Religion and Society: On the Present-Day Religious Situation

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The studies on the last topic are clustered in the Centre for Thanatology, which focuses on the nexus between ritual, death and spirituality.

The Center for Religion and Contemporary Society explores the three topics within Christianity, Islam, Asian and Indigenous religions and among the religiously non-affiliated, as well as through cross-religious comparative studies. The center aims for empirically informed theory development on contemporary religion and spirituality, while also taking into account the historical and scriptural origins of present-day religion.

There are many proposed meanings of culture, and these vary from the simple to the complex. While each approach has real value for understanding the social world around us, we will opt for a simple version that still gives us plenty to work with. As such, we begin with an understanding of culture as the combined effect of humanly constructed social elements that help people live together. We will explore four elements of culture, illustrating each element through individual and international political experience. The first element of culture has to do with common or shared life.

While media reporting seems to constantly prioritise stories of war, conflict and controversy, it is equally the case that local, national and international society requires a remarkable degree of cooperation. How do we live together? Yet, there are other bonds that are forged at the social level as peoples of difference find ways to live together in the same space by forging common beliefs, habits and values.

It is from this practice of common life that culture often emerges. Sport provides good examples of culture as common life. Let us think about football also known as soccer. Local football clubs can be founded on distinct community identity.

The impact of religion on a secular state: the Nigerian experience

For example, local Australian players from a Greek background can play for a team sponsored by the Hellenic Association. Clubs can equally represent a locality rather than a particular group. Regardless of background, at the international level all players in these clubs have a loyalty to the Australian football team.


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Football is the common bond — a sporting pastime but also cultural practice. Think about the way entire nations can be said to embody the activities of its national sporting heroes. Supporters from different countries will identify their team as playing in a certain style, even if these are stereotypes and not entirely accurate: do all Eastern European teams play with structure and discipline?

Do all South American sides use flamboyance and spontaneity? The larger point, for both individuals and nations, is the tangible power of a sporting pastime to generate common bonds from the local to the international Rees , — That bond is an expression of culture. The second element of culture are symbols of identity. The kinds of sign I am referring to are tangible reminders in modern societies of who we are as a people. They include styles of architecture such as bridges or religious buildings , land or waterscapes that influence the activity of life such as in harbour cities , monuments, flags and other identity banners, styles of clothing and habits of dress, distinctive food and drink — and so on.

These signs are more than a tourist attraction, they are symbols that inform members about who they are as a group and that help the group live together cohesively. Consider, for example, the individual and international significance of national flags as cultural symbols. The Star-Spangled Banner as the anthem of the United States of America describes the power of a national flag to inspire individual and national devotion. The answer for Key was yes, the flag symbolising defiance and the promise of victory.

Equally, persecuted communities within a country might see a national or regional flag as a symbol of oppression rather than freedom, symbolising a dominant way of life that excludes them. In all regions of the world nationalist groups fight for autonomy or independence from a country or countries that surround them, and do so under alternative flags that represent their own cultural identity.

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The flag of the Canadian province of Quebec, for example, employs religious and cultural symbols reflecting its origins as a French colony in the new world. Quebec nationalists campaigning for independence from Canada have employed the flag in the promotion of French language, cultural preservation and Quebecois identity. National separatist groups worldwide are similarly inspired by symbols of culture they are trying to preserve. The third element of culture is the power of story. Like the cultural use of symbols, societies need to tell stories.

The role of Religion in Establishing Social Cohesion

These may be about individuals and groups, of events in the distant and recent past, of tales of victory and defeat involving enemies and friends — and so on. Such stories are told to reaffirm, or even recreate, ideas of where that society belongs in relation to the wider world.

As such, stories are performances designed to influence what we understand to be real Walter , 72— Sometimes cultural difference can be most starkly understood by the different stories societies tell about themselves. In such places, national holidays can be mourned as commemorating invasion and dispossession. New Zealand offers somewhat of a contrast, with the story of the nation including the drawing up of the Treaty of Waitangi signed in between the British colonisers and the indigenous Maori tribes.

