religion

Earlier this month, Louisiana’s legislature voted to expand its school voucher program to cover the entire state, allowing parents whose children attend low-rated schools to use government-funded vouchers to help pay the cost of tuition at one of about 125 schools on an approved list (assuming, of course, their child is accepted). Another law recently passed in the state will provide tax credits for private donations to voucher programs, a policy already implemented in some states, including Pennsylvania.

Critics have expressed concern about some of the schools approved for the program, including a lack of site visits in the approval process and the inclusion of schools that do not appear to have the facilities or staff for the large increases in enrollment that would result if all of their available vouchers were used.

The expansion of the voucher program has also brought renewed attention to the curricula used at schools receiving state funds through voucher systems. Some of the schools approved for the voucher program in Louisiana, as well as other states, use textbooks produced by several evangelical organizations, including A Beka Book and Bob Jones University. In the documentary School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry, and Bias, Rachel Tabachnick and Bruce Wilson discuss Pennsylvania’s voucher program. Here’s an 8-minute clip focusing on the contents of some textbooks published by A Beka Book and BJU:

Examples from A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press Curricula from Bruce Wilson on Vimeo.

Highlights:

  • Humans and dinosaurs co-existed.
  • God designed “checks and balances” to prevent environmental crises, so chill! After all, “Roses are red, violets are blue; they both grow better with more CO2.”
  • “Rumors” of foreclosures, high unemployment, homelessness, and general misery during the Great Depression are just socialist propaganda.
  • Unions just want to destroy the accomplishments of “hardworking Americans.”
  • Mormons, Unitarians, and Catholics = bad.
  • And then there’s the history of racial/ethnic relations: “God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ” and “Through the Negro spiritual, slaves developed patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is freedom from the bondage of sin.” No, seriously — I didn’t make those up.

You can read some additional examples in a recent post at Salon, including the following:

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the `Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? `Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

Schools using these texts have been approved to receive government funds for education. It highlights one of critics’ concerns about voucher programs: that it is, in effect, often a way to provide taxpayer-funded education that is explicitly religious and may or may not conform to accepted standards of scientific inquiry.

Here’s the full-length documentary:

School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry, and Bias from Rachel Tabachnick on Vimeo.

Also see our earlier post on a Texas textbook standards advisor explaining that books should emphasize the positive, such as how minorities ought to be really grateful to Whites for giving them rights.

Identifying as Republican is strongly associated with religiosity in the U.S., so much so that people often use the term “Republican” and “Religious Right” interchangeably. Indeed, religious people are more likely to be politically conservative overall, but a Gallup poll shows that this relationship is moderated by race.  The figure below cross-tabulates religiosity for four racial/ethnic groups with the likelihood of affiliating with the Democratic or Republican party or neither.  You can see that the typical relationship — religion/Republican and no religion/Democrat — holds for all groups, except for African Americans.

At Gallup, Frank Newport writes:

Asian and Hispanic Americans, regardless of religiousness, are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans. But the Democratic advantage goes from 14 points among very religious Asians to 44 points among nonreligious Asians. The differences are less substantial among Hispanics; very religious Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves as a Democrats than Republicans by 20 points, while nonreligious Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats by a larger 36-point margin.

Personal religiousness makes little difference among blacks, however, as the powerful partisan pull of Democratic identification among black Americans trumps any influence of religion.

The report is a great example of the importance of doing intersectional analyses.  When you pull groups apart (by, say, adding race when looking at the relationship between religion and politics), you often find that a more generalized examination is hiding interesting details.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Americans are familiar with seeing the phrase “In God We Trust” on our paper money.  The motto is, indeed, the official United States motto.  It wasn’t always that way, however.  While efforts to have the phrase inscribed on U.S. currency began during the Civil War, it wasn’t until 1957 that it appeared on our paper money, thanks to a law signed by President Eisenhower.

1956:

1957:

The motto wasn’t simply added in order to please God-fearing Americans, but instead had a political motivation.  The mid- to late-1950s marked an escalation in the Cold War between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and their respective allies.  In an effort to claim moral superiority and demonize the communist Soviet Union, the U.S. drew on the association of communism with atheism.  Placing “In God We Trust” on the U.S. dollar was a way to establish the United States as a Christian nation and differentiate them from their enemy (source).

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Last week, on the heels of Obama’s announcement that he supports gay marriage, NPR interviewed the President of the Pew Research Center, Andrew Kohut, about trends in American support for the issue.  Kohut explained that American opinion has changed dramatically, and unusually, in a very short time.  In 1996, for example, 27% of people supported gay marriage (65% opposed).  This “really didn’t change very much” for a while.  In 2004, when Republicans mobilized the issue to get conservatives to the polls, 60% still opposed it.  But today, in the space of less than a decade, we have more people supporting gay marriage than opposing it.  Some polls show the majority of Americans believe that we should have the right to marry someone of the same sex.

