Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Here are the links regarding the Baylor Survey I'd like you to read for next Tuesday, as mentioned in class last Thursday.

Baylor Survey on Religion: Introduction
Baylor Survey on Religion: Results Summary (.pdf file)

The pdf summary is rather long, so I'd like you to focus on the Intro (pp4-8), the section on "Religion & Politics" (pp24-25), and the section on "Religious Belief: America's Four Gods" (pp26-28). You should also glance through the rest of the statistical summaries & analyses, as well as the questionnaire on the final pages of the document.

After looking over the survey itself, I'd also like you to read the commentaries offered in the following blog posts:

The Revealer: And When I Mention Religion...
The Revealer: God Bless The "Others"
America, in God (or gods) we trust: Get Religion

Finally, just in case you weren't in class on Thurs, our text book reading for next week is as follows:

TUES: Eck, Chaps 3 & 4 (Names of God & Faces of God)
THURS: Sociology of Religion, Chap 9 (Fundamentalism & Evangelism)

Also as requested, I've posted both the original & amended syllabus online.

Enjoy your weekend & see you next week!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I was baptized soon after I was born. My mom was born and raised a Catholic but my dad did not get baptized until a few years ago. It was interesting to see the process that he had to go through in order to become baptized since I don't remember my baptism. When I was younger my family would go to church regularly and pray as a family before dinner every night. Over the years, however, we have strayed away from our usual Sunday morning attendance at church. Until a month ago I had not gone to church in a very long time. Last month my friend committed suicide and it was a tough time for me and my other friends. I found comfort in God because I felt like my family didn’t understand what I was going through. I found myself going to church because it was the only way I could feel close to my lost friend and find the strength to overcome the loss.

In my view, religion is a way for people to be comforted in rough times and a way for people to rejoice and give thanks in happy times. My religion was able to comfort me and give me strength after losing my friend and I am able to rejoice and celebrate his life because I know that he is in a better place. Without my religion I would not have this comfort.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Two weeks after I was born I was baptized into the Catholic Church. Neither of my parents were extremely religious, however they were both raised as Catholics so I guess it was only normal for them to raise me the same way. Growing up we went to church occasionally. My dad would usually fall asleep and I would sit there and play with the Missal books. We celebrated Easter and Christmas with little emphases on the Christian aspect of the holiday. Instead of the day Jesus was born and the day he was resurrected, it was the day we got presents from Santa and the day the Easter Bunny hid eggs around the house. When I turned five I started kindergarten at St. Dunstan Catholic School. We spent forty five minutes every day learning about religion. In the eighth grade I was confirmed and chose to officially become a Catholic.
Although I was surrounded by religion my entire adolescent life, it didn’t have a very big impact on me. Church was just a place that smelled like incense and God was an old man that lived in the clouds and helped us if we prayed to him. It wasn’t until high school at St. Ignatius College Prep. that I found my faith. There wasn’t a big event or anything but I just started believing in everything I had learned about Catholicism. I felt a lot closer to God – like he was a person I could talk to and go to with my problems. And I also felt that God was watching over me during all the dumb things I did in high school, keeping me safe.
I still don’t go to church every week or live my life like Jesus, but I would say my faith in God is very strong. I pray almost every night before I go to bed and even during the day if I have a problem. Hopefully I will never lose my faith in God because I like to believe that he is watching over me watching over me and helping me.

Walking with Jesus: My Catholic Experience

Ever since I was a little girl I remember the stand up, sit down rituals of the Roman Catholic religion. As a young girl I went through the sacraments with very little understanding of the purpose or the significance of each experience. With age though came understanding for not only my own religion but others as well.
Growing up in a very strong Catholic family, we would always be recognized as one of those families that went every Sunday to mass together. Along with weekly mass rituals my family was always involved. Each member of my family including myself was at one time a lector. We have been ushers, Eucharistic ministers, helped at Church events and my dad at one point was even an alter server. So as you can see, my family has always been involved in the church, which made it that much more difficult when in my freshman year I began doubting my religion.
I started going to church but asking a lot of questions and doubting everything than had been taught to me over the years. Once I told my parents of my “doubting Thomas” opinions they reacted in a way I never could have predicted. They encouraged me to explore other religions as well as get involved and explore of areas on my own. With the support of my parents behind me, I began my freshman year and began what is known as the Confirmation program while at the same time attending different events for people of other religious backgrounds. Between a Baptist celebration to attending a Lutheran Church and finally even learning a little about Hinduism, I was not convinced any religion would ever fit exactly what I was looking for. I mean Catholicism still felt like home to me, felt the most real but there were beliefs and problems I could not manage to get my head around. It was then that I decided to volunteer for a soup kitchen through my church. This experience was the most powerful thing I have ever imagined. Along with the new teachings and better understandings I had been gaining through my Confirmation class when I was at the park serving food to the people there it was so great. Everyone was incredible. The people from my church knew the families and knew their stories. I got to meet and get to know a few of them and each made a different impression on me. My job after we passed out the food was to read a bible story to a group of the smaller children. Each and every one of these children had such a strong faith life and such a strong belief I began to wonder how I could have doubted God as a figure.
Though I still have questions about my religion and what the church is doing or why we believe the things we do, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Those children taught me, you don’t need to know or understand everything about your individual religion, you just need to believe what you know and agree with. I learned that although some might call it cheating to pick and choose what parts of a religion you want to believe and abide by I don’t. I believe that is simply an educated person’s way of having a strong and challengeable faith. I still work every day to achieve a level that some of those beautiful children had when they were only seven or eight when I am eighteen, and maybe I’ll never get there, but with their inspiration I believe one day all my questions will be answered and I will just be.

