Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ethnic and Religious Identities; Further Separating an Increasingly Connected World

Some people reading this post may get the wrong idea when they first read this title. I would like to preface this post by recognizing that religion has many wonderful and positive qualities which bring people together by extraordinary means. What I plan to talk about is in no way trying to undermine these positive qualities.

After reading Eller and Teehan, and adding some Avalos in there, it has become even more apparent how divisive religion and ethnicity can be. This observation is nothing new and perhaps, too simple. It is human nature to form and be identified with groups, cliques, and organizations. Everyone, including myself, is guilty of this. In our struggle to form an identity, we use groups to define who we are. It comes with our competitive nature; which group is the best? This group mentality is magnified when it comes to ethnicity and religion.

Eller states that ethnicity is a conscious culture which mobilizes itself to compete with others. Ethnic groups afford some of the same benefits as religion; community, practice, institution, group privileges and an identity. It separates humanity into groups, with each coming into competition with others. Ethnic groups, are distinguished from each other by "the ethnic boundary that defines the group, not the cultural stuff that encloses it." (210) These boundaries could vary from geographical to physiological. Ethnicity provide another way for humans to group themselves. The same could be said of religion. Though it gets more complex with the metaphysical and cosmic aspect, humans are further separating, and subsequently defining themselves.

Now where does the conflict come into play? Conflict can start from different ethnic groups, or different religions, fighting over sacred space, resources, or physiological reasons. Teehan goes into detail on how one group can physiologically demonize another group by "characterizing foreign people as "abominations" and as "unclean"" to trigger "our evolved contagion-avoidance systems" (152). The fact that humans can possibly see others as "unclean" is the point I am trying to make. Ethnic and religious differences can separate us to the ends that we see others are things to be exterminated is horrifying. Our perceived differences are so powerful, that we have to the potential to dehumanize other as unfit for life. Our boundaries are stronger than our sense of humanity, at times. Religion and ethnicity are not the only factors to this, but each lie at the core foundation of one's values, perceptions and what one thinks and see's as truth. As a result, it has to be a starting point to see the origins of group-on-group violence.

In an increasingly interconnected world where people from different cultures and views are interacting, these ethnic and religious barriers are simultaneously being knocked down and fortified at the same time. Its part of who we are. We, as humanity, will never give up our groups. Bringing out the inner idealist in me, if we didn't separate ourselves into groups and malign others, would we have so much conflict? Even if we just stopped judging those with different than us (that don't actively harm others), would we have so much conflict? What I am trying to say is, are all political/religious conflicts based on the premise of group competition? (On a side note, another entire argument can be made that groups are the only reason we have politics and the essence of conflict itself)

Groups and identities define who we are and help create who we become. The group mentality fosters competitiveness and conflict. Compounded with different politics, religious views and senses of truths; humans have a lot of differences. Some people in this world fail to remember no matter what defines you, we're all the same in the end.

1 comment:

  1. Nice insights into the whole situation between ethnicity and religion. Personally, I tend to think that on almost all occasions, religious conflicts are followed by ethnicity conflicts and vice versa. It is also true that the evolutionary origins of religious and ethnic violence must be taken into consideration because they provide us with good basics about what constitutes religion and ethnicity and why we always associate ourselves with a particular group. Whether this association is productive or it further separate us from peoples of different ethnicity depends on the fundamental basics of the groups we are talking about. For example, in the conflict between ethnicity groups in Yugoslavia, we saw that the boundaries which separated Islam, Catholics Christianity and Orthodox Christianity were so strong and divisive that the conflict that ensued was based on ethnic clashes and religion. However, even if these boundaries did not exist I reckon that there would have been other reasons for conflicts other than religious or ethnic. That is why, most of the time religious and ethnic conflicts go along economic and social struggling. If it not for religion, other reasons over which people will fight for, will cause the conflict. Your last question raises a good point, but at the end is too extreme for my liking. Although group competition might be a main factor for political and religious conflicts, there are examples in the past when there were conflicts not based on that which group is superior to another (one example I can think of right now is colonization).