Category Archives: Sociology of Religion

Punk Rock Is My Religion

I posted a couple of days ago an animated picture, showing the various areas of interests of mine. I plan to make a video out of it, explaining how those came to be and what they mean. The short version is that there seems to be three principles (Religion, Technology, Sociology) and three modes of transfer (book, film, music) that I am engaged with to various degrees.

As I was looking at the picture I noticed that, there are combinations where I spend proportionately less time, than with others. E.g. Music and Sociology is something I didn’t study explicitly yet, although I could name 2-3 books I read on the topic. Soon after I noticed this I got an email alert pointing to PhD thesis bearing the title “Punk Rock Is My Religion“. That piqued my interest, so I opened it. Its subtitle was more explanatory, “An Exploration of Straight Edge punk as a Surrogate of Religion“. Right now anyone can download it from the website of University of Stirling. (5 MB, PDF) It was written by Francis Elizabeth Stewart and “submitted in fulfilment of the doctoral dissertation requirements of the School of Language, Culture and Religion.”

I was never straight edge, but liked the music and found the movement fascinating. Looking forward reading, although I don’t know when will I find the time though as it is 354 pages. Here is the abstract:

Using a distinctly and deliberately interdisciplinary approach to the subject of religion and spirituality as it presents itself within modern Western Societies today, this thesis argues that Straight Edge hardcore punk is a surrogate for religion. The term surrogate is used to denote the notion of a successor and a protector and provider of nourishment. It has been re-interpreted from Theodore Ziolkowski’s work on the same term in ‘Modes of Faith’, in which he examines surrogates for religion which emerged during the early part of the 20th century.

An in-depth study, both theoretical and ethnographic in nature and presentation, of Straight Edge hardcore punk is provided to demonstrate that traditionally held categories of religion, secular, sacred and profane are being dismantled and re-built around ideas of authenticity, community, integrity, d.i.y and spirituality. Through the syncretic practices of the Straight Edge adherents they are de-essentialising religion and thus enabling us to re-consider the question of what religion is or could be.

This thesis relies on theoretical ideas, interview quotes, informant quotes, researcher taken photographs, and interviewee created or utilised images, tattoos, graffiti and flyers. All of these are interspersed with song lyrics from various bands relevant to the time period under discussion and the themes being drawn out. Much like the adherents themselves, this thesis exists very much within the space of the ‘in-between’, which creates and reacts to necessary tensions throughout.

Dying Presbyterian Kirk?

Steve Bruce of University of Aberdeen wrote an article in the Scotsman about the decline of the Church of Scotland, aka the Presbyterian Kirk. He goes through declining numbers of adherents, then the reaons and options. His closing paragraph:

People do not accidentally become religious. Being a Christian is not “natural”; it is an acquired characteristic. Like a language, it must be learned and, if it is not used in the home, in everyday conversation and in public life, it dies out. As the population that speaks a minority tongue shrinks, decline does not slow; it becomes faster. There is no natural obstacle to the death of a language. I do not see why the fate of a religion should be different.

I think his analogy is false. The motivation to learn a (dying) language for those who were not brought up in it is different than joining a spiritual and religious path. I do not have a good handle on numbers and trends, but I see religion as a growing force in the world, while lingusitic differences are diminishing.

Less Religion in Prisons?

This article in the San Bernardino County Sun is as good as any on this opcoming issue:

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday that challenge governments’ ability to limit religious freedoms in prisons and other institutions.

It lists all the pros and cons and the supporters of both sides. It is a bit lopesided for my taste in favor of those who would like to curtail religious practice, but still balanced enough.Few minor comments:There are only two things they have left when they come to prison: their identity and their religion,’ said Chaplain Al Davis, a Protestant minister on staff. Its strange for me that the Chapian separated their religion from their identity. I believe the former is an integral part of the latter.