My name is Briana and I was baptized Catholic as an infant. Both sides of my family practice Catholicism regularly, and are not by any means, “Christmas Catholics”. Growing up I went to church every Sunday, went through the sacraments as a child, and then went to high school. I went to an Episcopal school in La Jolla, California.
My school was fairly liberal and had a world of diversity. My high school slowly began opening up my sheltered mindset to an array of religious practices and teachings that I had never heard of. During chapel, which was 30 minutes of a religious speech, meditation, or service, we learned the ways of Buddhist monks, Bahai singers, and Hindu Hare Krishna worship. I learned so much in such a short amount of time. I felt overwhelmed at times because for so long I did not understand concepts outside of Catholic ideals. Yet, I can say without reservation, this is where my transformation began.
I remember feeling so confused after attending a Hare Krishna temple for a class project. I had not only witnessed a completely new form of worship, but I had participated. At first I felt as if I had betrayed my own faith. How could I possibly partake in a ceremony worshiping another god aside from my own? The creed that I repeated every Sunday for 17 years, “I believe in one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…,” was now being broken.
We had to take our shoes off and grab a mat from a stack that was against a wall. There were people singing, chanting, and almost dancing while the leader of the ceremony was at the front of the empty room with dancers behind him. These dancers had exotic makeup, bells on their feet, and colorful clothing. I was used to girls in dresses, and boys in slacks and nice shirts. I was in awe. I can’t say I completely let myself go in the experience because I was too scared. I did however participate and experience something that deeply moved me. I will never forget that day because it was the beginning of my search for a religion that incorporated more than rules and guidelines. I wanted something that moved me.
That something, I still haven’t completely found in only one religion. Now, a junior at USF, have realized I am moved by different religions at different moments in my life. I still identify as Catholic, however, I do not attend mass on Sundays. I have been removed from a “strong Catholic,” to a “Christmas Catholic.” I have attended Hindu worship services since I have been here at USF. I have also participated in Jewish events at the JCC in San Francisco. I devoted a bit of this summer to learning the culture and faith of Judaism. Seeing people sing and clap while celebrating goodness at the JCC moved me. I have learned bits of Hebrew and want to continue this knowledge. I too want to learn more about Buddhism and how one’s soul finds meditation moving.
I don’t know if I will ever choose one religion to completely settle down with that can fulfill my quest for spirituality and energy. I am not being choosy, or as we have discussed in class “eating just the french fries and ice cream,” I believe if one can appreciate multiple forms of worship and spirituality, why not? Pluralism can’t hurt society, but only help.

Hello, my name is Brent Matzoll. I am a freshman here at the University of San Francisco. I am planning to major in International Studies. In this blog I will tell you my position and location in religion and politics.
My definition of religion is “ a system of beliefs and morals.” A simple definition, really, but it does satisfy my thoughts of what religion is. Religion was simple to me when I was a little kid. I went to kindergarten at St. Mels, a Catholic school in Sacramento, California. I was taught Roman Catholic beliefs and values. Every Friday, there would be a Mass in the gym, until the school could afford to build a church. Every Sunday, I would go to Mass with my family. It was only when I was around 11 years old when I discovered that not everyone shared my religious beliefs, even fellow Christians. My father and his family were Roman Catholic, and my mother and her family were Southern Baptists. I learned from my mother that my grandmother did not particularly like Catholics. My mother was forbidden to play with her neighbors, only because they were Catholics. My grandmother is a good person, and I love her very much, but she is an example of what annoys me so much about religion. If you don’t subscribe to a particular religion, in this case Southern Baptism, then you are not following the true religion, so you will go to hell. I’m not saying everyone believes this, but there always seems to be a large group of people in every religion who believe that those of differing beliefs are eternally damned if they don’t convert. I still don’t know how my grandma felt when her daughter married a Catholic, but I am sure she was rather displeased when my Mom converted to Roman Catholicism a few years later. I didn’t know how she felt about her grandchildren being raised Catholic until my family visited her when I was 13 years old.
When I was 13 years old, my family and I went traveled all the way to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents. That Sunday, we attended Service at their Church. Every service at the Church they witness at least a couple of baptisms. These baptisms take place on an upper level, where a small pool was located. I was curious about the platform, since you can’t see from the lower floor. I whispered to my grandma, “I wish I could go up there!” She misinterpreted what I had said, thinking that I wanted to be converted. That same day, she had the reverend come over to talk to me. When she found out that she mistook what I said, she started crying, which made me feel embarrassed and bad. Luckily, she and some of my other relatives have become more accepting of other religions.
My father’s side of the family is Catholic, but they aren’t practicing.
As of now, I consider myself religious, I pray every day and try to adhere to my personal moral code. If someone asks me what my religion is, I’d tell him or her I am Catholic, but for a while now I haven’t been a practicing Catholic. I haven’t gone to Sunday mass for a long time, but I am planning to start as soon as summer arrives. I think I’m pretty tolerant towards other religions. I don’t care if someone is Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, etc. However, I am still a little iffy towards some of the stranger religions, like Scientology. Personally, I believe that as long as you are a good person, it doesn’t matter what beliefs you subscribe to or not.
As for politics, both my mother and father are registered Republicans. As a result, both my siblings and I were raised as conservatives. We were al mostly conservative until college, of course. Both of my sisters lean to the left, and my brother is all over the place. I consider myself an independent, although because of my background I always end up leaning towards the right. However, I try to listen to what the other side has to say. I chose to be independent, because I disagree with some of the Republican political beliefs, and I don’t find the Democratic Party appealing.

Introduction into Religion

My name is Aleksandr Litovskiy, but I go by Alex. I am a senior majoring in finance at the University of San Francisco. Up until I was twelve years old, I lived in Ukraine. At the end of 1997 my family immigrated to United States as refugees.

While living in Ukraine my family was being oppressed due to our religious affiliations of being Jewish. Living among anti-semitic group of people was hard since it’s fairly easy to distinguish a Jewish family based on their last name. At the time when Soviet Union was still present it was often hard to obtain even basic life necessities, being a part of a Jewish religion ironically helped since there was a strong community of other Jews present who were willing to help each other out.

Unfortunately, my family isn’t very religious. We celebrate most of the Jewish holidays, but for the larger part, don’t know much history tied to each holiday. My first time being at a synagogue was in San Francisco. It was a very new experience since I never encounter anything like this. For once I felt that I was among people who are just like me, who would not discriminate against me based on my born into religion. Even though I felt like I was lost during the worship period, it made me more aware of my religious ignorance, especially of my own religion.

