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The influence of religious organisations on community cohesion in diverse and deprived communities.

I'm currently conducting a research study (at the University of Manchester) about the role that religion plays in diverse and deprived communities. Specifically, I'm examining the ways in which it influences social cohesion. Thus, the overarching issue is whether religion has a positive or negative impact on the community? Can religious organisations bring people of difference not just together but also to appreciate, understand and value diversity?

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    Aug 1 2012: The only problem with religion is its brainwashing superstitious content.
    People gathering and sharing experiences has a positive impact on the community, no doubt.

    And about social cohesion : it's hard to do better than the Nazis or the Taliban. I mean that it helps when you're told you belong to a special kind, or when you have a common ennemy.
    • Aug 1 2012: My research findings thus far are closely aligned to your comments. It seems that the "successful" religious organisations - measured by their positive impact on social cohesion - are those which isolate the religious activities from the social/community activities. In a sense, these religious organisations are dualistic in their role, they are both a place of worship and a community hub. The place of worship facilities bonding, the community hub facilitated bridging.
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        Aug 1 2012: Surely a place of worship only facilitates bonding only of those of the same faith?
        And does forced genital mutilations, repressing women, calling homosexuals immoral/ evil, preaching against contraception and an unalterable claim to be infallible all count as things which count towards ruining communities or is that just society on a whole.
        And I'd add trying to force their religion into politics and into the lives of other people and ruining communities.
        • Aug 2 2012: What I've found thus far is that these religious organizations strongly promote bonding (interactions between people of similarity) and to varying degrees promote bridging (interactions between people of difference). Their bonding activities have a strong religious focus, the bridging activities are more social and community based (with religion, at times, totally removed).
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    Aug 10 2012: I know a people who are dealing with centuries of division that can be traced back to when the missionaries came. It cause a deep divide in the community and tore apart families and many of those divisions are still present to this day. I mean literal geographic divisions. There are even maps from not too long ago that show that 'pagans live here' and 'Christians live here.'

    The church forbade any traditional ceremonies and to this day, the Christians are offended by traditional practices and vice a versa. These two groups of the same people struggle to find common ground because the intrinsic value system is so vastly different between them. Even within families I hear 'that's the Christian side' or 'that's the pagan side.' And yes, they actually use the word pagan.

    These are the poorest people in the poorest county in their state and remain so to this day.

    Personally, I have never, ever seen a positive outcome of religious influence except in the coffers of the persons selling the religion. But I have only lived for a short time.
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    Aug 1 2012: IF they use compassion and understanding to lovingly introduce such teachings as: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things , but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:" -- Philippians 2:3-5 (KJV). Unfortunately, church-funded missions become more interested in furthering denominational doctrines and covenants than the pure, perfect teachings of Jesus Christ. That is why I think the answer to your question is "NO".
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      Aug 9 2012: You seem to have a very interesting, if a bit conflicting relationship with the church Edward... It makes me curious how you would feel about interfaith service projects? These seem very rare in nature, but especially among young people they seem to have some pull.

      Are you opposed to concepts such as trading priests? Where one day a week a Buddhist speaks, one day, a Muslim, and on those days, your priest goes and speaks to their congregation. If it helped to build social cohesion, could you consider it a useful tool to intentionally teach young Christians a bit about the other faiths?
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        Aug 9 2012: My beliefs are formed according to the Holy Bible, which uses two different words for "church".
        In English the words are spelled the same with one capitalized and the other not. The lower case word refers to a group of people who meet regularly for various religious purposes. This church is a temporal, physical, socio-political entity which has a membership consisting of both Christians (actually born again persons) and non-Christian pretenders.
        The other (Church) is 100% true, born again persons, aka Christians. This is a spiritual, everlasting entity, of which no unbeliever can be a part. The former (church) is typified by a lack of doctrinal purity manifested as syncretism. The "conflicting" nature of my relationship with the temporal, physical church is a result of my non-involvement with it. I have no interest or association with the social experimentation and homgenized doctrine of today's church. My love is for the true Church which is kept eternally pure and undefiled by God Himself. The social cohesion you speak of is best left to the socio-political church. Have at it. I prefer the Holy Bible as the only rule of life and faith. Thank you David!
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          Aug 10 2012: Very fair. I guess I'm still a bit curious, if you think such a socio political endeavor can be of value?

          My only real issue with faith in general, is that I seem to see so many people use it as a way to remain ignorant of their enemies. I don't see that in you at all, but I do see an obvious, and unflinching support for you faith.

          It just makes me curious, to pick an extreme example. Do you believe you have anything to learn from the Dalai Lama? Can he be wrong about his chosen faith, and still have some wisdom about living in the modern world, that a Christian can gain some real insight and value from?

          I pick him because, I happen to enjoy his writing. You may have some other non christian, who you enjoy that would be a better example.

          The tendency among many members of any church, seems to be to ignore people, once they know that they are spiritual, but in a different camp, and I think that is destructive, whatever the reason.
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        Aug 10 2012: Wisdom and truth is where you find it. Straight blows can be struck with crooked sticks. To write-off another person because they embrace a different religious, or political philosophy is a form of hatred. I also believe, like you David, that such behavior, however prevalent, is destructive. The earthly church can do much good in the natural realm. But, when religious groups begin to draw lines of exclusion you get things like the Crusades, genocide, civil war, etc. Thank you!
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          Aug 10 2012: Right when I'm out of thumbs up for you. You re affirmed my belief that spirituallity, can, be a wonderful thing... and to the point of this debate, could have been a force for community cohesion in diverse and deprived communities. And, still can be. Thank you.
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    Aug 1 2012: So far my experience and knowledge says the first commandment of almost all religion is......except itself all other religions are invalid / false....so how come religion is valuing diversity (well it may include different races / colors but defintely not another religion) ?
    • Aug 2 2012: So far, my findings agree with what you are saying. Most of the religious organizations and their faith communities have a strong positive valuation of people of different ethnic, racial and/or socio-economic backgrounds, however, the religious differences can be at times a bit of a dividing line. Although you would be surprised however at the extent some religious organizations have gone to to promote social cohesion (one church and one mosque have a partnership agreement and have a number of shared projects and events).
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        Aug 2 2012: Understand what you pointed out about One Church , One Mosque concept to bring social cohesion...

