religion

For whatever reason, there has been a real slump in the number of people typing “obama gun” (will he take our guns away?), “obama muslim” (the idea used to run at about 20%), “obama socialist” (the republic “hangs in the balance“), and “obama citizen” (thank you, Snopes) into the Google search box since the 2008 election.

Here’s the Google trend (and the search link):

We don’t know how much these fears, versus other concerns, will affect votes against him this year, although there have been some good efforts to track the effects of anti-Black racism on his vote tally.

Naturally, not everyone who Googles these things believes the underlying stories or myths. But it seems likely they either believe them, are considering them, heard someone repeat them, or are arguing with someone who believes them, etc. So I’m guessing – just guessing – that these trends track those beliefs.

But maybe four years of Obama as an actual president has softened up the hard-line hatred in some quarters. What do you think?

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

During a debate this past Tuesday, Indiana Republican senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, made the case against the rape exception for abortions: “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

So according to Mourdock, God intends for rape to happen, and the outcome of rape is a gift from God.

What puzzles me is how Mourdock’s rape enthusiast comments fit with Missouri Republican senate candidate Todd Akin’s recent comments that “legitimate rape” (read“forcible rape”) rarely leads to pregnancy because, ”If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Mourdock and Akin’s beliefs, when considered together, produce a bizarre philosophy. I would like to know: Why would God create female bodies that reject God’s “gifts”? And if women don’t get pregnant from “forcible rape,” does that mean that God doesn’t intend ”forcible rapes”? Put another way, does God only intend certain types of rape, you know, the ones that come with “the gift”?

One-in-five Americans agree with Mourdock and Akin’s abortion stance. Razib Khan’sanalysis of the General Social Survey shows that 20% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in cases of rape. Republicans with lower levels of education who identify as extremely conservative and believe the Bible is the word of God are more likely than other Americans to hold this belief.

For Mourdock, Akin, and more than 50 million other Americans, God truly does work in mysterious ways.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.

Peter N. sent in some data compiled by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post.  It reveals the intersection of race and religion among Democrats and Republicans.   As Cillizza concludes, it’s “overblown” to say that the Republican party is made up of White Protestants and the Democratic of minorities and atheists, but there is definitely an argument to be made that each party is disproportionately so.

This first pie chart shows the racial and religious affiliation of people who identify with or lean towards the Republican party.  More than half are White Protestants, another 18% are White Catholics.  Only a small percentage of party faithfuls are religious Blacks and Hispanics (the two racial groups featured in in these data).

This second chart shows the same data for Democrats and Democratic-leaning individuals.  Almost a quarter of Democrats are White Protestants, but a slightly larger percentage of Democrats are religiously unaffiliated.  One in five Democrats identifies as either Black or Hispanic and religious.  The larger “other” category conceals smaller blocs that nonetheless add diversity to the party.

This is just one way to slice the pie, so to speak, but these are the kinds of data that both the Obama and the Romney campaigns are working with.  When they aim to bring out their “base,” this is what they’re talking about.  These numbers may give us a clue as to why they pick the strategies they do, such as the sudden spike in the inclusion of the word “God” in the Republican party platform.

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.

I’m supervising senior theses this semester and so I have to be a super stickler about something that makes most students’ eyes roll back in their heads: operationalization.  Wait!  Keep reading!

The term refers to a careful definition of the variable you’re measuring and it can have dramatic influences on what you find.  Dmitriy T.C. sent in a great example.  It involves whether you include church donations in your definition of “charity.”   Friendly Atheist breaks it down.

If you include church donations, the South appears to be the most generous U.S. region:

But if you don’t, everyone looks a whole lot stingier and the Northeast comes out on top:

All you budding sociologists out there remember!  Think long and hard about how to define what you’re measuring.  It can make a huge difference in your results.

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.

If you followed media coverage of the Democratic party convention last week, you may have heard about the short-lived controversy that broke out over the lack of the word “God” in the party platform (as well as the platform not explicitly mentioning Jerusalem as the capital of Israel). Fox News picked up on the lack of religious references and highlighted it as a major failing. Both items were hastily added to the platform.

Over at Organizations, Occupations and Work, Chris Prener posted a graph showing the number of times “God” appears in the party platforms over the last century. As Prener mentions, explicit references to a deity  were rare before World War II. After including it a few times in the ’40 and ’50s, the Democratic party platform mostly left it out until the 1996. The Republican party has much more consistently included “God” at least once in each platform since 1948, but 2012’s platform stands out, since it has more than double the mentions as in any prior platform:

Using the word “God” in official party platforms isn’t a tradition inherited from the earliest days of the two parties. It’s a relatively recent change, illustrating a trend toward more explicit inclusion of or reference to religion in U.S. politics and by political candidates.