I would like to further understand where my ancestors came from and what my religion is all about. At the same time I would like to further discover other religions and their believes in order to understand their positions and views. Hopefully with time, I would be a better practitioner of my own religion.

Social Location Statement
Costa Rica

When I think back on my life and my religious experiences, it is my time that I spent in Costa Rica a few years back that really stands out to me. When I was younger I always went to church, but it wasn’t very meaningful, I pretty much just went through the motions. I also went through first communion but again I was young and did not fully appreciate the significance of the event. I have been to a few funerals and weddings, and every time I attend something of that nature I always get a sense of God, and that there is something that is way bigger than us. I am Irish Catholic and I have always had faith in God, but I never really got spiritually into it on a deeper level until I went and lived way out in the rain forests of Costa Rica.
During my time in Costa Rica I went deep into the rain forests on the Osa Peninsula, and lived with three different families through out my stay. All of the families according to our standards were poor. They lived on the bare essentials, got most of there food from the land they farmed, didn’t have much electricity, and slept on boards with thin little foam pads. It was extremely refreshing living with these people, and they all believed very strongly in their faith of God. They definitely believed in the higher power, and they were so thankful and grateful for everything the lord had given them. Even though they did not have much according to how we live here in the states, they were far happier than a lot of people I meet here. They also had an extremely strong sense of family, they all knew that family was number one, and they respected and loved one another so honestly.
Living this simple life style with my Costa Rican friends on one month really grounded me, and I felt more centered than I had ever felt before. I was not necessarily attending church, but it was the spirituality of this experience that really touched me. I feel like I really connecting with these families, and that we were in a way sharing the same faith. So I am Irish Catholic, but what I really believe in is just the idea that there is a God and that is humbling, just like the time I spent in Costa Rica.

National Treasures.

Surrounded by National treasures Bishop, California is a very beautiful place to live. Contrasted with geographical extremes: Bishop is less than 100 miles from Mt. Whitney- the tallest mountain reaching well past 14,000 feet, the Lowest point in North America- Death Valley dipping -323 feet below sea level, the Ancient Bristlecone trees, the oldest continuously living organisms on the planet, as well as Mono Lake, the oldest body of water in North America. What I am trying to illustrate here is that up until 3 years ago, I had never entertained the idea of leaving. It was when college questions arose that I truly started to reflect on myself. This reflection brought up divine theories and questioned if I truly had control of my spiritual destiny. I had picked a city to go to that was so large in religious diversity when compared to my 4,000 population town of Catholic, Christian and “other” religions. This city I chose was beautiful San Francisco, and within weeks my spiritual journey had gotten more complicated than ever.
In somewhat of a similar transition like the author Diana Eck, who wrote a chapter entitled “Bozeman to Banaras,” in which she transitions from a small town in Montana, to India and how this impacted her thinking greatly. Instead of a trip to India, I had an option to transition from Bishop to Frisco, and experience my own “religious encounter that raises at the very deepest level the question of difference, the inescapable question of our world today (2).” This difference that Eck speaks of is exactly what I experienced when I reached the foggy city of more than 750,000 occupants.
Nature (if not the most powerful) is one of the most powerful forces in the universe today. The simple observation that nature is here, changes, and continues to operate is a very concrete foundation to ground my personal beliefs in divine things. When I am in nature, I feel like I am one with everything else, and the theme of things constantly rotating and being recycled seems (to me), very logical. Like Aristotle, Nature in his eyes was something that was always there, and would always remain constant (even though the circle of life is the main theme). Being surrounded by waterfalls that only show up in the magazines in the large cities or touching snow at 14,000 feet above sea level is defiantly one of the most moving experiences I have felt.
What is religion? Here, you may be thinking, just because this kid had grounded his whole moral theory in nature, how could I have reached an frontier of encounter like Diana Eck in India? Well, the main thing is, that upon my frontier of encounter, I realized that just because nature is not prominent in the city does not mean that it is not present. It is, and I see it in the fog, sidewalks, fellow humans, and I can just feel it in the air. Karl Marx claimed in a chapter entitled “From Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the hart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people (15).” This on one hand could be viewed as true. But, here I believe that instead of embracing the frontier of encounter, Marx is rejecting it, thus appearing close minded in my opinion on what the potential role of religion could be.
When I lived in Bishop, I had no religious affiliation, accept “personally spiritual.” I grew up inside no conventional church, but attended the once outside one that God created. Here, you may argue, like those in the movie “In the Light of Reverence,” about the Lakota Indian battle of a sacred worshiping area with local outdoor enthusiasts that a conventional church is outdoors, and outside activity is called recreation. Here, I disagree with this point of view. For thousands of years religion, or the idea of religion has been a topic of debate, indoors and out. It is just personally with me, I would rather experience with hands on activities and learn a moral code than being taught it in a school environment.
Although my frontier of encounter is not as compelling and full of thick description as our friend Diana Eck, but Emile Durkheim’s definition of religion complements my personal theory well. In “The Elementary Forms of the Religious life,” that “Religious representations are collective representations which express collective realities (9).” These representations are just that, representations and with this definition, Durkheim here, would agree with me in that the elementary forms of religious life are where the substance is. This substance is everywhere in this beautiful city of fog, it just takes some time to notice. With many different collections and representations of what religion truly is, the frontier of encounter is longer than both bridges that bring the religious crusaders into one common area.

