Religious Identity As A Component Of Social Identity
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There are thousands of religions represented in the world, and several hundred recognized in the United States. Each religious identity represented in the world has a unique relationship with political, educational, and cultural power structures present. However, religious identity as a part of one’s social identity tends to be overlooked, especially in our local community.
Our identification with a religious group or lack thereof may influence our interactions within our community. In addition to this, some religious identities may receive certain privileges and influence that others may not receive. In the United States, sociologists have asserted that Christian-identifying individuals are usually the ones who are best represented in political and social structures. The term “Christian privilege” is used to describe the political and social advantages that Christian identifying individuals may have. However, those who are assumed to benefit from Christian privilege may not necessarily see themselves doing so. In south Louisiana, Christianity is the most dominant religion in our community. This dominance is reflected in business marketing, school and government policies, as well as in the practices of other social organizations. This dominance has also been normalized, but it’s not common to see it questioned or publicly criticized.
Religious identity is very complex and can also be expressed in diverse ways. The spectrum for religious expression generally ranges from conservative to liberal interpretation. Recognizing that religious identity may have an influence on political views as well, religious identity may also influence the types of policies that are implemented locally and nationally. Some interpretations may be given more political influence and power over others. Those interpretations tend to support systems of oppression and marginalization. However, religious identity can also be used as a basis for social change and inclusivity. There are many social justice activists and politicians of various religious background who foreground their religious belief as key to resolving inequity and making society more just for all people, regardless of their social identity.
Differences in religious identities may also be subjected to persecution, discrimination, and violence. Jewish, Sikh and Muslim citizens of North American and European countries have been increasingly victimized by hate crimes, negative attitudes and violence in the last decade. While some political leaders have condemned religious intolerance in their communities, other religious leaders may either be indifferent towards religious intolerance or have built political platforms on top of it. I’ve observed that counter-terrorism efforts and conversations surrounding immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis have lead to increased religious intolerance in North America and Europe as well.
Religious identity must be included in our conversations regarding multiculturalism. Just as we seek to expand our understandings of issues such as racism, we must also work towards delving deeper into the implications that religious and non-religious identity may have on our society. This is even more important for those working for social change and foregrounding faith as a reason for doing so. Furthermore, I wish to see bolder moves from religious leaders of all religious backgrounds represented in south Louisiana working together to bring voice to social inequalities. More importantly, community, business, and political leaders must recognize and affirm all aspects of religious diversity.
We are all deserving of respect and dignity, regardless of what we believe in or don’t.