22 Jul Journal: Incorporating Religion and Spirituality in Practice In the past, religion and spirituality sat relatively unexplored and untaught as a practice topic in social work prog
in Social Science
Journal: Incorporating Religion and Spirituality in Practice
In the past, religion and spirituality sat relatively unexplored and untaught as a practice topic in social work programs (Baylor University, n.d.). The reasoning was, in part, that acknowledging religion could lead to directly or indirectly offending the client. But to disregard religion was likely denying the identities of a large segment of the population.
Now, social workers are tasked with exploring religion and spirituality as potentially influential to the client’s well-being, experiences, and perceptions and to take this dimension into account in treatment. How would you introduce this sensitive topic with clients in your community, and how might you do so without favoring your own beliefs?
For this Journal, you consider how you might grow to better serve specific religious or spiritual populations in your community. You also envision what a conversation about religion with a client might look like.
Baylor University. (n.d.). Study: Why social workers aren’t discussing religion and spirituality with clients. https://www.socialworktoday.com/news/dn_072415.shtml
- Identify the major religions represented in the community where you live and/or work. You can do this be searching online, observing the houses of worship in your area, and/or accessing the Pew Research Center link in the Learning Resources.
- Imagine you are meeting with a client who is a member of one of the major religions you have identified in your community.
By Day 7
Submit a 1- to 2-page written journal or 4- to 5-minute video or audio journal in which you:
- Describe your approach for discussing religion with a client in your community, including at least two questions you would ask. Justify your approach using the Learning Resources.
- Reflect on your comfort and familiarity with religion and spirituality in general. In what ways might you develop to better serve the specific religious and spiritual populations in your community?
Use the Learning Resources to support your thinking. Make sure to provide APA citations and a reference list.
Religious Landscape Study
(I’m in the State of Michigan)
EBSCO Publishing Citation Format: MLA 9th Edition (Modern Language Assoc.):
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Wienclaw, Ruth A. “World Religions.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2021. EBSCOhost, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=ers&AN=8918 5824&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=s6527200.
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To understand the way people act toward each other, both as individuals and as societies, it is often helpful to understand the religious underpinnings that inform their beliefs and actions. The belongingness that arises from identifying with a religious group has shaped societies and political actions throughout human history. Of world religions today, Christianity and Islam both have roots in the monotheistic beliefs of Judaism. These three major world religions, however, disagree strongly on core tenets of their faiths. Hinduism and Buddhism are other major world religions that are often more tolerant of other beliefs. There are many other belief systems in the world today, ranging from those that see the spiritual in everything around them to those that deny the existence of a higher power or do not believe that such existence can ever be proved. Social scientists study the similarities and differences among major world religions in order to better understand how these belief systems affect societies, cultures, and interactions with others of different beliefs. Religions are institutional systems grounded in the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers considered to have created and to govern the universe. One’s faith informs not only one’s personal belief system, but also one’s actions in the world. Religions often inform one’s ethical and moral belief systems and how one interacts with other people or the greater environment. For many people, religious identity (or lack thereof) also increases one’s feelings of association and belongingness within a group composed of other adherents to the same beliefs. This belongingness not only fulfills a basic human need, but also has political and social
ramifications. For example, in the United States in the early twenty-first century, the conservative Christian right has become a significant voting bloc that may influence politicians and governments to create and enforce laws that conform to their religious beliefs. This belongingness can lead to an “us-them” mentality between different groups, resulting in political sanctions, terrorism, and wars. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are only three of a large variety of religions and sects that can be found around the world. In general, most countries have dominant religions. One is more likely than not to encounter dissenting or alternative views when discussing religion. There is a great range of religious diversity across the planet not only based on belief systems but also regarding the number of adherents, ranging in the billions for Christianity and Islam to the fewer than a million for Unitarian Universalism and Scientology. Figure 1 summarizes the percentage of adherents to various religions across the globe.