I laughed at the inmate’s humor and can understand opposing views when encountered with an inmate who created a religion that included as sacraments sirloin steak and Baileys Irish Cream. But I am sure there are ways to come around problems like this. Teh question is of course who defines what a religion is. It is easy in Hungary, where there is an official list, maintained by the government. (To get onto the list all you need is 100 adherent and some documents.) But, here in the US, freedom of religion is taken more seriously. I don’t have an answer yet, who bailey/sirloin based religion should be outruled. Anyone?

Finally the article mentioned a certain Rabbi Menachem Katz, director of prison and military programs. Hmmm, at a frist glance he is serving two quite distinct constituencies. I would have never thought of it, but the two might overlap. Are the needs comparable though, besides the similarity in regimented circumstances?

SocRel Students at Divinity School

The University of Chicago Chronicle‘s current issue has an article on the details of the Divinity School’s program. This grabbed my attention

Students studying to become Presbyterian ministers learn side-by-side with students earning their doctorates in the Sociology of Religion. In a place that prides itself on academic rigor and creating an intense intellectual environment, it just makes sense that every conversation about the nature of God would employ the same vocabulary, says Cynthia Gano Lindner, Ministry Studies Director.

I also liked what the Dean wrote:

We are suggesting that church and society share a concern for the flourishing of individuals and communities, a concern that raises profound and perennial questions about justice, hope, freedom and fate, individuality and the common good.

That is what I would strive for as a sociologist myself.

Essays: The state of religion globally (, of Catholicism.)

New Blackfriars Prize Essay Competition 2005 – £300The state of religion globally, and in particular of Catholicism.

Contributions may be on any issue under this heading; especially welcome, however, will be papers that focus on one country, recalling its recent past, contrasting it with its neighbours.

The final date for receipt of submissions is: 1 January 2006

Blackwell Publishing and the Editorial Board of New Blackfriars offer an essay prize of £300 to the winner of the competition and £100 each to two runners up.

Essays should not be longer than 7500 words; they should be submitted in the form suggested in the Author Guidelines on the New Blackfriars website – please visit to access these.

All entries will be regarded as submissions for publication in the journal and both winning and non-winning entries judged to be interesting enough will be published.

All submissions should be headed Prize Essay Competition, with the author’s name and address given in a covering letter but not on the essay itself and sent to:

The Editor
New Blackfriars
25 George Square

Mormons do it better

I blogged and commented on asurvey earlier about Religion and America’s youth. This new article goes further into the analysis and states:

But while teenagers who are religiously involved fared well overall, the 2.5 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Mormon fared best when it came to traversing the choppy waters of adolescence. … when it came to measuring rates of sexual activity and drug and alcohol use, Mormon teenagers showed a greater willingness to adhere to the requirements of their faith.

The article connects the findings to the practice of “early morning seminary and included a few snippets from actual teenagers following it.(Another article on the same topic with informative tables but bad design.)

Campus Luncheon on Islam

The Drury University‘s student paper, The Mirror, covered the third installment of their Newest Emerging Religions Luncheon series on Islam. A communication science professor talked about women in Islam and a sociology of religion professor on the potential of its corruption. I would love to participate in this kind of event. At UCSB, the closest was a series on world relgiion, but that was organized (by the Capps Center) for general audience and held in the city not on campus.

Religion in the Contemporary World

I bumped into this review of the book Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction, by Alan Aldridge . But I didn’t feel like signing up for the service to read the whole review. Instead I just checked the pubisher’s page and found that this is probably a worthy textbook on the subject, even though it is five years old. Here is the table of contents for starter:

1. Studying religion sociologically.
2. Defining religion: social conflicts and sociological debates.
3. Varieties of religious movement.
4. Secularization triumphant: the social significance of religion.
5. Secularization in retreat: the revival of religion.
6. The resurgence of fundamentalism.
7. Sacralization of modernity: civil and political religion.
8. Brainwashing, consumer protection and the state.
9. Religious identity and meaning in the modern world.

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