Canada in my Life!
Destiny Ogletree

Through out my life I have gone through many experiences that have shaped the type of person I am today. I would say that I am a normal teenager with somewhat of a religious background, Lutheran that is, and have been baptized and confirmed. When I am at home, in Oregon, I attend church on a regular basis, and our family meals at Christmas and Easter we have a pre dinner prayer. I would say that one major experience or frontier that I have encountered that was different for me was my mission trip to Canada.
On this mission trip to Canada, a group of churches got together to teach vacation bible school to the village children. These villages were located all the way up north in Hazelton, which is about four hours away from Alaska. Teaching VBS to these children defiantly was a challenge. We had to struggle with children who had hardly ever received any loving care or attention from any sort of person. They live in government owned housing and government paid societies, where the government gives the parents money to live off of, basically welfare. Anyways these children’s parents take that money and go gamble, drink, or spend it away. None of it went to the children so they would have to wear the same clothes everyday and it never looked like they knew what a bath was. They would be starved for food, love and attention. Some of these children’s situations are very hard for any human to understand, many of them have family members in prison, for drugs or sexual abuse, or any type of abuse, and others have some that they have never met and who have abandoned them. These are little children as young as one month old to adults who are twenty one who have never been able to get out of the situation they are in. When we arrive in the vans at the church, the children are lined up and then pounding on the doors to open, and when we leave we have to be very careful and make sure that no children are hiding under the seats of the van. These children are the sweetest kids you will ever meet and they are in situations like these. These was a frontier that I had to encounter because I had never been around something this bad and it was difficult for me to actually understand how these children live and are still so loving, kind and hopeful that something good will happen to them. It was very hard to teach them because they are climbing all over you and constantly wanting you to hold them and hug them, so it was very hard to actually teach them things about god because they were not in the correct mental state and did not cooperate very well.
This experience has helped me become the person I am today. I have had many other experiences that have also helped out with who I am but this is one where I had truly encountered a frontier. I went on this trip for 2 years in a row and it is the most memorable experience I have ever been through

A Breath of Fresh Air (Blog1)

My name is Wendy Parsons. I grew up in, at the time was a small city, Macau, China. Macau was colonized by Portugal, and therefore it has a strong western influence. From first through fifth grade, I went to an all-girls Catholics school that emphasized on teaching students English. Many of the families, in fact most of the families who sent their girls there were very religious, and there for most of the girls, myself included, had very strong Catholic up bringing. Every morning we engaged in prayer, and everyday we had a bible class, leaving no room for thoughts outside of faith. In my school, Catholicism was emphasized, and thus I spent the good majority of my earlier years never doubting my school’s teachings, and went blindly along with the routine of a good Catholic girl.
However, once I was removed from my Catholic environment and moved to Seattle, a very liberal city, eight years ago, I began to question my views, and eventually disregard my religious belief completely. The more I was outside of the sphere of influence I had been in my Catholic school, the more I started to not like the idea of being religious, or even spiritual. We live in a world of modern science and proven things, and for some reason that makes it hard to believe in any higher power. I do not really believe in God, or anything that controls or influences by higher means on my or anyone’s life. It simply seems irrational, but I do have respect for those who do. I’m not sure if I feel this way because I have never had anything to change my ideas, or maybe because I was brought up surrounded by so much faith, that to have none is like a breath of fresh air, but it is simply what I believe. What religion means to me is sort of like blind faith. I’m not sure I really understand religion any more, since I don’t believe in it. It no longer really plays a very central role in my life, and I see no reason for it.
When I came to America, I made Christian friends, and I participated in bible studies, youth groups and retreats. The youth groups, despite my lack of faith, were a lot of fun. I also found that I really did enjoy going to church. I love going to church and being apart of a congregation, it makes me feel a sense of calmness, but when I go I don’t feel an actual connection to God, it is just a re-visit to the emotions I know so well from my childhood.
Though I was easily influenced as a child, when I grew up a bit and could develop my own thoughts, I came to view religion as way for people to feel they have a place in the world, a connection. I cannot understand such thoughts and I cannot make that connection. Religion is respect to me. It is just comforting faithless exercises that I have done since I was very young, nothing more.

My Christianity
Having grown up in an extremely close family (mainly composed of evangelical Christians), concepts like historical criticism, liberal Christianity, and individual spirituality were completely foreign to me; understandably, attending USF and taking theology classes has been an eye opening experience for me. Before college, I understood Christianity to be a religion founded on strictly divine and unfaltering principles which differentiated good from bad, right from wrong, moral from immoral. Now I know that there is a little bit more to it than that.
My sophomore year at University of San Francisco, I took a class designed to make us think about what can be historically attributed as the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, and what was human interpolation. In doing so, I realized that many of the principles that I had held to be true solely because of their biblical presence, were indeed products (though possibly divinely inspired) of the human minds that wrote them. Such a realization challenged my faith and led me to believe that every religion and every faith is in someway a reflection of those who have dominantly propagated it throughout history. For this reason alone, I decided to declare a minor in Theology and Religious Studies. I wanted to understand faith as I felt it, and not how I had been instructed to feel it. Furthermore, I wanted to be able to appreciate the role of religion, spirituality, and faith in society.
As a history major, I have studied the ways religion has become entangled with politics and scientific thought to create some of the most disastrous events known to humanity. I have read first hand accounts of persecution and genocide for reasons solely attributed to religious intolerance, fanaticism, and hatred. The Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and the conflict in the Middle East are all prime examples of the way religion has been used to persecute and disrupt the lives of entire groups of people.
In acquiring all of this knowledge, I have been deeply affected, and constantly challenged to re-evaluate my beliefs and understanding of religion and spirituality. Although this caused me to falter a little bit at first, having never had to actually think for myself when it came to religion, I have truly embraced it now. I enjoy the idea of being able to contemplate truth and meaning without the confines of institution. But more importantly, I relish the fact that I no longer have to force myself to believe that anyone who is from a different place, or has a different background and therefore believes in a different religion than I do, is going to hell. I can now appreciate life and feel God and even Jesus as I truly do, without having to subscribe to the Christian colonial thought that seems to permeate the evangelical minds of today. In short, I can worship, live, and experience faith in a way that feels natural to me.

Social Location Statement(First Blog)
My Name is Bobby Ewing. I am a junior at the University Of San Francisco studying Marketing. I was born in Berkeley, California and grew up in Oakland. I was raised my whole life as a Catholic due to the fact that both my Father and Mother were practicing Catholics. Even though I did not necessarily believe in this practice, I was still expected to follow it. I have been educated at some sort of religious school all of my life. From grade kindergarten to eighth grade I attended a private Episcopalian school. And for high school I attended a private Catholic school. Even though I attended a private Catholic high school, religion was not imposed on me. There were not required masses or any mandatory worship. When I was younger, our whole family had to attend church every Sunday morning and on holidays. I dreaded this weekly routine and could never appreciate the service. I always felt uncomfortable and not interested. After the age of 10, my family and I started not attend church as much. I am not sure why but I was extremely happy about this.
Since not going to church anymore, I have had less belief in religion and God. Living and being educated in the bay area, I have been exposed to many types of religions and practices. There are many religions and spiritual believes in this area because the many diverse peoples. But it is still extremely hard for me to comprehend that there is a God that is almighty and all powerful in each religion. I believe everything happens for a reason, but I am not sure if there is a God that controls it. My mother is still a practicing catholic, and usually becomes upset with me when I denounce her religion or God. For most of my life I have not been religious, and it seems as if I am moving further away from religion. I am open to challenging my negative believes and become more enlightened. I hope that through the assignments in this class, I will better understand the many religions in the world and where they are coming from.