Such ownership, as an attempt to uphold the sovereignty of the Maori nation s , was central to the preservation of their cultural story.

Religious Influence in Society

Sadly, this is not the history recounted by Australian indigenous nations or most Native American tribes in the United States and Canada. Taken together, these depictions of preservation and loss illustrate the importance of language, ritual, place and tradition in the cultural story at the individual and international level. Like living organs, societies experience growth and decline, health and decay, fitness and injury.

Extending the analogy, we could say that culture is a way to measure the psychological and emotional health of society. These descriptors reflect what individuals and international societies believe is a healthy culture. As such, culture involves agreement on the kind of things that are good for society and can make it flourish. One of the leading frontiers of culture clash worldwide involves the campaign for gender equality in areas such as education, employment, reproductive and marital rights.

The story of Malala Yousafzai from northwest Pakistan reminds us of the power of one individual to inspire an international response on the vital issue of education for girls. When Malala was 12, and inspired by her teacher father, she began to speak out for the right to education, something that was becoming increasingly restricted due to the influence of the Taliban in Pakistan. In , although critically wounded, Malala survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the Taliban and, on her recovery, became a brave advocate for the many millions who were being denied education due to certain cultural perceptions about girls and their place in society.

In she was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and dedicated her prize money to the building of a secondary school for girls in Pakistan. We have explored elements of religion and culture and offered various brief examples from an individual, national and international perspective. While it has been important to consider each concept separately, highlighting the particular ways that religion and culture influence international relations, there are clear interlinkages between them.

Theorists have long drawn such links and these are useful for our consideration here. Consider the similarities between the elements of religion and culture described in this chapter such as the role of symbols and stories in both accounts, and the pursuit of life according to what either faith or culture determine to be the higher standards of living.

Such a view makes sense because no one religion encompasses an entire society in the world today, and no society lives entirely according to one set of sacred rules and practices. On the other hand, in some contexts religious authority and identity can be more significant than any other cultural element. For example, when American soldiers moved into the Iraqi city of Najaf in to negotiate security arrangements, it was not the town mayor or the police chief that had most influence.

Rather, it was the reclusive religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose authority influenced not only the city but much of the fracturing nation itself. Taking another example, when Communist authorities confronted striking dock workers in Poland in the s, it was not only unions that opposed them but also the Catholic Church, whose priests performed sacred rituals and stood in solidarity with strikers in open defiance of the government.

In both these examples, the elements of religion are equally — if not more — prominent than the elements of culture. In the last two censuses, Jedi has been the most popular alternative religion with more than , people 0. By , numbers had dropped sharply, but there were still , people who told the government they were Jedi Knights. Of course — there are huge consequences to religious belief and practice. Firstly, countless wars and conflicts have had an overt or covert religious dimension throughout history right up to the present day.

Donald Trump won the presidential election with the overwhelming support of white evangelical Christians.


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Legislators in Argentina recently voted against legalising abortion under pressure from Catholic bishops and the pope. There are millions of people of faith across the world engaging in social action projects to help the poor and marginalised. More prejudice and persecution. Followers of most major religions report increasing hostility and, in many cases, violence. Christians have been largely driven out of the Middle East, with some calling it a new genocide. Meanwhile antisemitism and Islamophobia are rising in Europe.

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One of the biggest upheavals on the religious landscape in the next few years is likely to be the death or, possibly, retirement of Pope Francis, who is 81 and has a number of health issues. His efforts to reform the Vatican and the church have led to a significant backlash by conservative forces, who are organising against his papacy and preparing for the moment when the post becomes vacant.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The briefing. How many believers are there around the world? Science and religion But the third biggest category is missing from the above list.

Introduction to "Religion" (World Religions: A Whirlwind Tour)

Which religions are growing, and where? What about theocratic states? Religious literacy box Thirteen countries including nine in Europe designate Christianity or a particular Christian denomination as their state religion. What religions are oldest and are there any new ones? Does religion have an impact on the world? What happens next?

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