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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

The Sociological Detectives: Ch-Ch-Changing NRMs

Friday, August 24th, 2018

Another in the New Religious Movements series of PowerPoint Presentations, this uses the Sociological Detective format to investigate a “crime scene” to unearth various clues based on Eileen Barker’s observations about why NRM’s change over time.

The basic idea is that as each clue is unveiled it contributes towards an understanding of Movement change and once all the clues are revealed it should then be possible to link them to arrive at a general explanation for such changes.

While there’s nothing too sophisticated here, the Sociological Detective format plus the ability to reveal, focus on and discuss a single idea at a time might prove an interesting way to encourage students to reflect on and discuss changes in New Religious Movements.

If you need it, the Presentation contains a short video (about 90 seconds) of Barker talking about the recent development of NRM’s. You can use this clip as a piece of background information to sensitise your students to some of the ideas identified in the main Presentation. The clip is linked from YouTube (so you will need an active Internet connection to play it) rather than embedded in the Presentation to keep the PowerPoint file down to a reasonable size (around 6mb as opposed to around 125…).

Although I haven’t included one here, if you have a favourite NRM case study (from the Moonies through Scientology to Heaven’s Gate…) it could be easily integrated into the Presentation to provide an empirical background to Barker’s observations.

New Religious Movements: Who Joins?

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Another PowerPoint in what’s rapidly evolving into some sort of NRM-based series.

This, as you might expect, complements the previously-posted Characteristics and Pathways Presentations and draws once more on the work of Professor Eileen Barker.

There’s not a lot to say about it except that it’s a deceptively-simple Presentation that identifies and outlines 5 groups who are particularly attracted to New Religious Movements.

Religion: Why do people join cults?

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

We’re currently researching and scripting a couple of films on secularisation and New Religious Movements and a spin-off from this, as you may have noticed, is a range of religion resources either based on stuff we’ve found – NRM Pathways and NRM Characteristics – or stuff other people have already produced.

This post falls into the latter category: a 6-minute animation in the TED-ED series of films, written by American Professor of Sociology Janja Lalich and focused on an overview of religious cults that grew out of her own research in this area.

In this respect you could use the film as a simple introduction to the main features of cults, because it covers some familiar themes:

• A basic definition of a cult

• An overview of cult characteristics

• An outline of why people join cults.

The film also references a couple of the most notorious religious cults in recent times:

• The People’s Temple and Jonestown involving mass “involuntary suicide”.

• Heaven’s Gate involving an apparent voluntary mass suicide (whose website – not all of it’s members “passed over” – is still active if you want to illustrate and investigate the cult further).

New Religious Movements: 6 Characteristics

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Basic PowerPoint Presentation, designed for whole-class use, that identifies Barker’s 6 characteristics of New Religious Movements.

The concept of New Religious Movements was initially developed, by writers such as Eileen Barker (1999), to reflect a general unease and dissatisfaction with the contemporary usefulness of the “sect – cult” distinction.

More-specifically, the argument in favour of a looser way of categorising a variety of new religious groupings is based on the claim that their increasing diversity of what are conventionally labelled “sects” or “cults” makes it difficult to maintain both a clear theoretical and empirical separation between the two:

• Theoretically, such is the overlap between sects and cults the distinction “on the ground”, when studying their activities, is less than useful. Woodhead et al. (2005), for example, in their ground-breaking study of religion and spirituality in Kendal, identified “two domains”: the Congregational, consisting of a range of churches and denominations and the Holistic – a wide variety of spiritual practices and beliefs they categorised in terms of their ease of access for potential practitioners: from the low access requirements of yoga (you can simply turn up to class and practice it, with or without any accompanying spiritual content) to the high access requirements of something like Paganism that involves a certain level of commitment in terms of its beliefs and practices. In this sense, therefore, “New Religious Movement” simply becomes a kind of generic term for a range of religious organisations that don’t fit easily into the church or denomination category.

• Empirically, evidence derived from the study of different religious groups and movements suggests they are both increasingly sophisticated in the way they recruit and retain members and internally diverse in terms of how they operate. One reason for this is that globalisation – particularly but not exclusively in the form of the Internet and social media – has allowed new religious movements to diversify in terms of both what they offer to potential and actual converts and how they offer it. Scientology, for example, has been particularly sophisticated in this respect, marketing itself by forging many different types of relationship with members through a wide range of media, old and new.