Figure 1: Worldwide Percentage of Adherents by Religion (2010)
The following sections briefly discuss some of the major belief systems and representative religions within each group. There are, of course, other religions in the world. The following discussions are not meant to be a comprehensive review, but to give the reader the salient points that differentiate religions. Major Monotheistic Religions Three of the major religions of the world are monotheistic (i.e., believe in one god) and trace their roots back to the patriarch Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although there are commonalities between these religions, they are typically better defined by their differences. Far from being minor (as may appear at first glance to an outsider), to a great extent, these differences define the identities of these groups and have served as the basis for conflicts and wars. Judaism Judaism is the earliest of these three religions. This monotheistic religion traces its roots to the ancient Hebrews and Israelites. The spiritual and ethical principles of Judaism are embodied primarily in the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament by Christians) and the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbinic writings that form the basis of religious authority for orthodox Jews. Although the story of humanity as described in the Hebrew Bible goes back further, the history of Judaism arguably traces back to God’s promise to the ancient patriarch Abram (later called Abraham) that he would make of him the father of many nations. The Hebrews called God “YHWH,” a name that they did not pronounce out of respect to the supreme being. YHWH’s promise to Abraham included his descendents, Isaac, Jacob, and subsequently all the Jews. One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, was subsequently sold into slavery in Egypt, where he rose to power under the pharaoh. During a time of famine, Joseph’s 11 brothers came to Egypt in search of food, were reunited with their brother, and stayed. According to the narrative in the Hebrew Bible, their descendents, the Israelites, were eventually enslaved by the Egyptians and then led to freedom by Moses following a series of plagues and the death of the firstborn children of the Egyptians. Jews still commemorate this landmark event by the celebration of Passover. In the twelfth century CE, Moses Maimonides condensed the beliefs of Judaism into a creed. Observant Jews live according to the tenets of the Hebrew Bible as well as the doctrines of the Talmud, a body of rabbinical law tradition. Judaism can be further broken down into several subcategories, including Orthodox, Ultraorthodox, Reformed, and Conservative Judaism. Christianity One of the sticking points between Judaism and the other two major monotheistic religions is the concept of the messiah. The Hebrew term messiah basically means “the anointed one” (christos, or Christ, in Greek). This ever-anticipated figure in Judaism is expected to bring salvation for God’s people (i.e., the Jews) and usher in the Kingdom of God. It is at this point that Christianity and Judaism differ. In its beginnings in the first century CE, Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism that differed from the main body of adherents by their belief that Jesus was not only the expected messiah, or Christ, but also the son of God. Because of this major doctrinal difference, Christians in the first century systematically distanced themselves from the Jews to become a new religion. The belief that Jesus was the expected messiah who came in fulfillment of prophecy, of course, was and is considered heresy by the Jews. According to the Apostles’ Creed, which is still cited by many Christians as a fundamental doctrinal statement, Christians believe in “God the Father Almighty,” creator of both heaven and earth. At this point, both Judaism and Christianity agree. It is at the next statement, however, that these two major monotheistic religions diverge. The Apostles’ Creed goes on to say that Jesus Christ is God’s only son and was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Summarizing the story of the Gospels, the creed goes on to say that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. After his death, the creed states that Jesus descended into hell, rose from the dead on the third day, and ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the creator, God the Father, and will judge both the living and the dead. Due to various internal disagreements over the past 2,000 years, Christianity can be further broken down into the Eastern (or Orthodox) Church and the Western Church, comprising the Roman Catholic Church and numerous Protestant denominations. It is on the doctrine of the person and substance of Jesus Christ that Christians and Jews differ. Both religions are monotheistic. However, rather than merely believing in God the Creator, Christians believe in the Trinity, or the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit believed to be “three persons in one.” In addition, Christians believe that the New Testament is a revelation from God and that it carries as much weight as the Hebrew Bible, a view Jews do not hold. However, based on the teachings of the Christian New Testament itself, most Christians believe that there will be no further body of revelation from God. It is at this point at which the teachings of Islam deviate from those of Christianity. Islam Islam is also a monotheistic religion tracing its roots back to Abraham. As a religion, Islam was founded around 600 CE. The spiritual and ethical principles of Islam are embodied primarily in the Quran. Muslims (the adherents of Islam) believe in Allah to be the sole deity and Mohammad his last and chief prophet. Although believing in the historical Jesus of the Christians, Muslims believe that he was only one in a long line of prophets tracing back through the Hebrew Bible and continuing after Jesus through Mohammed, the greatest in the line of prophets. Because Muslims do not believe that Jesus was God, they do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Although like Judaism and Christianity, Islam traces its