Discussion: Religions

The topic of religions can be uncomfortable because of our individual issues of faith and observance and/or intolerance of other points of view. This discomfort can serve as a conversation point for these reasons: the geographic study of religion is not interested in whether a particular religion is "right" or "wrong," but rather that geographers are interested in how religious beliefs affect the use of space and impact the landscape. With that in mind, this is an emotional, yet simple topic to examine because the competition for space (land) based on religions with overlapping claims is so popular.

Take a look at world map on pages 128 and 129 in your text. Study it closely. What two things jump out at you about the distribution of the world’s major religions? Look for patterns and be alert to surprising things that appear in these patterns.

I was most struck by how poorly this map was put together. The colors for the different religions are too close to each other ... each religious family should have been part of the same color family, with variations within that range for the various branches. grrr. I looked up a different map so that I could visualize it better.
To actually answer the question: I was interested to see that even though Protestantism originated in Germany, it did not spread very far in Europe (mainly Germany, the UK and Scandinavia), and globally, mostly took root in a few areas that the British Colonized.

I am also interested to see that with the exception of central Africa, and India, the entire world is dominated by universalizing religions. I'm a bit sad abut that, as I think ethnic religions are more interesting :-)

We know that people carry their religious beliefs with them when they migrate and over time, change occurs in the regions from which most U.S. immigrants originate and in the U.S. regions where they settle. How has the distribution of U.S. religious groups been affected by these changes?

I know that the discrimination of Jews and certain protestant groups in Europe in the 1400s onward drove them to seek out America as a refuge. Because of this we have higher numbers of these "fringe" religious groups than other nations (despite constant antagonism towards them throughout our history). As countries or states created laws against specific religious groups, it pushed them out of those regions and into new areas where they hoped to be allowed to practice their religion without persecution (although this was almost never the case in the long run). In the united states, as new religions would migrate to the United states or become created by new religious leaders, the adherents would move farther and farther west, as that was the area where there would be the least amount of discrimination (since there were no neighbors!) You can see this on the map of the distribution of Protestants in the US. On the east coast, it is fairly evenly divided - all the baptists live together, all the Methodists live together, and all the Lutherans live together. In the western states (especially northwestern), on the other hand, it looks like a checkers board! with all of the religions mixing together and chance more than anything dictating which has the greatest number of congregants.

Describe the differences between Roman and Orthodox Catholicism. Include in your explanation the location of where both are located today.

Roman Catholics broke from the main body of the christian church when they adopted the pope as a "super-bishop" over the other bishops. In the Orthodox church, each Bishop is sovereign over his own area. Because of this differences arose where the Orthodox religion changes less doctrinally because of the checks that having a non-central governing system tends to have on groups. These two forms of Catholicism also differ because of the regions in which they center. Orthodox clergy wear beards and can marry, Roman clergy are celibate and are smooth faced. Roman Eucharist is flat (unleavened), where Orthodox Eucharist is fluffy (leavened). The Roman Catholics dispersed to much of the former Roman Empire, and then to those countries colonies in South America, Africa and Asia. The Orthodox catholic church dispersed throughout Western and Northern Asia, following the paths of least resistance. The areas in Europe that had the least Roman influence (Britain, Scandinavia and Germany) were the countries that left Catholicism for Protestantism in later times.

Source: Differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and the maps in our text book.

Name one area of the world where more than one religion is present and describe the area and the religions. How does religion play a role in the area?

I'm going to go with Japan because it has some interesting religious circumstances.

Japan is a large group of islands off the northeast coast of Asia in the Pacific ocean. If you look at the CIA Factbook for Japan, you'll see this breakdown of religious affiliation: Shintoism 83.9%, Buddhism 71.4%, Christianity 2%, other 7.8% ... You might notice that this far exceeds 100%. This is because in Japan, many (most!) people do not consider themselves to be of one religion or another. A Japanese person may have birth and childhood ceremonies in a Shinto shrine, a Christian wedding, venerate both Buddhist and Shinto deities in their home and then have a Buddhist funeral. Another aspect of Japanese religion is that an estimated 50 to 80 percent of Japanese are non-religious, and do not believe in God or Buddha. Japan has long had a tradition of religious syncretism, which means that the various religions of the area sync together rather than conflict. Many of the Buddhas merged together with the Kami of Shintoism to become different aspects of the same deity.

Shintoism concerns itself with the lives of the people. The word Shinto is the Chinese form of the Japanese name for the religion, kami-no-michi, which means 'The way of the Kami'. Kami is the Japanese word for divine essence or spirit. The religion is organized through local shrines. Each shrine is devoted to a Kami. There are small shrines, devoted to personal ancestors or local natural landmarks (such as a waterfall or an old tree). There are moderately sized shrines devoted to local deities or national deities or cultural heroes. These usually serve towns or small sections of a city. Then, there are the really important shrines that are devoted to national deities or very large natural landmarks such as mountains and Volcanoes. The shrine is kept by a priest who acts as a community leader, teacher and clergy. In larger shrines, there are many attendants and other ancillary roles that keep the shrine running. I could keep writing about Shinto for waaaay too long :-) It is a religion based on the idea that everything has a spirit, and those spirits can live on after death. They are attached to humans, natural landmarks, plants, animals and inanimate objects. These spirits must be treated with respect or they will become angry or depressed, causing things to go wrong.

Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century, along with much other Chinese culture. It was adopted by the aristocracy and then spread to the rest of the population. Most forms of Buddhism are present in Japan, but all of them have been modified by Shintoism, which did not have a name before Buddhism was introduced (as it was just part of life, they had not conceived of a life without their traditions and culture).

The other religions in Japan include Christianity, the folk religion of the Ainu in northern Japan and the people of the Ryukyu islands, Baha'i, Islamism, Hinduism, and Judaism.

Shinto, The Kami Way, by Sokyo Ono;
The Essence of Shinto, by Motohisa Yamakage;
Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change, by Ichiro Hori;
Religious demographics in Japan

Our map assignment for this week is Asia so let's examine an historical event that occurred in the U.S. during WWII that involved an Asian culture: the internment of people of Japanese descent throughout the western U.S. If you do not know about the practice of interning the Japanese during WW II, please do some research before you participate in this discussion point. View this YouTube video on Japanese Internment Camps. Also please view these three documents: the Resettlement Order, Instructions to Japanese, and the Apology. The United States was involved in battles around the world during WWII. From a geographical perspective, what were the pros and cons of the practice of interring the Japanese?

The US government was worried that people living in the United States of Japanese ethnicity would hold a greater allegiance to their country of origin than to the United States. They targeted Japanese community leaders regardless of their opinions on the war or how long they or their families had been living in the United States. The pros to this practice (in light of the goal, I personally think it was horrible) was to break up the concentrations of Japanese families. The US used to have as many Japan towns as China towns. Now however, they have almost all dissipated. If there had been an uprising among this ethnic population, this breakup of the communities would have effectively halted it, as a people divided and kept apart have little means to work together for any end. A con to this practice is very much related. The Japanese in this country no longer have a cultural hearth that they can look to for support. For a people that had been so seeped in tradition and culture to no longer have access to other people who practice as they do or have a shared history is robbing all of us of the richness that diverse cultures bring to our country.

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