I’m reposting this piece from 2008 in solidarity with Lisa Wade (no relation), whose (non-white) child was described by his teacher as  “the evolutionary link between orangutans and humans.”  It’s an amateur history of the association of Black people with primates. Please feel free to clarify or correct my broad description of many centuries of thought.

The predominant colonial theory of race was the great chain of being, the idea that human races could be lined up from most superior to most inferior.  That is, God, white people, and then an arrangement of non-white people, with blacks at the bottom.

Consider this drawing that appeared in Charles White’s An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables (1799). On the bottom of the image (but the top of the chain) are types of Europeans, Romans, and Greeks.  On the top (but the bottom of the chain) are “Asiatics,” “American Savages,” and “Negros.”  White wrote: “In whatever respect the African differs from the European, the particularity brings him nearer to the ape.”

Nearly 70 years later, in 1868, Ernst Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte was published.  in the book, this image appeared (his perfect person, by the way, was German, not Greek):


In this image, we see a depiction of the great chain of being with Michelangelo’s sculpture of David Apollo Belvedere at the top (the most perfect human), a black person below, and an ape below him.

Notice that there seems to be some confusion over where the chain ends.  Indeed, there was a lot of discussion as to where to draw the line.  Are apes human?  Are blacks?  Carolus Linneaus, that famous guy who developed the classification system for living things, wasn’t sure.  In his book Systema Naturae (1758), he published this picture, puzzling over whether the things that separating apes from humans were significant.

In this picture (also appearing in White 1799) are depictions of apes in human-like positions (walking, using a cane).  Notice also the way in which the central figure is feminized (long hair, passive demeanor, feminized body) so as to make her seem more human.

Here we have a chimpanzee depicted drinking a cup of tea.  This is Madame Chimpanzee.  She was a travelling attraction showing how human chimps could be.

In any case, while they argued about where to draw the line, intellectuals of the day believed that apes and blacks were very similar.  In this picture, from a book by Robert Knox called The Races of Men (1851), the slant of the brow is used to draw connections between the “Negro” and the “Oran Outan” and differences between those two and the “European.”

The practice of depicting the races hierarchically occurred as late as the early 1900s as we showed in a previous post.

NEW! Nov ’09) The image below appeared in the The Evolution of Man (1874 edition) as part of an argument that blacks are evolutionarily close to apes (source):HLFig2
During this same period, African people were kept in zoos alongside animals.  These pictures below are of Ota Benga, a Congolese Pygmy who spent some time as an attraction in a zoo in the early 1900s (but whose “captivity” was admittedly controversial at the time).  (There’s a book about him that I haven’t read.  So I can’t endorse it, but I will offer a link.)  Ota Benga saw most of his tribe, including his wife and child, murdered before being brought to the Bronx Zoo.  (It was customary for the people of his tribe to sharpen their teeth.)

The theorization of the great chain of being was not just for “science” or “fun.”  It was a central tool in justifying efforts to colonize, enslave, and even exterminate people.  If it could be established that certain kinds of people were indeed less than, even less than human, then it was acceptable to treat them as such.

This is a “generalizable tactic of oppression,” by the way.  During the period of intense anti-Irish sentiment in the U.S. and Britain, the Irish were routinely compared to apes as well.

So, there you have it.  Connections have been drawn between black people and primates for hundreds of years.  Whatever else you want to think about modern instances of this association — the one Wade and her child are suffering now, but also the Obama sock monkey, the Black Lil’ Monkey doll, and a political cartoon targeting Obama — objections are not just paranoia.

(I’m sorry not to provide a full set of links.  I’ve collected them over the years for my Race and Ethnicity class.  But a lot of the images and information came from 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.

Raised by a racist father, Johnny Lee Clary joined the Klan in 1963 at the age of 14. By 30, he had risen through the ranks and was named the Imperial Wizard, the leader of the entire organization.  He was an outspoken advocate of white supremacy and violence against non-whites, even appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show.

In this four-minute video, he discusses his association with Reverend Wade Watts, a Black civil rights activist and member of the NAACP.  Watts expressed kindness and love towards Clary, even in the face of escalating violence (Clary ultimately set fire to his church).  Deeply affected by Watts, Clary would eventually recant his association with the KKK and join Watts in the fight against racism.

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.

In a previous post I discussed how the U.S. became more religious in the 1950s, in part in response to its the Cold War enemies (atheist communists).  In fact, the U.S. is among the most religious countries in the world.  Using data from the International Social Survey Programme, Sociologist Tom Smith paints wildly different religious portraits of 28 nations (full text).