origins back to Abraham, a history of Islam actually starts around the turn of the seventh century and the Prophet Mohammed. As he grew older, Mohammed rejected the polytheism that was the predominant religion in his culture and came to believe in only one god, Allah. At the age of 40, Mohammed had his first vision. Mohammed’s revelations are written down in what has come to be known as the Quran. At first, Mohammed was unsure as to the source of these visions. However, his wife encouraged him to believe that they were revelations from God. After Mohammed’s death, Islam separated into several sects as a result of various controversies. One major group is the Sunnis. This orthodox sect accepts the Quran, Islamic traditions, and the four bases of Islamic law. The majority of Muslims are Sunnis. The Shi’a, another major Islamic sect, follows the teachings of Ali, a martyred adherent of early Islam. Part of the Shi’a controversy revolves around the fact that some Muslims believe that only direct descendents of Mohammed could be legitimate caliphs and be given first place in the leadership of Islam. Ali, however, was not of this line. Most of the Muslims in Iran are Shi’a. Another major Islamic sect is the Sufis. This sect of Islamic mystics arose in response to orthodox Islam and often with the secular views of some early Islamic leaders. Probably the best known of the Sufi orders is the Dervishes (i.e., “the whirling Dervishes”). Major Nonmonotheistic Religions Hinduism Despite their familiarity in the West, monotheistic religions are not the only major religions of the world. In fact, worldwide, Hinduism had more adherents than Judaism or any other world religion with the exception of Christianity and Islam, as of 2010, according to the Pew Research Center (See Figure 1). Hinduism is a diverse, polytheistic religion native to India that comprises various religious, philosophical, and social doctrines including dharma (the obligation to fulfill one’s duty), pantheism (equation of God with the forces and laws of the created universe),
reincarnation (the successive rebirth of a soul in a new body in a continuing cycle of progressive perfection or salvation), karma (total effect of an individual’s actions and conduct in successive reincarnations), and nirvana (the final state that transcends suffering and karma). The practice of Hinduism includes various ritual and social observances, often including mystical contemplation and asceticism. Hinduism has a rich and complex history. In fact, it may be better considered as a family of religions rather than a single unified religion. As opposed to the major monotheistic religions discussed above, Hinduism is a universal religion in that it sees sameness in all religions rather than stressing the diversity in them. As a result, Hinduism is tolerant of other religions. The voluminous Hindu scriptures were written over a period of two millennia starting at 1400 BCE. The oldest of the scriptures is called the Vedas, which literally means “wisdom” or “knowledge.” The Vedas contain various hymns, prayers, and rituals that were composed over the first millennium of Hinduism. Another part of the Hindu scriptures is the Upanishads. These are a collection of speculative treatises composed between 800 and 600 BCE. The content of the Upanishads marks a shift in emphasis from sacrifice and magic to mystical ideas about humanity in the universe, in particular the eternal Brahman (the basis of all reality) and the atman (the self or the soul). The Upanishads are said to have a great influence on Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The Ramayana comprises one of two major epic tales of India. This work describes the life of Rama, a righteous king who was the incarnation of the god Vishnu. The second epic, the Mahabharata, is the story of the deeds of the Aryan clans. Included in this work is the Bhagavad-Gita (“Song of the Blessed Lord”). The Puranas comprise a collection of legends about gods, goddesses, demons, and ancestors. There are three ways to view the concept of salvation in Hinduism. The way of works (karma marga) is the path of salvation through religious duty. This path to salvation includes performing prescribed ceremonies, duties, and religious rites. It is believed that performing these activities can add favorable karma to one’s merit. The second path to salvation is the way of knowledge (jnana marga). The philosophy underlying this approach to salvation is that human suffering is caused by ignorance and that human nature is at the root of humanity’s problems. According to Hinduism, however, this is an error because humanity is not a separate and real entity. Rather, the only real entity is Brahman. Humanity, therefore, is part of this whole. Similarly, it is believed that this illusion is what causes one to continue to be chained to the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. The way of knowledge has particular appeal to intellectuals who are willing to go through the prescribed steps. The third approach to salvation in Hinduism is the way of devotion (bhakti marga). The way of devotion requires devotion to a deity through public and private worship. Further, the way of devotion requires that this attitude be extrapolated to human relationships through love of family, love of one’s master, etc. Buddhism Another major world religion is Buddhism. Although Buddhism is found throughout eastern and central Asia, it originated in India about 500 BCE. The impetus for the beginning of the Buddhist belief system was disillusionment with various beliefs of Hinduism, including the caste system and the belief in an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, who was later deified by his disciples, was significantly affected by several encounters in his early life. The first of these was the sight of an old man. The sight was unusual, for the old and infirm had been ordered at that time to stay indoors. When Siddhartha Gautama asked what had happened to the man, he was told that it was only old age and that it would happen to everyone one day. The second encounter that affected Siddhartha Gautama’s outlook was the sight of an ill man. Again, he was told that all people were vulnerable to sickness. The sight of a funeral procession again affected him when he was told that death
