are not challenged by other faiths or the conclusions of the natural sciences.
Anthropologists of religion are not concerned with discovering the truth or falsehood of religion. They are more interested in how religious ideas express a people’s cosmology, i.e. notions of how the universe is organised and the role of humans within the world. Many study rituals which incorporate symbols, and note how these often help to bring communities together in times of crisis or special points in the calendar. The actions of religious specialists, whether these are priests, prophets, shamans or spirit mediums are also examined. In many societies, such specialists have important political and economic as well as religious roles to play.
Politics of Religion
Debates over the role of religion in the public sphere look certain to be one of the central and defining areas of political life in the 21st century. At the present time there are few countries in the world that can claim to possess a fully secular separation between the state and religion and the influence of the latter in the public realm is one that continues to grow. The topic of religion is one that has also attracted an intense amount of academic attention, traversing a variety of disciplines, often with an overlap between them, including anthropology, sociology, law, history, philosophy, psychology and political science.
As the principal means by which those advocating a public role for a particular faith seek to promote and legitimise this end, (since the point of having a public role means the political group who are advocating religious based policies can carry it out as a measure of governance.) a public discourse of religion is necessarily based on a mutually shared interpretation of the main problems and challenges that such objectives face, as well as the most appropriate and effective method of dealing with them. Emerging, on this basis, through a process debate, the discourse (which exists only as a societal relation between different groups, and which is independent of those from whose efforts it arose) denotes an attempt to shape, mould and frame both the terms and content of public debate. (7)
The relation between religion and politics continues to be an important theme in political philosophy, despite the emergent consensus (both among political theorists and in practical political contexts, such as the United Nations) on the right to freedom of conscience and on the need for some sort of separation between church and state. One reason for the importance of this topic is that religions often make strong claims on people’s allegiance, and universal religions make these claims on all people, rather than just a particular community. For example, Islam has traditionally held that all people owe obedience to Allah’s will.
Thus, it is probably inevitable that religious commitments will sometimes come into conflict with the demands of politics. But religious beliefs and practices also potentially support politics in many ways. The extent and form of this support is as important to political philosophers as is the possibility for conflict. Moreover, there has been a growing interest in minority groups and the political rights and entitlements they are due. One result of this interest is substantial attention given to the particular concerns and needs of minority groups who are distinguished by their religion, as opposed to ethnicity, gender, or wealth.
While the topic of establishment has receded in importance at present, it has been central to political thought in the West since at least the days of Constantine. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, European societies struggled with determining exactly what roles church and state should play in each other’s sphere, and so the topic of establishment became especially pressing in the early modern era, although there was also substantial discussion in the middle ages.
The term “establishment” can refer to any of number of possible arrangements for a religion in a society’s political life. These arrangements include the following:
- A religious body may be a “state” church in the sense that it has an exclusive right to practice its faith.
- A church may be supported through taxes and subject to the direction of the government (for example, the monarch is still officially the head of the Church of England, and the Prime Minister is responsible for selecting the Archbishop of Canterbury).
- Particular ecclesiastical (relating to the Christian church) officials may have, in virtue of their office, an established role in political institutions.
- A church may simply have a privileged role in certain public, political ceremonies (for example, inaugurations, opening of parliament, etc.).
- Instead of privileging a particular religious group, a state could simply enshrine a particular creed or belief system as its official religion, much like the “official bird” or “official flower.”
Note that these options are not mutually exclusive, a state could adopt some or all of these measures. What is central to them is they each involve the conferral of some sort of official status. As European and American societies faced the growing plurality of religious beliefs, communities, and institutions in the early modern era, one of the paramount social problems was determining whether and to what extent they should be tolerated.
My initial position of this, was one of plurality and neutrality and thus I was passive towards the issue. But it was a position leaning towards secularism. Although secularism is proceeding rapidly in many of the world’s societies, and although this trend seems connected in some way to the process of economic development, nevertheless religion continues to be an important political phenomenon throughout the world, for multiple reasons. Even the most secularized countries (Sweden is typically cited as a prime example) include substantial numbers of people who still identify themselves as religious. Moreover, many of these societies are currently experiencing immigration from groups who are more religious than native-born populations and who follow religions that are alien to the host countries’ cultural heritage. These people are often given substantial democratic rights, sometimes including formal citizenship. This causes disenfranchisement towards the more religious immigrant groupings by the native born population since they cannot relate to it and this then becomes polarised opposites of each other.
In my opinion, religion should not be a factor on the political processes, since I feel that having a political discussion on each position and discussion from an informed public would be better suited to the types of policies that can occur. In a general population, people will have many differing opinions on multiple topics and thus a bias towards one religious grouping makes no sense if the purpose of the society is equality between all members. Even if one position was unanimous from all religious factions, it should still be discussed by an informed public so an acceptable position can be reached.
So to conclude, I feel religion should not be part of the political spectrum and religious entities and the state should remain separate.
- Kettell, S. (2009). On the Public Discourse of Religion: Politics and Religion, pp 420 – 443.