Saturday, October 30, 2010

Religion and Politics in the United States

Religion and Politics in the United States - Kenneth D. Wald & Allison Calhoun-Brown (2011, 6th ed)

As the authors noted, two topics (religion and politics) are excellent topics which make friends into enemies. Probably, those two are all value-laden, and thus any conflicts will be easily turned into fundamental differences that cannot be compromised.

However uncomfortable those topics seem, it is not difficult to disagree with the book's general conclusion (i.e., religion and politics is related, and therefore political institution, dynamics between politicians, or ordinary people's evaluation of political events or issues has to be highly related with religious values, attitudes, or speech of religious elites).

In the first chapter, the authors reminded readers that religion is still important. They conter-argued some of the trends of secularism and perception that religion and politics are separated. Religion is still important and the authors provided some statistics of religiosity, religious activities with discussion of religion-related measures and their limitations.

The 2nd chapter actually drew pictures of institutional relationship between the US (state and federal government) and religion or faith-based community. In general, the effect of relgion on the politics (or vice versa) dealt with by the authors here is very macro and law-related. (Note that they mentioned three components, creed, institution, and social/cultural group). One of my dissatisfactions is no consideration of religious message and/or its characteristic(s). Differently put, I believe that religion is actually discursive process and cannot exist without continuous communicative action (e.g., reading the Book, summarizing the messages that doesn't ignite any conflicting ideas in one's mind, sending the message to others who may or may not be interested in hearing that, or influencing own belief(s) onto others' minds via persuasive, or implusive ways). Anyway, it was discussed in the whole book here and there, but it was not pointed out as one feature that is very characterized as the main relationship between politics and religion.

The 3rd chapter discussed the cultural effect of religion on American politics. Here religion is limited into mainline Protestants (Presbyterian or Episcopalian), evangelical Protestants (complex and diverse, but characterized as one loosely defined group after Great Awakening), and Catholics. In general, there are two traditions: priestly (managing or listening) vs. prophetic (leading or mobilizing). Or vertical (God-humans) vs. horizontal (neighbors).

The 4th chapter is actually the summary between the state and the religion. There are a list when/where/why religion and the state collides and how the judge made history and seeked balanced between secular power and holy influences.

The 5th chapter discusses how religion lead to religious movements. The authors relied on social movement theory and framing theory. In this chapter, motives and means are discussed.

The 6th chapter further mentioned the last condition, i.e., opportunity, which converts faith-based community members into religious protesters. Under what condition, religious interests (emotional or reason-based) are formed, allied with other different faith-holders, and what policies and what policy solutions are obtained?

The 7th chapter discusses the relationship between religion and public opinion. As many observers noted, religion provides fundamental values or living principles that guide interpersonal or social behaviors. The authors showed some examples how religious lessons are intertwined with secular ideology or moral political issues. Especially, the subsection of 'foreign policy' does read with excellent interests of mine.

The 8th chapter provides one recent eminent example showing the enormous real world effects of religious movements or faith-communities on real political processes. Evangelical Protestants were known as strong supporters for Republicans (esp. so-called Neo-Conservatives). The rise of evangelical Protestants started with Jimmy Carter (1976), but failed. However, R. Reagon and G. W. Bush succeeds in part because of the unanimous support from evangelical Protestants. However, evangelical Protestants are double-edged sword, indicating that loyal supporters backlashes against the mobilization of other religious sections.

The 9th chapter discusses other politically eminent religions, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Jews. Catholics for abortion issue, mainline Protestants as mainstream of religion that can be accepted without creating unnecessary conflicts, and Jews and their influences on foreign policies (Palestine; Arabs)

The 10th chapter is devoted to minorities and their religion, e.g., Hispanic's Catholic, Latinos's Protestants, Black Protestants, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and real minorities such as Hindus, Buddism, etc. Latinos/Hispanics sounds interesting because their population is fastly growing, and their vote is becoming cast vote. Black Protestants has been important social movement source among Afro-Americans. LDS is interesting because its believers are geographically oriented and succeeded to produce renowned politicians.

The 11th chapter discusses reactions of religion sectors towards gay issue or women issues (abortion and female clergy). Very interesting chapter, personally. Recommend the second or third reading in the future.

The final chapter discusses the generalized conclusion about the effect of religion on American political life. I believe this chapter sounds interesting, and provided some answers towards my question - basically ambivalent nature of religion (Conservative & Progressive; Authoritative & Democratic; Discriminating & Integrating). Well-written section. One of the (subjectively felt) limitations is the lack of specific research in this area, if the authors' introduction is complete. Most cited works, based on my reading, are anecdotal or based on projections from other social scientists. However, I believe the last two chapters do read with my full joy. Thanks for the authors.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sociology of News - Michael Schudson, 2003

This book aims to analyze news from a sociological perspective which assumes news as a cultural phenomenon (i.e., news is not a kind of social cause or social effect that is caused by something).

In general, I think his perspective makes real sense, and broadens my understanding of media-related phenomena.

However, one thing with which I am not satisfied is "too much description and narrative." Detailed introduction of an anecdotal story (or event) is, by itself, interesting and inspiring, but I think the book is too thin to cover thick description of tough realities (as Clifford Geertz said). In other words, serious students who want to study news from this perspective should go beyond the range of the book, and should seek something more. However, it is the perfect book for introductory course or a student whose aim is just to explore the related areas for fun or to overcome so-called quatitative bias.

Except the thin (and sometimes superficial) introduction, the book is well written, beautifully organized, and very informative for any readers who are not familiar with the author's endorsed perspective.

- sense-making practice of modernity ... the most important textual system in the world.
- information and commentary on contemporary affairs taken to be publicly important.
- George Moss concludes that the role of media in determining the outcome of the war was "peripheral, minor, trivial, in fact, so inconsequential it is unmeasurable."
- In Argentina, President Juan Peron is reported to have said that "with all the media in our hands we were thrown out in 1955, and with all the media against us we came back in 1973."
They are a part of culture, .... "a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed," but "a context, something within which they can be intelligently .. described."
- Information as cause: Not plausible! The cause is always what really happened, not the message about what happened.
- Five sources of distortion are frequently cited: news is said to be typically, (1) event-oriented, (2) negative, (3) detached, (4) technical; and (5) official.
- Black Journalist Vanesa Williams asks why the killing of a white middle-class person generated more news coverage than does that of a black lower-class person. She answers, "Because the people who make decisions about what is newsworthy more readily identify with victims who look like them and live like them and are utterly frightened or outraged when bad things happened to them. The coverage reflects that fear and outrage."
- The black candidate was presented as preoccupied with self-interest, while white political actors were more often pictured as oriented to the public interest.