Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Side-Tracking 101

I learned how to do it in high school.

I perfected it during undergrad.

Now, I'm unintentionally doing it in my graduate classes.

Don't ask me how we did it, but somehow in REL 601: "Approaches to the Study of Religion" tonight I found an opportunity to drop the fact that a friend of mine from high school is now an adult film star and we wound up explaining to our prof. about "Furries". know, "Furries".

Durkheim would have been proud?

Seriously though, this conversation started because we were discussing Emile Durkheim's definition of religion-

"A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e. things set apart & forbidden-- beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them."

For Durkheim, religion is an expression of social cohesion. Its rituals serve as a reaffirmation of the society for its members. But, and this was our question for Durkheim, where do you draw the line?

The comment I made which got us side-tracked had to do with the internet and the cyber-communities we create. How do sites like Facebook, Myspace and even Second Life (where your avatar can attend mass and other religious services) affect our society and thereby our religious practices?

Facebook and blogs create arbitrary communities. We can choose to join, to participate and then just leave with no consequences. We create relationships with people we hardly know, keep up relationships with barely any effort and extend our social network further than someone like Durkheim in the early days of sociology would have imagined possible. It's so fascinating!

Long story of how we got to Furries short- If a group fits the requirements for a religion, can it be called a religion? Fetish groups and other online communities seem to fit Durkheim's 4 major functions of religion-
  1. Disciplinary, forcing or administrating discipline
  2. Cohesive, bringing people together, a strong bond
  3. Vitalizing, to make more lively or vigorous, vitalise, boost spirit
  4. Euphoric, a good feeling, happiness, confidence, well-being
But perhaps we're really just replacing the real deal with easier, less demanding substitutes.

So here are my questions for you, fearless readers-
What's your new religion?
And how do you feel about online communities? Are they a positive experience? Or are they even a real society?



RP said...

In today's world of email, AIM, text messaging and the like, people are becoming more and more detached from each other. These online communities are just another example of this. Its far easier, and far more acceptable to communicate over a distance than it is face to face. In the case of the Furries...far more annonymous

Katherine said...

So, who was that? because I don't remember her.

There was an episode of CSI about furries. But we all know I'm definitely on the phobic side of the furry spectrum.

There's this costume called "Happy Bear" that the girls at work use to teach kids about welcome and unwelcome touch and proper names for body parts. And the new joke is to leave the head lying around for me to stumble upon so they can hear me scream in terror. Yeah. So fun.

17 days until we're another year older!

Themindtaker said...

Hmm... gts count?

Actually, my aunt is some sort of "deacon" at a Secular Humanist "church" (I'm sure they use less religiously inclined terminology), and although the third rule of Secular Humanism (after the first two rules: do not talk about secular humanism) is that it is most definitely not a religion.

But it sounds to me like Durkheim would have disagreed.

Mark said...

I think Durkheim's criteria is being applied a little liberally for some of this stuff. There are a couple of catches in his definition that make it a little tighter than just text messages and Furries. First, he says it has to apply to something "sacred things...things set apart and forbidden." I think that cuts out most of the secular stuff on the discussion table at the moment.

The next thing that makes me question lumping things into the category of "religion" is Durkheim's notion that a religion is a "unified system of beliefs and practices." I think perhaps my notion of "beliefs" is kinda narrow, but pairing the idea that you have to have some form of beliefs and that they have to be unified within that tradition, it would seem to cut out any forms of Furries and the like into the category.

I still hold personally that some form of transcendence has to be in place for a religion to be fully there. Whether it be heaven, reincarnation, or simply working to perfect the community, something bigger than yourself and getting off on a woman in a bunny suite seems to be present in all religions. Just some food for thought! :)

lindsey said...

Mark- I think you might have a pre-conceived notion of what is "sacred". The only real requirement for something to be sacred (in Durkheim's view) is that it is agreed upon by being sacred or set apart and protected by the group.

Within groups, even fetish groups, I'm sure one could identify ideas or images or objects that are "sacred" for those group members, as opposed to the "profane" which are the mundane things of everyday life.

Just a thought.

PeterAtLarge said...

I'm not sure that it matters much to me whether people "come and go" from the online community that I'm just beginning to sense. In fact, I kind of like the fluidity and the virtuality of it. There's mystery here, too. I never felt comfortable with the monolithic strutures that religions tend to promote--whether literal ("churches") or figurative (dogmas.) My two cents... (Ny the way, I note that my "word verification" code, below, is "gdadgd"--suggestive, no?