Ethnicity and Religion Sociology

Did you know that in the UK, ethnic minorities tend to be more religious? 

Ethnicity and Religion Sociology Ethnicity and Religion Sociology

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    Tariq Modood et al. (1997) found that less than one-third of Christians said they practised religion regularly while 80 per cent of Muslims and around two-thirds of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews said religion is an important part of their everyday lives.

    Why may this be? We will try to answer this in this explanation.

    • We will look at the connection between ethnicity and religion.
    • Then, we will present some statistics regarding the relationship between ethnicity and religion in the UK.
    • We will discuss the reasons for the higher level of religious involvement among certain ethnic groups.

    Why is it difficult to measure the religiosity of ethnic social groups?

    Data on religiosity and religious belief is usually based on surveys and church censuses.

    While people might not be completely honest in surveys, certain religious organisations might inflate their membership to give more importance to themselves as social institutions. As a result, the sociological data on the relationship between religiosity and ethnic social groups can be misleading and should be handled with caution.

    Ethnicity and Religion, Photo of person holding pen to fill out survey, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Surveys are often used in order to gather data on the religious beliefs and religiosity of the population.

    Ethnicity and religion in the UK

    The UK is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Christians represent the biggest religious group, while Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs are also significant in numbers.

    Most Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs are from ethnic minority groups, while many Christians are Afro-Caribbean. British Muslims are often of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, while Sikhs and Hindus are usually of Indian heritage.

    There have been many immigrants to the UK from Ireland and Eastern Europe, Poland for example. They are predominantly Roman Catholics and participate in religious activities in high numbers.

    Difference between ethnicity and religion

    There is a difference between a person's ethnicity and religion. Ethnicity is used to classify people into social groups according to their shared culture, language, and heritage. On the other hand, religion refers to a specific system of beliefs and worship. It is usually closely connected to ethnicity because it contributes to the culture and customs of a people. Individuals with the same religious beliefs are often from the same ethnic group, although this is not always the case.

    Jewish ethnicity and religion

    Jewishness, for example, can refer to both a person's ethnicity and religion.

    However, there are believers of Judaism who have non-Jewish heritage, and are of non-Jewish ethnicity.

    Examples of ethnic minority religions in the UK

    In the UK, the following religions are ethnic minority religions:

    • Islam
    • Hinduism
    • Sikhism
    • Judaism
    • Buddhism

    These represent large ethnic minority religions

    Ethnic minorities and religion

    Tariq Modood et al. (1997) found that the rates of religious participation are higher than average among ethnic minority communities in the UK. While less than one-third of Christians said they practised religion regularly, 80 percent of Muslims and around two-thirds of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews said religion is an important part of their everyday lives.

    O’Beirne (2004) found that Muslims, Hindus, and Black Christians determine religion to be a significant factor in their identity. Muslims regard religion as being equally important in their identity formation as their family, while African-Caribbeans and Black Africans on average cite religion as the third-most significant facet of their identity. In contrast, white Christians rarely attribute any importance to their religion in their identity.

    Statistics show that Christianity, the Church of England in particular, is a predominantly white religion. Black Christians are more likely to be active churchgoers than White Christians, and they comprise the majority of Pentecostal church membership. Roman Catholics are often from White Irish or Eastern European backgrounds.

    Relationship between religion and ethnicity

    Sociologists argue that there are four main reasons for the higher level of religious involvement among minority ethnic groups. We will look at the relationship and the difference of these explanations.

    Cultural defence theory

    Steve Bruce (2002) claimed that religion can be a source of emotional support for those who live in an uncertain, often hostile, new cultural environment.

    Bird (1999) held that individuals of a cultural minority can find a community and a sense of home through religion. These religious communities provide space for the preservation of the minority culture and language in an oppressive, sometimes racist atmosphere.

    Black African and Caribbean immigrants moved to Pentecostal churches after they experienced a lack of acceptance and support in white Christian churches in the UK.

    Cultural transition theory

    Most ethnic minority migrants in Britain came from rather traditional, religious societies; religion has helped these migrants cope with the practical and emotional difficulties of adjusting to a new culture. Religious institutions provide a sense of community and a common cause for all their followers.

    According to cultural transition theory, once a community has settled into a new environment, their religiosity gradually decreases. Third and fourth generation immigrants are more integrated and therefore less likely to be as religious as their parents and grandparents.

    George Chryssides claimed that immigrants in a country could respond to the new environment in three ways:

    • Apostasy: The act of turning away completely from their previous beliefs to fit into the new environment.
    • Accommodation: The adaptation of their previous religious beliefs to the values of the new country.
    • Renewed vigour: Refers to the increase in religious fundamentalism as a response to an unwelcoming new environment.

    Weberianism

    Max Weber drew a connection between religiosity, ethnicity, and poverty (1920). He claimed that ethnic minorities usually experience higher levels of social and economic deprivation, and living in poverty eventually turns them towards religion. This is because religious faith can provide guidance and support in difficult circumstances.

    Ken Pryce asserted that the core values of Pentecostalism - for example, the importance of community, family, and hard work - are all useful guidance in coping with poverty and emotional deprivation, which the lower classes and ethnic minorities suffer from. No wonder, he suggested, that British Pentecostalism is more popular among ethnic minorities (1979).

    Neo-Marxism

    Neo-Marxists, led by Otto Maduro, claim that religious institutions, thanks to their economic independence, can generate revolutionary change for society's oppressed. Neo-Marxists have observed that the resistance of ethnic minorities to their exploitation was often based in religious institutions. (The Neo-Marxist explanation applies more to the US than to the UK.)

    Ethnicity and Religion Sociology - Key Takeaways

    • Sociological data on the religiosity of ethnic social groups can be misleading and should be handled with caution.
    • The UK is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society where Christians represent the biggest religious group, while Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs are also significant in numbers.
    • Religion is usually closely connected to ethnicity, as it contributes to people's cultural identities. People with the same religious beliefs are often from the same ethnic group, though this is not always the case.
    • Sociologists have come up with four main arguments for the higher level of religious involvement among ethnic groups:
      • Cultural defence theory
      • Cultural transition theory
      • Weberianism
      • Neo-Marxism
    Ethnicity and Religion Sociology Ethnicity and Religion Sociology
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Ethnicity and Religion Sociology

    What are examples of ethnicity?

    • South Asian 
    • Black African
    • Afro-Caribbean
    • Jewish

    Why are ethnicity and religion important?

    Sociologists find it important to research the attitudes and religiosity of different ethnic groups in order to highlight cultural differences between them.

    How are ethnicity and religion related?

    Religion is usually closely connected to ethnicity, as it contributes to people's cultural identities. People with the same religious beliefs are often (but not always) from the same ethnic group.

    What are the similarities between an ethnic group and a religious group?

    An ethnic group refers to a social group based on common language, culture, and heritage. Religious groups also tend to have common cultural practices, but instead of heritage and language, it is their belief system that connects them.

    What is the difference between ethnicity and religion?

    Ethnicity is used to classify people into social groups according to their common culture, language, and heritage. 

    Religion refers to a specific system of beliefs and worship.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these religions is not an example of an ethnic religion in the UK?

    Statistics show that Christianity, the Church of England in particular, is a predominantly white religion in the UK.

    Roman Catholics in the UK are never from White Irish or Eastern European backgrounds.

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