A glimpse into who, what, and where I am!

My name is Stephen Rapaport. I am an Economics major and a Political Science minor at the University of San Francisco. I was born and raised in the Bay Area. Until I was 4 I lived with my Mom in San Francisco, but after the 1989 earthquake we moved to Tiburon in Marin County. This had a large impact on my exposure to different people, cultures, and especially relevant for this topic, different religions. Marin has a fairly homogenous population that, at least in my experience, tends to be less religiously inclined than a lot of other places I’ve been to or had experience with. It is also a place that is composed of mostly Caucasians which had a lot do to with my lack of exposure to religions, as well as ideologies and cultures, not usually associated with white people, i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam etc…

My family, my upbringing and my parent’s religious and ideological backgrounds was the other large factor in my religious education and exposure. My mom was born in the South in the 50’s. Raised a Southern Baptist she rebelled against this way of life, both Southern and Southern Baptist, and headed for California. For the past 35 years she has lived in California and has had little to do with religion since her childhood. Since she is who I have lived with all my life I, therefore, had little contact or experience with religion while growing up. My Father is Jewish by heritage and atheist by belief. He is a doctor and a very “intellectual/rational” person. This is his stated reason for his disbelief. He views the world in black and white, right and wrong and he does not or cannot break from his scientific/medical worldview and grasp any kind of meaning of “faith”. So I ended up with two parents who are not only not practicing or expressly religious but who both, to one degree or another, lack not only faith but have problems with God as well. This is all to frame my religious education and to show some of the hurdles I have had to go through in struggling to find myself through religion, faith and spirituality.

I have for most of my life not been religious, not believed in God, not had faith and have not been concerned with questioning those beliefs of mine. This is no longer true for me, I now have an open mind about religion and feel a strong desire to learn and not dismiss. This is part of my motivation for taking this class- that I may begin to understand religion in a way I never have before and it is my hope that this may lead to a better understanding, personally, of my own faith, religion and/or spirituality. This is especially important for me because I have tendencies much like my Dad, to be dismissive toward religion and I believe most of this dismissive attitude stems from ignorance. I have been very prone to take aspects of religion I don’t like or even find arcane or draconian and immediately take a defensive close-minded stance towards that religion and then would be unwilling to look any more deeply at that religion. This is, in my opinion, what religious ignorance is. It is not what I want for myself, this ignorance; faithlessness is not what I want for myself. I want to be able to have faith, to have spirituality, and I hope to one day even have religion. For the time being I believe knowledge and exposure are my two greatest tools in fighting my own ignorance and I see that this class will provide both.

I do have to admit that not all of my religious curiosity steams from this desire to be more enlightened but also from a political perspective. While I have not mentioned it, I am a deeply political person, and while I am a registered Democrat I am not by any means someone who buys into one political ideology for all and every situation. Religion is, I believe, an inseparable aspect of politics and it is especially relevant in today’s world. Due to my lack of experience, exposure, understanding and information religion is still a very mysterious thing to me. I can’t say or even really put into words what religion means to me and it is why I found the lecture on the definitions of religion so difficult- without contact, experience etc… it is hard to know just what religion is either academically or personally. This is “where” I am, someone who wants but can’t fully accept religion, someone who is very political and yet very disgruntled with politics and someone who used to be dismissive toward religion and who is now trying to play theological catch up in trying to find myself, my faith, and my own answers through a thoughtful look into my beliefs, the belief of others and the vast chasm in between.

As a side note HERE is an article I found interesting, about politics, and thought maybe, just maybe it might be applicable to religion as well.

My sophomore year of college here at USF, I had the incredible experience of having a small discussion with fifteen or so classmates and Venerable Robina Courtin. Venerable Robina Courtin is a Tibetan Buddhist nun who blew me away with her knowledge, insight, passion and power. She runs the Liberation Prison Project, which is an organization that offers Buddhist readings, teachings, pen-pals and overall support for prisoners. I had previously done volunteer work for this organization so I had heard many wonderful things about Ven. Courtin, but I never could have imagined what I experienced.

I am hesitant to say I was "raised" atheist, because I was never explicitly told what I should or shouldn't believe, but I did know from a very early age that my parents didn't believe in any higher power, afterlife, spirits, etc.. I will say though that they encouraged me to keep an open mind, and exposed me to many different religious thoughts and practices. I knew some of the bare basics of Buddhism prior to meeting Ven. Courtin, but I had yet to truly experience the essence of it. When she walked in the room I felt an immediate sense of serenity and clarity. This was an intense experience for me because I had never been affected this way by someone because of their religious position. I actually found myself confused because my beliefs told me that this was simply a woman who chose to believe whatever she chose - not someone who should carry a presence like she did, let alone one that should affect me like it did.

Ven. Courtin spoke to us about basic Buddhist thought, the Liberation Prison Project, her life as a political radical, her Catholic upbringing and so on. It was a very loose, unstructured conversation - which added to the closeness of it. She was full of energy and viewed the world in a way I could never imagine, yet spoke of it in a way that I could grasp. This incredible woman's ability to express her beliefs, though they may not have aligned with mine, caused me to really open my eyes. I realized shortly after the meeting that her experience with Buddhism (as well as her other life experiences) has added to her brilliance and the aura she carries. Her beliefs, practices, world view, faith, organization, spirituality and whatever other term one could use to define religion, have shaped her today. For me, this was the first time I truly witnessed what a wonderful impact religion can have on a person, and possibly everyone they come in contact with. I realized that, whether I agree with the belief system or not, religion is incredibly important to the shaping of our society.