When asked whether they “know that God really exists and… have no doubt about it,” 61% of Americans say “yes.”  Of the 28 nations studied, only four were more likely to say “yes” to this question: Poland, Israel, Chile, and the Philippines. Here’s how we look compared to similar countries:

Here’s all 28 in rank order (borrowed from LiveScience).  Notice how wide the divergence is.  In Japan, the least religious country according to this measure, only 4% say they have no doubt God exists.  In The Philippines, 84% have no doubt.

% Have No Doubt God Exists:

  • Japan: 4.3 percent
  • East Germany: 7.8 percent
  • Sweden: 10.2
  • Czech Republic: 11.1
  • Denmark: 13.0
  • Norway: 14.8
  • France: 15.5
  • Great Britain: 16.8
  • The Netherlands: 21.2
  • Austria: 21.4
  • Latvia: 21.7
  • Hungary: 23.5
  • Slovenia: 23.6
  • Australia: 24.9
  • Switzerland: 25.0
  • New Zealand: 26.4
  • West Germany: 26.7
  • Russia: 30.5
  • Spain: 38.4
  • Slovakia: 39.2
  • Italy: 41.0
  • Ireland: 43.2
  • Northern Ireland: 45.6
  • Portugal: 50.9
  • Cyprus: 59.0
  • United States: 60.6
  • Poland: 62.0
  • Israel: 65.5
  • Chile: 79.4
  • The Philippines: 83.6

Americans are also particularly likely to believe in a “personal God,” one who is closely attentive to the lives of each and every person.

Quite interestingly, the U.S. is in the minority in that Americans tend to become increasingly religious as they age.  In most countries, people become less religious over time.  This graph (confusingly labeled), shows changes in DISbelief over the life course.  The U.S. is the only country among these in which disbelief declines:

Lifetime Change in Religiosity (from increase in disbelief to increase in belief):

  • The Netherlands: -14.0
  • Spain: -12.4
  • Australia: -12.0
  • France: -11.3
  • Norway: -11.0
  • Great Britain: -10.1
  • Switzerland: -8.2
  • Germany (East): -6.9
  • Denmark: -6.1
  • Czech Republic: -5.5
  • Sweden: -5.5
  • Germany (West): -5.4
  • New Zealand: -4.0
  • Italy: -2.7
  • Poland: -1.8
  • Japan: -1.5
  • Ireland: -0.9
  • Chile: +0.1
  • Cyprus: +0.2
  • Portugal: +0.6
  • The Philippines: +0.8
  • Hungary: +1.0
  • Northern Ireland: +1.0
  • United States: +1.4
  • Israel: +2.6
  • Slovakia: +5.6
  • Slovenia: +8.5
  • Latvia: +11.9
  • Russia: +16.0

Rates of atheism — a strong disbelief in God — also vary tremendously.  East Germany is the most atheist, with more than half of citizens claiming disbelief.  The country is a stark contrast to the atheist among them, Poland and the U.S. (only 3% atheist), Chile and Cyprus (2%), and The Phillipines (1%).

% Atheist:

  • East Germany: 52.1
  • Czech Republic: 39.9
  • France: 23.3
  • The Netherlands: 19.7
  • Sweden: 19.3
  • Latvia: 18.3
  • Great Britain: 18.0
  • Denmark: 17.9
  • Norway: 17.4
  • Australia: 15.9
  • Hungary: 15.2
  • Slovenia: 13.2
  • New Zealand: 12.6
  • Slovakia: 11.7
  • West Germany: 10.3
  • Spain: 9.7
  • Switzerland: 9.3
  • Austria: 9.2
  • Japan: 8.7
  • Russia: 6.8
  • Northern Ireland: 6.6
  • Israel: 6.0
  • Italy: 5.9
  • Portugal: 5.1
  • Ireland: 5.0
  • Poland: 3.3
  • United States: 3.0
  • Chile: 1.9
  • Cyprus: 1.9
  • The Philippines: 0.7

As a post-9/11 American watching another election cycle, I can’t help but notice how so much of our rhetoric revolves — sometimes overtly and sometimes not — around people who are the wrong religion.  Notably, Muslims.  And yet, the U.S. and many Muslim countries are alike in being strongly religious, at least in comparison to the many strongly secular countries.

This is odd because stands in contrast to recent data on American attitudes.  Within the U.S., people express much less tolerance for atheists than they do Muslims (homosexuals, African Americans, and immigrants). Weirdly, we think we have more in common with more secular nations like Great Britain than we do with countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. In certain ways, the opposite might be true.

Thanks to Claude Fischer for the graphs.  Fischer, a sociologist at UC Berkeley, is the author of Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character.

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.