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2012-2013 Archived Events

Religious Transnationals: Religion and Civic Engagement in Bangalore and Dubai
Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Religion and Immigration
Religion and Immigration
Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Religion and Gender Equality
Religion and Gender Equality?
Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom
The Religion of Modernity and the Modernity of Religion: Insights from Contemporary Malawi
Gender and Religion in Europe
Race, Religion, and the 2012 Election
Religion in Global Context
 

Religious Transnationals: Religion and Civic Engagement in Bangalore and Dubai

April 23, 2013
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religious transnationals eventBrandon Vaidyanathan, who joined the RPLP as a postdoctoral fellow in the Fall of 2013, met with RPLP fellows in the morning for a dialogue about his ongoing dissertation on religious transnationals. Drawing on sociological data from 12 months of participant observation and 200 interviews, Vaidyanathan examines Roman Catholic professionals working in transnational corporations in two rapidly globalizing cities, Bangalore and Dubai. On the surface, Bangalore and Dubai present similar case studies- both have experienced increasing consumerisim, the rise of a new transnational professional class, and explosive population growth in recent decades. Roman Catholicism, though a minority religion in both cases, remains highly socially influential in both. Vaidyanathan asked when religion enables civic participation in the transnational professional class, and under what circumstances. Specifically, he examined religion in the context of Catholic transnational professionals in Dubai, though expatriates in a non-democratic nation, are more directly and actively involved in poverty-alleviation efforts than their counterparts in Bangalore, who are citizens in a democracy. Vaidyanathan explained these paradoxical findings by shedding light on key structural factors that contribute to such differential outcomes among members of the same social class and same global religious form in two prominent outposts of neoliberal capitalism.

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Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Religion and Immigration

April 10, 2013

RPLP student fellows hosted a dinner dialogue for undergraduates following the RPLP's symposium on religion and immigration. The purpose of the event was to discuss related issues in the context of current events and personal experiences. This dialogue, the second of its kind for RPLP, included Rice students from several religious backgrounds. The event continued RPLP's effort to engage more of the undergraduate student body in civil dialogue. Similar in breadth to the symposium with Professors Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Sergio Chavez, the dinner dialogue encompassed a variety of topics. Students began by discussing the impact of immigration on diversity in America, particularly since most immigrants are from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, not Europe. While Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim communities have certainly grown over the past several decades, one student noted that the majority of immigrants tend to be Christian. He added that the influx of Catholic immigrants from Latin America has contributed to a more internally diverse American Catholicism. Another student pointed out that many religious organizations and denominations publicly advocate for immigration reform, perhaps due to the active participation of immigrants within their communities and organizations. She added, "I find this interesting given that many religious denominations tend to remain more conservative on political issues."

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Religion and Immigration

April 5, 2013
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religion and immigration"We are living in a very inhospitable moment for immigrants in this country," said Professor Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, a sociologist and expert on migration from the University of Southern California. Along with Professor Sergio Chavez, a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University, Hondagneu-Sotelo discussed the connections between religion and immigration in U.S. society. Hondagneu-Sotelo explained that, in contrast with widespread inhospitality toward immigrants, all mainline protestant churches in the U.S. have published official statements that support the rights of immigrants and refugees. "I don't think there is any other social organization where you can find that," she said. Both panelists reflected that Catholic institutions have traditionally served as an important source of support for immigrants.

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Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Religion and Gender Equality

March 18, 2013

In response to a symposium on religion and gender equality convened by the Religion and Public Life Program on March 15, several RPLP student fellows hosted an inaugural dinner dialogue for undergraduates to discuss related issues in the context of current and historical events and personal experiences. Over dinner, more than a dozen students with a variety of faith perspectives talked candidly about how religion influences family life, leadership opportunities for women, and gender roles in the public sphere. The dinner dialogue covered a range of topics; students discussed, among other things, gender roles in churches, patriarchal family structures, and the politics surrounding the Muslim hijab, or face veil. Students explored the concept of a "glass ceiling" within churches, noting official and unofficial means by which women are denied certain leadership positions. The students agreed, however, that patriarchy is not specific to religious institutions, citing examples of patriarchal practices in other social spheres. 

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Religion and Gender Equality?

March 15, 2013
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religion and gender equalityMary Ellen Konieczny (Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame) and Sally Gallagher (Professor of Sociology, Oregon State University) lent their expertise to the RPLP as joint panelists for a discussion featuring the role that religion can play in creating, sustaining, and reducing gender inequality. Together, Konieczny and Gallagher discussed the impact of institutional structures on gender roles within the context of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Islam. Focusing on gender equality in the Middle East, Gallagher emphasized that gender norms within religious institutions are strongly influenced by broader social and cultural contexts and the distinctive theological and cultural perspectives that characterize Islam. Konieczny emphasized that, although the hijab is often perceived by westerners as evidence of greater inequality in religion, it can be interpreted as supportive or opposed to gender equality, depending on the context and application.