comes to all people. The final sight was of a monk who was begging for food. The look of tranquility on the man’s face led Siddhartha Gautama to desire the same life for himself. Although a prince, Siddhartha Gautama left the palace that night to seek enlightenment. One day as he was meditating under a tree, he reached the highest degree of god-consciousness (nirvana). At this point in his story, Siddhartha Gautama becomes known as the Buddha (“enlightened one”). The essence of Buddhism can be summed up by three objectives: cease from all sin, acquire virtue, and purify the heart. Buddhism is based on the philosophy that suffering is a part of life but that one can be liberated from it through moral and mental self-purification. There are a number of fundamental beliefs in Buddhism. First, Buddhists are to show tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all people without distinction as well as kindness toward all animals. The founding truths of Buddhism are founded on the natural world. Buddhists also believe that ignorance fosters desire as well as the belief that rebirth is necessary. Perfection, however, can be obtained by meditation once one learns to let go of the desire to live. As with Hinduism, Buddhism includes the concept of karma. Obstacles to obtaining good karma can be removed by not killing, stealing, indulging in forbidden sexual pleasure, lying, and drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Other Approaches There are also many primal/indigenous religions across the world. This term comprises a general category of religious practice and belief usually found in primitive societies. Primal/indigenous religions are based on beliefs, superstitions, and rituals that are passed on from one generation to the next within a specific culture. Primal/indigenous religions include animism (attribution of conscious life to nature or natural objects) and shamanism (animistic religion in which mediation between the visible and spirit worlds is mediated by shamans who practice magic for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events). Some examples of primal/indigenous approaches to religion include the religious beliefs of the North American natives and of traditional African tribes. Agnosticism & Atheism There is a vast array across the globe of other religions with fewer adherents, each with its own belief system. However, not everyone believes. Although most people in the world ascribe to various religious belief systems, a significant number do not. Of these, there are those who are open to the possibility of a higher power and those who are not. Agnostics believe that any ultimate reality is unknown and unknowable. From a religious point of view, therefore, agnostics do not confirm or deny the existence of God and further believe that no proof of God’s existence can exist. Agnostics are distinguished from atheists, who actively disbelieve in or deny the existence of any higher power. As with religious beliefs, these belief systems also affect the way that people act. Nonbelievers represent a significant proportion of individuals in twenty-first-century postmodern society. Like their religious counterparts, the beliefs (or lack thereof) of nonbelievers also help shape society. Applications Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Islamists, schism in the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, and the unusual and often illegal activities of various sects and cults have created news headlines implicating the role of religion in these events. Religion can be the stuff of controversy with one group arguing with another over who is right and who is wrong. The attacks on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center, and the London Underground and Tavistock Square were all done in the name of religion. So, too, is the fighting of the Israelis and the Palestinians as well as the national Chinese persecution of the Falun Gong sect. Although it would be easy to think that these contemporary examples herald a
disintegration of society, students of history know that they are actually chillingly reminiscent of other religion-inspired events of the past: the Crusades, the martyrdom of the early Christians, the pogroms against Jews in eastern Europe, and the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims on the Indian subcontinent, among others. Viewpoints Religion is an important factor in the way that individuals and groups act. Behavioral and social scientists need to understand the role of religion in causing behavior including not only disagreements over spiritual truth, but perhaps even more importantly over the ethics and mores that permeate people’s lives and inform their behavior. The belief systems held by adherents of a religion are often more than a matter of personal preference. For example, the caste system of Hinduism that has traditionally permeated Indian society specifies among other things what types of jobs members of certain castes can hold. Similarly, many Middle Eastern countries are considered Islamic not only because the majority of their citizens are Muslims, but also because the very laws governing these societies are themselves Islamic in nature. As is well illustrated by the frequent conflicts throughout history between the three major monotheistic religions, even religions that hold in common certain basic tenets may disagree violently about other core beliefs and values. Therefore, it would be inappropriate in most cases to link these together as a single group for research or theoretical purposes. Similarly, differences over beliefs even within sects and denominations of a particular religion can make categorization into a unified group ill advised. When theorizing about the theoretical underpinnings of religions or their impact on culture and society, it is extremely important to carefully and operationally define one’s terms based on the differences articulated between adherents of various sects or religions. Otherwise, research results can be misleading and theories