In addition, there are huge organisational and behavioural differences within categories like ‘sect’ and ‘cult’: they’re not simple, homogeneous, classifications and it may be more useful to reflect their multi-layered diversity by being more selective in how we categorise them.

As well as questioning what the categories “sect” and “cult” denote – the supposedly essential features by which they can be differentiated – Barker also suggests we need to consider how these labels have increasingly acquired particular, frequently pejorative, connotations in both the media and wider society: the term “cult”, for example, has, she argues, come to have almost a wholly-negative meaning, “often implying bizarre beliefs, sinister and deceptive practices, mind control or psychological coercion and, perhaps, sexual abuse and violent tendencies”.

In this respect, Barker argues the sect – cult distinction should be replaced by a much-looser form of categorisation, namely New Religious Movements, “defined as groups which have become visible in their present form since the Second World War, and which are religious in so far as they offer an answer to some of the ultimate questions traditionally addressed by mainstream religions: Is there a God? What is the purpose of life? What happens to us after death?”.

To help students get to grips with what Barker identifies as 6 major characteristics of New Religious Movements I’ve bundled them together in a simple PowerPoint Presentation.
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Paranormal Activity: Another Dimension to the Secularisation Debate?

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Although the secularisation debate in sociology has a number of different dimensions, involving arguments over issues like sacralisation, desacralisation, resacralisation, post-secularisation, religious fundamentalism and the like, one key assumption in the debate is rarely, if ever, questioned: the idea that “secularisation” is effectively a zero-sum game that consists of two, fundamentally-opposed, sides:

1. The Religious, defined in a variety of ways from the very narrow – adherence to what we might call conventional forms of religious practice (such as attendance at religious services) and belief (such as prayer) – to the very wide, which includes things like a range of New Age spiritual beliefs and practices. An even wider interpretation of “individual religiosity” might include something like Davie’s “believing without belonging” argument which, at it’s most elastic, can be used to argue that even within widely-secularised societies there is a fundamental core of religious belief. As a leading article in the conservative Spectator magazine put it (2017): “While fewer of us in Britain call ourselves Christian, we remain a country steeped in Christian values”.

Whatever the merits – or otherwise – of this particular argument, there’s little doubt the evidence relating to conventional religious practice and belief points in a quite specific direction. In the UK, for example, the 2017 British Social Attitudes survey notes:

• 50% of the UK population say they have no religion
• 75% of young people (18- to 24) say they have no religion
• Just under 1 million people attend church services each week. Depending how you count the UK population, a maximum of around 5% are regular worshippers.
• Around 6% of the UK population are “practising Christians” – defined as “people who read or listen to the Bible at least once a week, pray at least once a week and attend a church service at least once a month”.

In the USA, often cited as a “more religicised” or “resacralised” population, Routledge (2017) notes:

• 75% of the population reported “belonging to a religious group” (down from 95% 25 years ago). This “belonging” is, however, likely to be very weak (akin to people in the UK identifying with the “Church of England” rather than having any active engagement in that Church).
• Around 15 – 20% of the population are ”active churchgoers”
• Over the past 25 years “the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71% to 63%”.

2. The Secular defined in terms of a lack of religious practice, organisation or belief. In other words, everything that is not explicitly “religious”.

When this debate is conceived in zero-sum terms it follows that for one of these “sides” to win, the other must lose: in simple terms, either contemporary societies are becoming increasingly secularised or they are reinventing different forms of religious beliefs and behaviours that defies the idea of “simple secularisation”.

While both sides have, of course, a place in the evaluation of secularisation at a-level (it is arguably more-important to critically reflect on the journey rather than the eventual destination) it’s possible to add a further dimension to your students’ ability to successfully debate the issue by questioning the assumption that any decrease in religious organisation, practice or belief automatically means an increase in secular beliefs and behaviours.

And one way to do this is to introduce the concept of a belief in the paranormal.
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Sociology and You. Too

Friday, May 4th, 2018

A later (circa 2008) version of this American High School textbook that has a clean, attractive, design and some interesting content. Might well be worth considering as supplementary material to your existing resources, particularly because it is free…

I’ve previously posted an earlier version of this American High School textbook that seems to have gone through a number of different editions, the latest of which may have been around 2014 before being “retired” (as they say in Contract Killer circles and also, apparently, American Publishing).