As for religion, I would consider myself a Catholic since that is what I was raised with. I have been going to Catholic schools off and on nearly my whole life. My parents always thought going to a Catholic school was better for me than a public school because it would provide me with a better education. Going to a public or private school did not really matter to me since it was all the same, it was school. As for the things that I was teach about my religion when I was child, I do not really remember any of it at all since it did not really interest me at that time. Growing up as a child I was required to attend weekly masses on Sundays with my parents which was seemed to be a routine. Especially on holidays such as Easter and Christmas where I was always required to a suit which I hated it and attend masses with my whole family. As being a Catholic, I have been baptized, received my Holy Communion and had my confirmation. I would not really consider myself an active Catholic because I have not been really actively attending mass. I still go once in a while, when I have time or when it somekind of holiday.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I know that everyone matures mentally and physically. I just never realized it till I went to a Bat Mitzvah last summer. In 7th time it seemed like every weekend I was going to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I went to Mitzvah after Mitzvah and sat thru each ceremony, which I thought, was boring and long. I didn’t understand the language or what was going on. It got to a point where I dreaded going to them. I wasn’t mature enough to understand what was going on and how important it was for young man/women. So of course after 7th grade, I never went to any more Mitzvahs.

Then last summer, I had the opportunity to go to a Bat Mitzvah. This time it was a different experience for me. I was mature enough to take it in and comprehend what a Mitzvah is really all about. I noticed the hugeness of it. I loved to see the family of the young woman praise her and all she’s done through out her young life. I loved to hear about the journey the young woman took to get to where she was. I participated in the ceremony by lighting the candles and reading the programs. It felt good to be a part of someone’s special day. I didn’t find it boring; I found it captivating. I felt bad for the way I felt in 7th grade. I was so naïve and didn’t give each individual Mitzvah I attended the attention they deserved.

As I left the synagogue, I realized how immature I was and wished that I was mature enough to enjoy the Mitzvahs in 7th grade. I now look forward in participating in other religious ceremonies.

My name is Mike Vick, and I am a political science and journalism student. I was born in Daly City, California, but I grew up in a place called Crescent City, a small town on the California coast about twenty miles from Oregon. I was raised in the Baptist Church, and have always had a strong element of faith in my life.

Around the time I began high school, I thought it would be a worthy goal to attempt to read the Bible cover to cover. Over the period of a few years, I managed to do so, and have since read several individual books of the Bible more than once. I am now in the process of reading the Scriptures again all the way through.

In 1997, shortly after my parents’ divorce, I moved back to the Bay Area with my dad and attended South San Francisco High School during my sophomore year. This stay proved temporary. My dad, my sister and I went on a vacation to Kentucky to visit family in the summer of 1998. My sister loved the area, and wanted to move there. Since my dad wanted my sister to live with us again (at the time she was living with my mother), he decided to move us all to Kentucky.

This move provided me with quite a culture shock. At first, I was quite resistant to the idea of moving. Later, I found the people to be, on the whole, very friendly and open. I made friends easily, and I soon found myself attending church regularly with those friends.

Most churches in Kentucky, and indeed all over the South, are more conservative than those typically found in California. They stress evangelism, the inerrancy of Scripture, the reality of judgment, and the exclusivity of the gospel message, among other things. I found these doctrinal beliefs to be in keeping with what I had read in Scripture, and as a consequence, many of my attitudes and opinions began to change.

For example, I had always been pro-life, but I believed that it was neither the government’s nor my place to decide this issue for others. After several heated debates with friends on this topic, I started to see the moral inconsistencies in that approach, and I am now in line with more conservative pro-life advocates.

I also encountered scientific creationism for the first time in Kentucky. I had always been very interested in science in school, and studied mainstream evolutionary science all the way through two years of pre-Medical studies in college. I reacted to friends who believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis with a great deal of skepticism, favoring the approach of theistic evolution. Nevertheless, I wanted to see if there might be any scientific proof behind these beliefs, so I researched the topic for myself.

I found a great many interesting and informative sites on the subject online. After reading a series of articles in the question and answer sections of the websites like Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research, my entire worldview shifted 180 degrees. I am now an ardent believer in young earth creationism, and regularly visit these and other websites to research this topic.

Perhaps even more important than any of these changes in my approach to my faith was my exposure to, and eventual acceptance of, Messianic Judaism. My first exposure to Messianic belief came through researching Christian mission work in Israel. I stumbled upon several sites promoting this movement, and found that the theological outlook resonated with me. The Messianic movement is a gathering of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus as their Messiah, and who are attempting to remove two thousand years of pagan influence on the Christian church. Common customs of Messianic Judaism include worshipping on the original Sabbath, from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown, keeping the biblical festivals like Passover and Yom Kippur, and keeping kosher, just to name a few. The following links provide a good overview of Messianic Judaism for those who don’t know much about it:

Heart of Israel

First Fruits of Zion

Biblical Holidays

When people hear these things about me, they often jump to the conclusion that I am a Republican. However, I am still a registered Democrat, and I continue to believe in nearly the entire platform of the Democratic party. I differ with the views of most Democrats regarding issues like abortion and homosexuality, yet I am very liberal on most other issues. I believe that the government has a responsibility to provide for the welfare of its people, so I favor most social programs as long as they are effective. I believe in raising the minimum wage, instituting a progressive tax code, and so forth. I do not believe that we should be in Iraq, especially when the real threats to our security are elsewhere and could be dealt with through much more creative and effective means. I find it sickening that the Bush administration has hijacked my religion to pander to conservative Christians, while doing nothing to really address their concerns.

Since returning to San Francisco, I have had to readjust to the faith, and often lack thereof, of the people in this area. I have found many who are willing to at least listen to my beliefs, whether or not they accept them. However, I have also found a great many who are unwilling even to listen to the reasons for my faith, even among those who call themselves Christians. I find it very odd that people who advocate tolerance of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and all the many religions of this world cannot tolerate people who consider themselves to be fundamentalist Christians. I guess their views of tolerance only extend to those who accept non-traditional beliefs.

