Why I switched my major from Sociology to Religious Studies (not that that was the be all and end all…)

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This morning I came across a tweeted story (below) that at first glance I liked. It reminded me of my sociology days at Trent university where many of the professors in that department were above average. Especially in sociological theory. John Hillman covered the classical thinkers with an admirable depth for an undergrad course. Frank Nutch was the fun, alternative professor; a real gem of a guy who introduced me to the sociology of science. Andrew Werknick covered contemporary sociological theory, mostly European. Coming from the UK, Wernick seemed to have a close connection to the European scene. And the late Alexander Wilson was one of the coolest guys you could ever hope to meet. Up from California, he talked about Disneyland as a microcosm for all the imagery and spin we see in the greater North American media. These guys and a few other professors, male and female, really opened my mind. And I thank them.

But it wasn’t enough and I had to move on to something more comprehensive. Hence my switch to comparative religion and then religious studies. Not surprisingly, I used a sociological method (the postmodern work of Michel Foucault) in my doctoral thesis on Carl Jung. I was happy to graduate but, to be honest, that work was the outcome of so many strange and unsettling political forces that I don’t see it as a pinnacle of personal achievement. In retrospect, I see my graduate studies as another bridge I had to cross.

Anyhow, here’s a quote from this morning’s tweeted story:

For Bahro, a peaceful eco-communist alternative to capitalism is both possible and essential, but the belief that capitalism offers a life that is desirable must first be overturned if this alternative is to flourish. Through a variety of psychological strategies subsumed under the rubric of ‘retail therapy’, capitalism promotes pseudo-individualistic lifestyles, drives the desires of the self-absorbed, and promises fulfillment from the menu of all-you-can-eat. Retail therapy locates meaning in life through clothes, cars, homes, holidays and furniture. (view in context).

So what’s wrong with this view?

Well, the overall piece talks about spirituality but it sets up a false conflict between capitalism and spirituality. For me, going out to shop can be a spiritual exercise. We don’t need to compartmentalize “spirituality” and “the world” as so many hack thinkers do. It’s not as if God closes his or her eyes the moment we decide to enter a Pizza Hut or Tim Hortons. Far from it. If we do not objectify other people, interacting with employees can be quite spiritual and an important part of one’s overall journey.

So why the sharp division between “capitalism” and “spirituality?”

A person with any spiritual depth understands that God is everywhere. He or She is not just locked up in monasteries or in the Green movement. Everywhere is everywhere. Period.

All we really have to do is open our eyes and see what’s already there. And I think this perspective, if anything, would help to make the world a better, fairer place. If we see other people as our human brothers and sisters, there is far less chance of wanting to exploit, lie, cheat or rob.

Sadly, the biggest joke is that religion often bolsters people into doing bad things. These people believe the end justifies the means. But in most cases that’s ass backwards. As the good book teaches:

A good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit (Matt. 7-17).

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  1. So, funny story. Before accepting to study education at Lakehead University I was offered to study Sociology at Trent. I turned it down because my goal was to become a teacher and in doing so I had the pleasure of studying World Religions for one of my Anthro credits.
    Now, onto this post.
    When it comes to your comment, “All we really have to do is open our eyes and see what’s already there. And I think this perspective, if anything, would help to make the world a better, fairer place.” I have to agree with you but unfortunately as much as the world has become more connected with technology we have become closed off from human interaction and civil discourse. Opening our eyes and seeing what’s already there would be a great thing, but sadly we can’t force people to see what they refuse to acknowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you probably made the right choice in going to Lakehead. When I last visited Trent (to give a talk) in the 90s it seemed like the tenor of the place had shifted. In the 80s it was pretty freewheeling. I didn’t get quite the same impression in the 90s.

      That’s funny that you’d comment on this because, in all honesty, I thought of you while writing that line. Your comments elsewhere about the woman in the beautiful hijab made an impression. I often think of you as an exemplar of open-mindedness.

      But you’re right. My words are a bit simplistic. And I was aware of that too. Best to tip the scales toward the positive, though.

      And yes, tech has changed the way we interact. But I think it’s just layered our experience to some degree. I mean, without the web we wouldn’t be having this discussion. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think they do. Last night I was watching a sci-if show called “Travellers” and people from the future were marvelling at all the wildlife and veg in the 21C. It made me think how we gain something and lose something with tech. But I agree, face to face is different than on the web. Mind you, some people can mask pretty well up close, so face to face is not necessarily more intimate, imo. 😊


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