This version dates from around 2008 and uses the same chapter categories as its predecessor. There are however design changes, although these are fairly cosmetic (a new picture here, a different typeface there) and, more importantly, changes to the text that brings it a little more up-to-date. Given it was originally published around 10 years ago, it’s never going to completely replace your current textbook / resources. Where it covers all the “standard stuff” (research methods, classic studies and theories…) this isn’t really a problem and I’d consider using it to supplement existing resources. There are, for example, opportunities for discussion, self-assessment and the like sprinkled liberally through the book.

One thing you’ll probably note is that, by-and-large, there isn’t a great deal of depth or breadth to the coverage of different topics. This is partly a consequence of the design – the liberal use of pictures, graphics and tables allied to the “Creative Use of White Space” ethos leaves a lot less space for text – and partly, I assume, the level at which it’s aimed. On the other hand, some ideas / topics are dealt with in rather more depth than you might expect. A section on Ritzer and McDonaldisation in one of the Focus on Research sections, for example, goes into some depth and detail about the concept and it’s application to developments in Higher Education – something you’re not likely to see in the majority of UK textbooks.

The sections I’ve read (admittedly not that many – I’m a Very Busy Person and I have “people” do that sort of thing for me) strike me as both interesting and very readable. Although most of the examples and illustrations have, understandably given the target audience, an American focus this might be turned to your advantage at times by providing students with a comparative edge to their studies. Alternatively just ignore them or replace them with UK alternatives… (more…)

Sociology and You: A Free Textbook

Monday, April 30th, 2018

This American High School textbook just scrapes into the “published in the 21st century” criterion I set myself for finding free, out-of-print sociology texts, but I’ve included it because although it’s obviously a little dated – at least in terms of content if not necessarily design – Sociology and You (2001) was probably one of the first to push at the boundaries of textbook design for “Grades 9 – 12”. This, by my calculations, means 15-18 year olds and if you’re wondering, as we probably all are, how this fits into the UK grading system I’d say the text equates to “high GCSE” / AS-level. But this is only a rough guess – there are bits that could fit into A2 – so if you want to use it with your students it’s probably a case of suck-it-and-see before you let them have copies.

The book itself exhibits most of the features we now take for granted in contemporary textbooks: short bursts of text, lots of big colourful pictures, key terms identified and defined, tables, boxouts, short readings, simple assessments and white space.

Lots and lots of white space.

In other words, anyone familiar with UK A-level texts over the past few years will see this as very familiar territory.

Except, of course, most of the examples and illustrations are drawn from North America. Which is okay if you’re North American (or are really into comparative sociology / North Americana) but not quite so brilliant if you live and study elsewhere.

Keeping this in mind, if you decide to have a look at the text I’ve made it available it as either a complete textbook or by chapter. I’ve provided the latter option because there are some chapters, such as those on “Sport” or “Political and Economic Institutions”, you may not need or want: put bluntly, you’re probably not going to teach stuff that’s not on the A-level Spec.

You can also use the chapter option to see if or how the text might fit with your teaching because, as I’ve noted, judging the level is a little problematic given differences in both the US and UK grade system and the skill levels each requires of its students at different ages.

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More Free Sociology Texts

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

This post continues the Great Sociology Textbook Giveaway by stretching the definition of “textbook” to breaking-point with a dictionary, encyclopaedia and, in an SCTV first, an actual text published by a real UK publisher.

Following hard on the heals of the first set of textbooks comes another batch of free Sociology texts I’d like you to think I discovered by digging diligently through the detritus of an untold number of obscure web sites, but actually found by Just Googling Stuff.

This time, while there are some textbooks on offer, notably one from the UK, the net has been widened a bit to include a dictionary, encyclopaedia and a couple of texts devoted to family life and religion.

Texts

1. Sociology: 6th edition (2009): This is a slightly-ageing edition of Giddens’ long-running text, currently in its 8th edition (the latter has a website, if you’re interested, that could best be described as “satisfyingly-retro” in both design and content if you were being…errm…charitable). Despite it’s relative age, it’s still as text packed with all kinds of useful information. Some of it may, however, be a step too far for some a-level students, particularly at AS level, so discretion is required over how you use the text. In terms of current Specification coverage most of the usual suspects (Family, Education, Crime, Media…) are included, but so too are areas (such as Nations, War and Terrorism) that decidedly don’t need to be studied.