In any event, I hope that this course provides an opportunity for dialogue, and that people on all sides are willing to listen to the beliefs of others. Personally, I love religious discussion, and I love hearing the reasons why people believe the things they believe about the world. I look forward to future discussions in the class and on the blog, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my faith.

I was raised catholic, but growing up my parents were not consistent with attending church every Sunday. We attended every few times and always made it mandatory to attend on those important holidays like, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. I guess I consider myself catholic since I was baptized, received my Holy Communion, attended catechism classes and got confirmed, but maybe I just identify with it just because I have not experienced any other religious up bringing.
I think the times and meaning of religion has changed. When looking at my grandparents, who are also catholic, and to see them attend church daily, makes me wonder how come it’s easier for them to make the decision that they are going to be active members within the church. On the other hand, my family never made it a daily thing that we needed to go to church. When I was younger I always thought of it as a burden to go to church, the fact that I needed to get dressed up for mass, sit in church for only an hour, which felt longer, listening to the priest speak, receiving communion, and singing, but in reality it really is not that bad. However, I still do not attend mass daily.
I remember attending catechism classes several times over the years. I think my parents were stricter about my siblings and me attending those classes then church. Then after they were over I remember receiving a certificate saying that I had completed the class. I think my knowledge of Catholicism is still very vague after attending those classes. I know the prayers and a few things regarding what occurs in mass, and have little knowledge regarding the New Testament vs. Old Testament. I think I have a lot of spiritual growing to do and to experience and explore my own religion more in depth and to become more familiar with it. Maybe expand out of Catholicism and to the other religious beliefs that exist out there.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Emmanuel Quezada
Blog 1
Gilmore 9/11/06

Throughout the evolution of human history, no one topic has been more controversial than the coexistence of religion in the realm of politics. It seems like all great endeavors (when relating to culture and society) are somehow linked to either religion, politics, and on most occasions both. In the 21st century, the inseparable link is everywhere. In America we see how the Gay-Marriage act was vetoed because of Christian values. In the Middle East, Palestine and Israel have been feuding for generations because of their varying religions. Many children in those countries grow up and immediately discard tolerance because of their families’ political/religious stand. In Palestine, as well as in Israel, the main political topic is one filled with religious innuendos.Now with all this said, it becomes my belief that one cannot have politics without religion. I believe that religion depicts your values and if this is the case, how can you vote for something you do not believe in? I personally am a very religious person who cares about how religion is used. Being a Christian and following Christian values have allowed me to stay grounded and focused on my personal goals. Furthermore, I do not condemn or in anyway advocate intolerance because of my beliefs; I believe that being fundamentally Christian is loving people for who they are. I am an open minded person; many would call me a liberal, but I believe that I am liberal for certain things and conservative for others. Being religious and understanding spirituality has also allowed me to see how people and governments use religion to cover their agendas.
While in class we where introduced to Native American tribes who where fighting to save their religious sites. On one of the featured documentaries, a tribe was asking hikers to avoid climbing Devil’s Tower because of its religious importance. Many hikers where upset and even angry because of this request; most who climbed said it was their right and it was inconceivable that they would stop climbing. The federal government who has jurisdiction over this type of thing failed to intervene. To me, I saw it as a sensitive subject. I had no real solution, and then I heard that it was a federal offense to climb Mount Rushmore. This enraged me and led me to realize why this country has so many problems. It isn’t just politics or religion; it is politics and religion when convenient. How can you call your self a god fearing nation, and then be intolerant towards the values of other humans?

Religion for me has been an exploring process over the past several years. While I was baptized in the Methodist Church I would not consider myself a Christian since junior high. Although I attended several high school youth groups at local Presbyterian churches, I do not currently belong to any congregation nor do I consider myself a religious person. My experience with religion is quite broad, beginning with a basic understanding of the Mormon religion as a result of having several friends who were Mormon in high school. Additionally, in college I am beginning to learn about other religions, primarily Islam as I took an introduction course in the subject last semester.

Part of the Islam course offered a trip to an Islamic Community Cultural Center in Santa Clara. The trip took place towards the end of the semester after our class had established a basic understanding of the Muslim religion. I was hesitant to visit the Mosque because I was not a Muslim myself. It was not that I felt that I would feel offended in a place that practiced a religion in which I was not a participant. But, rather, I was afraid that I would offend those who were Muslim and who were praying at the community center for worship rather than visiting on a field trip like myself. I thought that our class would be viewed as tourists coming to examine the behaviors of the people worshipping. Furthermore, I did not want to interfere with something that was sacred or make those worshipping at the Mosque uncomfortable.

However, on the other hand, I did not want to pretend that I was Muslim just to “fit in,” because that seemed like a greater moral dilemma. I was challenged in the same way as the field researchers were in our text Sociology of Religion. In collecting observational data several ethical considerations arise and I found myself faced with the challenge of a potential loss of research objectivity. Unfortunately, I must admit that I am still not entirely sure the best approach to this dilemma. As I prepare to do more research on different religions for this course I find myself pondering this challenge yet again. What is the best way to gather accurate observational data without offending the subject? Furthermore, how do I gather extensive data while maintaining a distance that is free of interference?

On another note, I would like to also discuss the notion of unification that is often present in definitions of religion. While I recognize that religion has the potential to unite, I would like to focus on the more social aspect of the term. Religion can unite on more of a local level, like amongst members of a particular congregation or faith. However, on a more global level religion often divides. For example, in a recent USA Today Article 'Attack on humanity itself' marked around globe, an al-Queda member is quoted as calling “on Muslims to step up their resistance against the U.S.” In this sense, how can religion unite when people do not go around claiming that they are merely “religious,” but rather in terms of labels such as Muslim, Christian, etc? These labels often take on political terms and can be used incorrectly to refer to particular religions, as is the case with Islam. Ultimately, the term “religion” itself does not have the power to unite; people who are religious do not unite under one umbrella term. Instead, religion has the tendency to separate based on individual denominations.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Advantage

