How Is Religion a Socially Constructed Category? Critical Conversation #17

journal of college and character

April 22, 2019

Our Focus Author for this quarter (May 2019) is Keon M. McGuire, Arizona State University. His article Religion and its Intersections: Spirituality, Secularism and Religion among Black Diasporic Communities in Higher Education” will be published in the May 2019 issue of the Journal of College and Character.

Below, he responds to questions posed by JCC co-editor Jon Dalton:

What do you mean by your statement that religion is a socially constructed category?

We often treat religion as a set of ideas and practices that largely exist the same across time and space, which is to say contexts. In this way, we think of religion as some form of regulated practices and sacred text that are explicitly tied to local and global institutions. While this is certainly true, what we often deemphasize are the ways religion is created and constructed by human beings to accomplish diverse goals. Thus, in the same way we attempt to understand how race or gender are socially constructed – vis-à-vis history, everyday actions, geography, family, land, sociopolitical economies – we must understand how religion is constructed. Moreover, once we understand how religion is constructed in particular contexts, we need to ask how does it influence and inform the social relationships between students as well as how students understand themselves. As religious scholar Monica Miller argues, we must look at what people are doing with religion in their everyday lives.

What are some significant “blind spots” in contemporary research on Black students’ spiritual identity?

In higher and postsecondary educational research on Black students’ spiritual identities there remain several under examined areas. As I discuss in the article, the vast heterogeneity of Black students’ spiritual lives are often rendered invisible as most research focuses on the experiences of Christian students. As such, research on secular students as well as those of non-Christian faiths should be a priority for educators and scholars. Also, considering the various ways Black life is consistently treated as disposable – both through proactive acts of violence and perpetual governmental neglect – understanding how Black students work towards healing and sustain joy would be worth exploring.

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