This trend is driven, in part, by young people replacing the old, but focusing on this overshadows the fact that essentially all Americans — of every stripe — show higher support for gay marriage than they did a decade ago.  Both men and women and people of all races, political affiliations, religions, and ages are showing increased support for gay marriage.  This is a real, remarkable, and rare shift in opinion:

Opinion by age:
Opinion by religion:
Opinion by political party:
Opinion by political orientation:
Opinion by race:
Opinion by gender:
Via Montclair SocioBlog.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A resolution to the matter described below was announced yesterday.  In order to preserve the religious memorial without violating the separation of church and state, the Park Service has agree to give the land it sits on to two private citizens who take care of the monument.  Problem solved?

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The Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether a cross erected 75 years ago as a memorial to war veterans violates the constitutional separation between church and state. The cross sits on the Mojave National Preserve and, therefore, is on public land. After lower court rulings, the cross was covered in plywood.

In deliberations, Justice Scalia tried to argue that the cross is a neutral and universal symbol. He said:

It’s erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead… What would you have them erect?… Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?

Faced with an argument that the cross is distinctly Christian, he said:

I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.

Scalia’s comments reveal a common phenonemon that we’ve discussed in terms of race and gender, but not yet religion.  As Jay Livingston pointed out at MontClair SocioBlog, one can only think of Christian symbols as non-specific if one thinks of Christianity as somehow normal, neutral, and for everyone.  In the U.S., because Christianity is the dominant religion, many people simply see it as default.  You’re Christian unless you’re something else.  Something else that marks you as different and specific, Christianity does not.

This is one way that dominance works.  It makes itself invisible.

UPDATE! Dmitriy T.M. pointed out that Steven Colbert addressed this issue on The Colbert Report back in 2009:

See our other posts on how whiteness and maleness are the characteristics we attribute to “person,” unless there are reasons to do otherwise, herehere, here, and here.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Global Policy TV.

Recent research has unearthed the interesting finding that most Americans dislike atheists.  In fact, they strongly dislike atheists. Surveys suggest that they’d rather share a beer with almost anyone, even members of historically-hated groups: homosexuals, African-Americans, or Muslims (yes, even after 9/11).  This phenomenon is new in American society, as I’ll discuss below, and reflects a significant change in our social alliances.

But first, consider this data published by Penny Edgell and her colleagues in the American Sociological Review (full text).  It reveals that Americans believe that atheists, more than many other groups, are not likely to agree with their “vision of American society.”  Atheists topped the list, beating out the second contender, Muslims, by 13 percentage points.  Likewise, among the types of people Americans would not want their children to marry, atheists come first, beating out Muslims (again) by 14 points and African Americans by a full 20.

This dislike for atheists, by the way, isn’t on the wane.  While dislike of gays and lesbians has been easing, racism has become increasingly unacceptable, and religious diversity has become less contentious, intolerance for non-believers has held steady.

An even more recent article revealed that the reason people dislike atheists so much has to do with trust (cite).  Many people are skeptical that someone who doesn’t believe in God would do the right thing, given that they don’t imagine that a higher power is watching them and keeping score.  Atheists were more distrusted than Muslims, Jews, gay men, and feminists.  The only group that was as strongly suspected of bad behavior as atheists?  Rapists.

What is interesting in all this – above and beyond a clear prejudice against atheists – is the change in how Americans think about religion.  Until recently, members of different religious saw each other as enemies, not friends.  American history is characterized by “long-standing divisions among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews” (Edgell et al.). Many of us can remember how significant it was to elect the first Catholic president (something we take for granted as unremarkable now) and we are on the precipice of nominating a Mormon to run on the Republican ticket.

Indeed, historical data shows that Americans have been increasingly willing to vote for a Catholic or Jewish Presidential Candidate (as well as an African American and homosexual candidate), but their willingness to vote for an atheist is lagging behind:

The take home point has to do with shifting social alliances.  Now that most Americans have abandoned a strong dislike for members of other religions, it’s possible for The Religious to emerge as a socially-meaningful identity group.  In other words, once members of different religions begin to see each other as the same instead of different, they can begin to align together.  Suddenly atheists become an obvious foe.  Instead of one of many types of people who had lost their way (along with people of different faiths), atheists could emerge as uniquely problematic.  It is the building of cross-religious alliances, then, that undergirds the strong dislike for atheists specifically.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The burqa and headscarf are often identified as symbols of women’s oppression in Muslim countries.  In fact, head covering is a form of religious garb in many sub-cultures.  Some of these subcultures require head covering all of the time, and others only during religious rituals, but all involve this tradition.  Yet, when it comes to Muslims, the discussion often goes forward as if it is a uniquely oppressive, and uniquely Islamic, practice.  Food for thought.

Thanks to Dolores R. for the link.  Found at Socialist Texan.

UPDATE: In the comments, Alastair Roberts suggests that it’s important to consider whether head covering is required for just women, or both women and men.  I agree.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flickr Creative Commons, Lau

Stephanie Medley-Rath sent in a new example of urinals shaped like women’s mouths (source).

Liz B. sent in a slide show of “innovative” urinals that included this example.

Urinals at the Rosenmeer restaurant in Moenchengladbach, Germany, are shaped like women’s bodies (source).

Others are shaped like nuns urinals (more nun or maybe the Virgin Mary urinals here).

 

Emma B. sent in this image of sinks:

fail-owned-sink-design-fail

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.