unlikely to reflect real world realities. Religion is an important motivator not only for individual human behavior but also for the behavior of individuals within groups. One’s belief system affects not only how the person acts in one-on-one situations with others, but also how adherents of one religion treat those of other religions. In some cases, this can be tolerance and acceptance. In other cases, however, it is intolerance and conflict. Many religions are not unified and have multiple belief systems even when they have common core values. In order for social science research into religion to be meaningful, researchers and theorists must carefully and operationally define the terms that they used to describe members of a religion. Terms & Concepts Denomination: A large group of congregations united under a common statement of faith and organized under a single legal and administrative hierarchy. Many individual congregations include the name of their denomination in the title of their church (e.g., First Baptist Church, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church). Doctrine: A principle (or body of principles) accepted or believed by a religious group. Monotheism: The doctrine or belief in only one god. Mysticism: A belief in the existence and experience of realities that cannot be perceptually or intellectually apprehended but that can be directly accessed through subjective experience. Because mystic realities are beyond both perception and intellect, mystics typically find it difficult or impossible to articulate their experience to others. Operational Definition: A definition that is stated in terms that can be observed and measured. Orthodoxy: Beliefs or teachings that are in accordance with the accepted or traditional teachings of an established faith or religion. (cf. orthodoxy) Polytheism: The belief and worship of multiple gods.
Religion: A personal or institutional system grounded in the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers considered to have created and to govern the universe. Sect: A distinct subgroup united by common beliefs or interests within a larger group. In religion, sects typically have separated from the larger denomination. Bibliography Ammerman, N. T. (2010). The challenges of pluralism: Locating religion in a world of diversity. Social Compass, 57(2), 154-167. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=51674171 Borowik, I. (2011). The changing meanings of religion: Sociological theories of religion in the perspective of the last 100 years. International Review of Sociology, 21(1), 175-189. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=59702984 Brown, R. R., & Brown, R. (2011). The challenge of religious pluralism: The association between interfaith contact and religious pluralism. Review of Religious Research, 53(3), 323-340. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=67364097 Bruce, S. (2011). Defining religion: A practical response. International Review of Sociology, 21(1), 107-120. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=59702988 Goujon, A. (2014). The World’s Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 53(2), 446–47. Retrieved January 22, 2015, from EBSCO Online Database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=96408270&site=ehost-live&sc ope=site Johnston, E. (2013). Mapping Religion and Spirituality in a Postsecular World. Sociology of Religion, 74(4), 549–50. Retrieved January 22, 2015, from EBSCO Online Database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=93066129&site=ehost-live&sc ope=site McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. (1983). Handbook of today’s religions. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. Martin, J. P. (2005). The three monotheistic world religions and international human rights. Journal of Social Issues, 61(4), 827-845. Retrieved May 14, 2008 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=18856403&site=ehost-live. Matthews, W. (2006). World religions. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing. National and World Religion Statistics, Church Statistics, World Religions. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from: http://www.adherents.com/. Suggested Reading Beye, P. (2013). Religion in the context of globalization: Essays on concept, form, and political implication. Abingdon, England: Routledge. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from EBSCO online database eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=615559&site=ehost-live Healey, S. (2005). Religion and terror: A post-9/11 analysis. International Journal on World Peace, 22(3), 3-23. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=19754697&site=ehost-live
Lee, M. R. (2006). The religious institutional base and violent crime in rural areas. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45(3), 573-579. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=21936858&site=ehost-live Miles, J., Doniger, W., Lopez, D. S., & Robson, J. (2015). The Norton anthology of world religions (Vols. 1–2). New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2015. Sharot, S. (2001). A comparative sociology of world religions: Virtuosos, priests and popular religion. New York, NY: New York University Press. Turner, J. (2006). Contemporary religious violence: Rational reaction to the brutality of globalization. Conference Papers — American Sociological Association, 2006 Annual Meeting, Montreal, 1-19. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=26641956&site=ehost-live Walsh, T. G. (2012). Religion, peace and the postsecular public sphere. International Journal on World Peace, 29(2), 35-61. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=77369830 ~~~~~~~~ Essay by Ruth A. Wienclaw, Ph.D
Dr. Ruth A. Wienclaw holds a Doctorate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology with a specialization in Organization Development from the University of Memphis. She is the owner of a small business that works with organizations in both the public and private sectors, consulting on matters of strategic planning, training, and human/systems integration.
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