I am currently a world religions and spiritualities major, yet the question of why I am interested in the study of religions is one that at first I had trouble answering. The question of what sort of religious background I come from is of course easier to answer, but doesn’t really help in explaining why I would want to study religions. Both of my parents grew up in the Christian tradition—my dad Catholic and my mom Congregational Protestant. Her dad, my grandfather, became a minister at the age of 17 in his hometown of Java, South Dakota. My mom moved around constantly growing up as my grandfather was re-assigned to different cities throughout the west. By the time my parents had met in Missoula, Montana and spent their first however many years traveling around the west with my older brother and eventually settling in New Mexico, their outlooks on religion had changed. Thus, I can only remember one or two times in my life that I even attended a church service, and any of those times I was too young to really know or care what was going on. I was not raised without morals or a sense of good and bad, right and wrong or any other sort of “good person” values people claim church instills into young people. In fact, I firmly believe the way my parents mixed stories of Jesus and his messages (from mom and dad) with eastern and western philosophies and fables (from dad) and Native American ideas of respect for animals and nature (from mom) all taught me the different types of “good” that exist in the world without instilling threats or fear of punishment and other types of negative input more organized religious teachings contain. It is this base that I believe pointed me in the direction of religious studies for the future, although I did not know it yet.
While I can’t point to a specific point or “epiphany” where I realized I was interested in learning as much about as many different religions and why they say what they say, etc., there was a point when I realized I knew what I didn’t want to pursue further in my life. I started at USF as an environmental science major but changed my mind after one semester. On a field trip to the Muir Woods in Marin, I realized I could go hiking and exploring in the world’s most beautiful places without having to worry about precise measurements and complicated scientific math and rules. Soon I had to come up with another major, however, and I was having trouble deciding what I wanted to study. Around this time is when I discovered what I call my “special advantage”—objectivity. All my life I had been bothered on a personal level when I saw my friends doing something cruel to an animal or heard stories of people doing disgusting or ignorant things in the name of “God”, but I never really thought much beyond the momentary feeling of rage at the hypocrisy. As I got older and learned about more and more religious hypocrisies and injustices, mostly within the history of Christianity, the anger I felt took longer and longer to go away. Why were people acting so violently, so selfishly, so greedily, so ignorant, so closed minded, or in general just so detrimentally towards the common good of human beings and our environment? What’s more, why were people acting all these ways, which anyone with any common sense could see were in direct conflict with any sort of positive message religions claim to espouse? To top it off, how could some of these people who were so obviously going against what they were taught growing up actually claim their religious instruction and beliefs as the justification of their actions? These questions eventually became too much for me to not do anything about. Luckily, it was about the same time I was trying to find a new major, so I decided to do my best to answer these questions by studying different religions in college.
I soon realized that so many people seem to be blind to so many injustices, or blind to their own actions, because of their subjectivity in their worldview. It seems a difficult task for a human being to be able to escape the specific construction of life on earth created by a strictly religious upbringing. For some people this helps them more than it hurts them or anybody else. Yet for many, I believe, it denies them the ability or stunts their motivation to really look outside their current worldview and see if there is more to the human experience of life among the 6 billion others living today. It is in this fact that I consider my lack of a specific religious upbringing my greatest advantage, both in my life and in studying why people believe what they believe. So far I have encountered even more irritating actions by “religious” people and frustrating teachings in some religious backgrounds. However, I have also encountered many inspiring and wonderful ideas from a number of different places, as well as encouraging and uplifting actions from many different people of faith. As I try to find as much good from as many places in religion as I can, I am building a mosaic of my spiritual self composed of pieces of spiritualities from around the world. At the same time, I hope to someday find a way to put all the good I find together with the common sense of objective reality in a way that makes sense to people everywhere and, hopefully, put a dent in the hypocrisy and injustice religion often contributes to in our world. I believe I have an advantage in trying to do this, and hopefully others will see as well that true objectivity can take us a long way.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

My name is Brent von Forstmeyer and I grew up in San Jose, California. My family and I attended a Methodist Church in Los Gatos; however I would not consider my family religious. As a family we attended mid-night mass, Easter mass, and other pot luck gatherings. Yet, it was a very rare occasion to hear a Sunday sermon. Only when holy aunt's and uncle's visited, would our family act natural climbing into corduroy three piece suits and prairie dresses. After the 8th grade my parents felt it a blessing to leave at home some of their 5 children when attending any gathering. And I was more then willing to volunteer for the duty.

I'm a registered democrat, yet I have no problem voting outside party lines for legislation that I agree with. I'm looking forward to the November elections outcome in anticipation democrats will regain seats in the House and Senate. Given the current President in office domestic and foreign policies inadequacies, democrats need to seize the opportunity as the pendulum of public opinion begins to swing in the opposite direction.

Religion to me means devotion, cultural identity, and ignorance. I love the positive aspects of devotion and the historical meaning of religion. When I traveled to India, religion and cultural identity were deeply ingrained in everyday life. From the beggars to the Brahmans, to cuisine and art, life in India was a living display of religious tradition and cultural identity. However, I have real problems with all religions when its practitioners preach ignorance, intolerance and injustice. Given the current conflicts regarding stem cells/abortion, evolution, and war, religion has been a root cause of conflict rather than a unifying message of peace. I see religion as both a uniting and dividing powerful force.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

BLOG: (1.) Social Location Statement.

I’m very content with where I’ am in life. I come from a small town, Oakdale, California. A place I thought people viewed the same as I always have. The familiar restaurants and roads; smells and choice of music. After moving to San Francisco I realized no one, not even people in my home town see things the way I do, everyone has different views and opinions. After all, that’s what makes us unique.
I feel everything has a purpose. There’s something that connects all of us, some kind of energy, I call it God. Of course, I don’t know my purpose, and guessing seems to get harder and sometimes fades into the reality of life.
My position is fairly liberal and my beliefs hold strong. Influence and questioning however, have always challenged my faith, and views. My favorite saying, “Find a place to stand and move the world”- fortune cookie. A fortune that has a purpose. It’s convinced me.
I came back home for the weekend. Nothing feels the same; it takes about a day to get comfortable. The only things I really miss when I leave are the people, but that’s me.

Kiernan Rien

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I just came across a good possible field research project that I wanted to share with everyone. The lecture is given by Jim Wallis on September 11th over in Berkely. I found it on and it is a lecture of at the Graduate Theological Union