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Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom

March 11, 2013
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same-sex marriageThe RPLP hosted Amy Stone, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University, for a series of conversations about her insights on religion and same-sex marriage. Using a broad historical context as her framework, Stone discussed changes in the ways different groups have framed arguments for and against same-sex ballot measures. The religious right, for example, has transitioned from an emphasis on pedophilia and explicitly religious rationales for rejecting same-sex marriage to greater focus on risks to health and families. LGBT activists, meanwhile, have found the public more receptive to the language of love and commitment than to rights-oriented rhetoric, and have changed their framing accordingly. With respect to religion, while some LGBT activists welcome the support of sympathetic ministers, others "want nothing to do with religion." Overall, Stone's research indicates that the use of religious rhetoric by the LGBT movement is increasing as conservatives downplay religious language. In their public discourse and in an attempt to gain the moral high ground, both the LGBT movement and the religious right compete for embattled minority status. Along these lines, the religious right regularly invokes examples of employees who are fired for anti-gay comments and creates documentaries like "Speechless: Silencing the Christians." LGBT activists counter by drawing parallels between their objectives and those of previous civil rights movements.

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The Religion of Modernity and the Modernity of Religion: Insights from Contemporary Malawi

January 31, 2013
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modernity of religionHow does religion influence the interplay of culture and institutions? As part of the Sociology Department's Walter and Helen Hall lecture series, Ann Swidler (University of California, Berkeley) lectured on how modernity and religion have shaped Malawian society by illustrating the tensions between the indigenous chieftaincy system and other sources of power, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and Christian churches. In Malawi, traditional society is organized hierarchically through the chieftaincy system, which is centered on lineage and kin obligation. However, this hierarchical system is sometimes at odds with the efforts of NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa, which advocate a form of Western individualism that runs counter to traditional gender norms, social practices, and patron-client relationships. In its own way, Christianity also challenges traditional hierarchies by encouraging Malawians to take personal responsibility for living rational, disciplined lives. Backed by anthropological research, Swidler examined the implications of religion on Malawi life: the intersection of these institutions has resulted in a less stable and cohesive social order, causing Malawians to reevaluate traditional social norms.

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Gender and Religion in Europe

November 30, 2012
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gender and religion in europe 2How does gender shape the lens through which women understand religion? The RPLP welcomed Chantal Saint-Blancat, an expert on European Islamic communities and sociology professor at the University of Padova in Italy, to share insights derived from years of ethnographic immersion among Italy's Muslim population. According to Saint-Blancat, Muslim men and women demonstrate significant differences in the ways they understand and describe religious belief and practice. Women, for example, speak of spirituality more freely than men, focusing on the subjective experience and underlying meaning of religion, rather than the normative rules that men are more likely to emphasize.

Regarding the controversity in France surrounding the wearing of the traditional headscarf (hijab) by Muslim women, Saint-Blancat explained that the salience and intensity of the issue have increased in tandem with the participation of Muslim women in social patterns associated with modernity. Whereas in previous decades Muslim women were often confined to their homes, today many Muslim women are pursuing higher education and entering the workforce. Despite its generally negative connotation among secular Europeans, as a social construction, the hijab can represent both repression and emancipation, depending on the context. In contrast to the prevailing assumption that modernity enervates religion, "Entering modernity for Muslims means bringing religion in...not secularization," Saint-Blancat stated. "Europe doesn't want to accept that religion is part of modernity."

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Race, Religion, and the 2012 Election

October 22, 2012
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Race Religion and the 2012 elections eventTwo weeks before the presidential election involving the first African-American President and the first Mormon candidate for President, students, scholars, and other community members gathered to consider and discuss the ways racial and religious identities influence voting behavior. Fielding questions drafted by RPLP fellows, panelists Michael Emerson (Sociology, Rice University), Marla Frederick (African American Studies and Religion, Harvard University), and Anthony Pinn (Religious Studies, Rice University) engaged in a spirited dialogue that ranged from empirical trends on changing demographics and religious affiliations to normative perspectives on the effects of religious language in public discourse.

Responding to the observation that some degree of apprehension seems to accompany the prospect of a President from a minority religious background, Emerson explained that existential crises sometimes occur when America's civil religion has to expand to include previously marginalized groups. Focusing on Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney, Frederick saw the choice of Republican nominee as a critique of evangelicals' support for former President George W. Bush. While panelists considered it possible that Romney's religious affiliation might be a turnoff for certain religious groups, some of whom have historically labeled Mormonism a "cult," Pinn emphasized that nonreligious adults would likely play a significant role in the 2012 election and a growing role in future elections. Among other topics, panelists explored the role of black religion in the 2012 election, with Frederick contending that many black churches encourage their congregants to vote and also prioritize equality and social justice among political issues.

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Religion in Global Context

September 11, 2012
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religion in global context eventThe RPLP is currently conducting the first ever cross-national study of science and religion in international contexts, and in order to better understand the opportunities and challenges associated with cross-national research on religion, hosted a panel of experts to discuss these initiatives with students, faculty, and community members. The panel, consisting of sociology professors Helen Rose Ebaugh of the University of Houston, Chantal Saint-Blancat of the University of Padova in Italy, Fenggang Yang of Purdue University, and David Voas of the University of Essex in the UK, agreed that linguistic, political, and cultural differences pose considerable obstacles to informative comparisons across national contexts. As Ebaugh remarked, "our conclusions and results are only as good as the questions we ask." Yet, as Voas emphasized, it is difficult to develop a unified set of questions that make sense in different countries, a point made more specific by Yang's observation that there is no Chinese word for "spirituality" or "religion." Despite this and other challenges, panelists insist that the opportunities presented by cross-national research are worth the effort, with Saint-Blancat hopeful that applying an international lense to religion research will help foster mutual understanding among future generations. 

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