        Sure I am you are also aware there are Catholic Church, Protestant Church.......Sunni Mosque, Shia Mosque, Ahmadeia Mosque .....etc. Each sect is no less intolerant to other sect as it is to completely other religion.....

        These facts rather say religion failed to accept diversity of thoughts even with in ithe same faith system !!!
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      Aug 9 2012: I think that if their is any hope for religious institutions to survive this century... They are going to have to rise above this one simple issue, that they almost all have. Most churches, effectively institutionalize racism and xenophobia, and it's a big hurdle.
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    Aug 1 2012: I live in Northern Ireland so I think I qualify to give a reasonable answer to this.
    Although technically it is between nationalists and unionists the fighting in Northern Ireland has now taken Protestantism vs Catholicism as the main battle ground. You've got community workers trying to breach the gap and unite the two sides but despite these efforts there are more and more "peace" walls being erected.
    So the problem is you've got poorer less educated (generally) families who live in certain areas such as west Belfast, Shankill Road etc etc who were mainly affected by the Troubles. They then build this hatred up and can't base the hate on nationalism or unionism as they aren't educated enough to understand the implications of each idea so they pin it on religious denomination. It makes an easy separation and a "us and them" mentality. This is then passed onto the children who will almost certainly end up in a poverty cycle and a lack of education cycle also and you get this bitterness thriving in these areas.
    What makes matters worse is that you have extremist politicians from both Sinn Fein and the DUP who couldn't fix a country if the solution bit them in the ass.
    Then you add the Orange Order to the mix, which has a large youth membership, which actively preaches Catholicism as being wrong and evil, which is then wrongly manifested in the minds of youth who then take it upon themselves to then throw petrol bombs and bricks at the neighboring community.
    And to be fair for arguments sake, both sides commit these acts but I haven't found a Catholic organisation similar to the orange order.
    So from my perspective religion has crippled my country, and is still pinning it down, and will continue to do so for as long as it can.
    Added: The churches have also hidden pedophile preachers so as to protect the church's name, especially in Ireland. Further destruction caused by the church.
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    Aug 2 2012: I suggest shared religious experience and belief in a higher power can be a powerful bonding and behavioural influence.

    However, its a pity relying on religious institutions is relying on something with no factual basis.

    At the foundations of religions are supernatural beliefs. Those that don't believe in these supernatural claims are potentially alienated or excluded. It also excludes opposing religions and denominations. Potentially religion strengthens the in group and may exclude out groups, not withstanding outreach and community work.

    Suggest it would be better to base community on something that is less exclusionary and does not rely on subjective religious beliefs.

    Also the aims of the cohesive group would ideally be positive or at least benign.
    • Aug 2 2012: Do such objective and less exclusionary groups exist though? Religious organizations often play the role of community hub in many of these diverse and deprived neighbourhoods. There a few community organizations, however, they don't seem to have the capacity of capability of these religious organizations.

      Can religious organizations make themselves less exclusionary? Or is that one of their fundamentally entrenched characteristics?
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        Aug 3 2012: Hi Jordon,

        You are looking to understand the role of religion in social cohesion in under privileged communities.

        This might depend on the particular religion and the particular community. Religious schooling for example might reinforce common religious beliefs. Are the beliefs benign? Depends case by case.

        Understanding does not imply any objectives in terms of improving things in these communities. If you had some clear objectives in these regards I might have some ideas. You mention valuing diversity. Religions have a mixed record on this.

        In Australia churches were the main providers of schools and hospitals. Good on them. But society doesn't need to rely on them now. We have state schools and hospitals minus the religious baggage.

        I can recognise that religious organisations have social impacts positive and negative and also care about the truth. Hamas provides social services. Wouldn't it be better if the government did or some organisation without an agenda. Religious organisations have a fundamental agenda that is not about improving society, it is about saving souls or similar. They exist for some imaginary higher powers.

        I guess religious organisations can be less exclusionary. Some are already more or less exclusionary than others, more or less sexist, rascist, homophobic, secretive, child molesting etc. They can do good feeding the poor etc. No issue trying to improve religious organisations.

        Religions are human creations. Humans can be tribal. Religions, local religious chapters, and religious people are very diverse. Religions seem to be based on supposed revelation, personal experience, dogma, authority. They claim to have the truth. They may be linked to certain cultural or social groups or races (black churches). If they already exist in a community why not try and make them more supportive of diversity. Worth a try I guess.
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        Aug 3 2012: If I was looking for harmony in society, reasonable tolerance, reasonable appreciation of diversity I would look to the enlightenment, to human rights, to ethics, to education not something based on superstition and dogma that may be sexist or homophobic in part, that would rather people get HIV than use condoms etc.

        Religions can reinforce tribalism and backward beliefs.

        When you mix in beliefs and teachings about the supernatural, beliefs in absolute truths, well it can reinforce bad stuff just as much as good stuff.

        IF the pope or the bible is an authority than can not be questioned, or is harder to address with reason and evidence when pointed in bad directions.

        Suggest it would be better if the good stuff was promoted for its own, not mixed in with partially backward theologies and tribal congregations.. Look for the common humanity.