If you don’t fancy the pdf version there’s also an online flipbook version which is quite fun in a flipbook kind of way.
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An Open-Source Sociology Textbook

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

A free (open-source) Sociology textbook (plus resources) that could be used to supplement your existing textbooks and classroom resources.

While the idea of “open-source software” – programs created, modified and freely distributed to users who also contribute in various ways to their subsequent development – has long-been a feature of digital technology, it seems a little odd the concept hasn’t been applied to other areas, such as textbook publishing, given how easy it is to collaborate, design, publish and distribute books largely indistinguishable from those produced by professional publishers.

Whatever the reason, the free textbook “Introduction to Sociology” – created and distributed by the OpenStax College and now in its 2nd edition – is the first sociology textbook I’ve come across organised around open-source principles (as opposed to simply being freely distributed by its author).

What this means is that not only can you use the text as you would any other textbook (giving students individual digital or paper copies, for example, or integrating it into Canvas if you use this free LMS) you also have a wide range of format options, most of which (reading online, downloading to desktop, viewing on mobile devices) are free. If you really must have a properly bound copy this can be purchased for around £16 / $30.

Once you get past the various viewing options you’ll find a textbook created by a number of different authors (all, I assume, employed by Rice University?) designed primarily as a primer for American undergraduates taking an introductory module in Sociology (“Sociology 101”). This level, from what I’ve read of the text, seems perfectly acceptable for A-level Sociology (which probably says something about either the American or the British education system).

While you need to take into account both its target audience (most of the text, illustrations, examples and so forth reference American society – it is, in other words, pretty ethnocentric) and some of the preoccupations of American Sociology (a focus on areas like race and ethnicity, for example, that isn’t given such a central focus by A-level Sociology) the textbook covers areas that will be very familiar and useful to a-level sociologists. These include:

• Culture and Socialisation
• Family
• Education
• Health
• Inequality
• Religion
• Deviance
• Media

Although most of these aren’t covered in any great depth – and you’ll find significant parts of UK Sociology Specifications aren’t addressed – there’s plenty of useful material here for a-level students and teachers. While it’s probably not going to replace your main sociology textbook it could be worth considering as an additional text to supplement the existing resources you use – particularly because of its portability across different devices.

In addition, there are a number of Instructor and Student resources you can sign-up for. To access some – such as PowerPoint Presentations and the Test Bank – you need to register with a school / college email account, but the resources are free once you’ve registered.

It’s also possible, even if you don’t want to contribute suggestions for future updates, to add “community resources” to support the text. While there’s not much available at the moment, one example of these resources is a series of short video lectures you may or may not find helpful.

A-Level Revision Booklets: 1. Beliefs in Society

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

A couple of years ago I posted some A-level revision booklets / guides, one from Greenhead College on education  and three from Tudor Grange Academy (Culture and Identity, Education, Research Methods).

On the basis that you can’t have too many revision booklets (although, thinking about it, you probably can) I thought I’d post a few more I’ve somehow managed to collect, starting with three really-quite-comprehensive booklets covering Beliefs in Society (AQA), although they also cover useful stuff on Religion (OCR, Eduqas, CIE etc.).

Beliefs in Society is a comprehensive revision booklet that covers: definitions, theories, class, gender, age and ethnicity, organisations, science, ideology. It’s mainly brief notes with some relatively simple evaluation exercises.

Beliefs in Society too covers much the same ground, albeit in a less-detailed way. I’m guessing this is actually a series of teaching PowerPoints, based on the Webb et al textbook exported to pdf. I could, of course, be wrong (although admittedly I rarely am).

Religion and Ideology is by the same author (the somewhat enigmatic “Joe”) and although it suggests a focus on the “Ideology” section of the AQA Spec. it seems to interpret this brief very widely to look at theories, organisations, globalised religion, fundamentalism and a whole lot more. While it covers a lot of the same ground as the Beliefs in Society 2 booklet it generally does so in less detail. Combine the two and you’re got quite an effective set of revision (and indeed teaching) Notes.