Jamaica Gleaner - - YL - JA­SON MCINTOSH Con­trib­u­tor Ja­son McIntosh teaches at The Queen’s School. Send ques­tions and com­ments to kerry-ann.hep­burn@glean­

Goal: For stu­dents to gain an un­der­stand­ing of how re­li­gion im­pacts the lives of Caribbean peo­ple.


1. De­fine re­li­gion and ex­plain the char­ac­ter­is­tic of re­li­gion. 2. Ex­plain how re­li­gion in­te­grates the Caribbean so­ci­ety. 3. De­scribe how re­li­gion acts as a medium of so­cial con­trol. 4. Ex­am­ine the syn­cretism of re­li­gious forms in the Caribbean. 5. Ex­am­ine the con­flict and func­tion­al­ist per­spec­tives of re­li­gion.

6. As­sess the im­pact of re­li­gion on Caribbean so­ci­ety and cul­ture.


A sys­tem of be­liefs, rit­u­als and cer­e­monies. Fo­cuses on sa­cred mat­ters. Pro­motes com­mu­nity among fol­low­ers. Pro­vides a per­sonal spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence for its mem­bers. The so­cial in­sti­tu­tion of re­li­gion is that realm of so­ci­ety where our be­liefs about a su­per­nat­u­ral power, an af­ter­life, and how these im­pact our lives ex­ist. Spe­cific re­li­gions as well as churches, mosques, tem­ples and halls of wor­ship are tan­gi­ble out­comes or forms of so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion that re­flect the be­liefs and val­ues of re­li­gion.


Ideas, based upon faith, that peo­ple con­sider true. The sa­cred and pro­fane

Sa­cred: that which has su­per­nat­u­ral qual­i­ties.

Pro­fane: that which is the or­di­nary. Rit­u­als

Rou­tines that re­in­force the faith. Moral com­mu­ni­ties

Peo­ple who share a re­li­gious be­lief. Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence

Grants mean­ing to life.

Re­li­gion, over the years, dat­ing as far back as to com­mu­nal so­ci­eties, has ex­pe­ri­enced a great trans­for­ma­tion. In com­mu­nal so­ci­eties, re­li­gion per­me­ated all as­pects of so­ci­ety be­cause hunters/gath­er­ers de­pended on their gods for a suc­cess­ful farm­ing year, good weather, luck and for­tune. How­ever, in con­tem­po­rary in­dus­trial so­ci­ety, the in­sti­tu­tion of re­li­gion has be­come sep­a­rated from many so­cial and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties.

Re­li­gion has the power to con­trol and in­te­grate peo­ple in any given so­ci­ety. So­ci­ol­o­gist Emile Durkheim is of the view that re­li­gion is an in­te­gra­tive force, be­ing that it: Gives mean­ing and pur­pose to peo­ple’s lives. Of­fers ul­ti­mate val­ues and ends to hold in com­mon. Serves to bind peo­ple to­gether in times of cri­sis and con­fu­sion. Karl Marx, on the other hand, be­lieves that the in­sti­tu­tion of re­li­gion is a medium of so­cial con­trol in any given so­ci­ety, since: Peo­ple fo­cus on oth­er­worldly con­cerns. Re­li­gion drugs masses into sub­mis­sion by of­fer­ing a con­so­la­tion for their harsh lives on Earth. Re­li­gion’s pro­mo­tion of so­cial sta­bil­ity helps to per­pet­u­ate pat­terns of so­cial in­equal­ity. Women have played fun­da­men­tal role in re­li­gious so­cial­iza­tion, but gen­er­ally take sub­or­di­nate role in re­li­gious lead­er­ship. Most re­li­gions are pa­tri­ar­chal and re­in­force men’s dom­i­nance in sec­u­lar and spir­i­tual mat­ters. Women com­pose 12.8 per cent of US clergy, but ac­count for 51 per cent of the­ol­ogy stu­dents.


Func­tion­al­ist per­spec­tives on re­li­gion Since so­cial or­der is a car­di­nal value of the func­tion­al­ist’s view of so­ci­ety, so­cial in­sti­tu­tions are ex­plained in terms of how they can con­trib­ute to in­te­gra­tion and har­mony in so­ci­ety. One may find it strange that re­li­gion, which is con­cerned with su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers and mys­ti­cism, should be thought of in this way, but func­tion­al­ists see a fun­da­men­tal link be­tween re­li­gion and the main­te­nance of so­cial sta­bil­ity. Com­mit­ment to cer­tain be­liefs, rit­u­als and forms of wor­ship are mech­a­nisms that in­crease the lev­els of so­cial sol­i­dar­ity among peo­ple. Re­li­gion tends to be con­ser­va­tive in na­ture, preach­ing obe­di­ence and per­se­ver­ance through suf­fer­ing, em­pha­sis­ing an ethic of care for one’s fel­low man, as well as virtues such as truth, dis­ci­pline and tem­per­ance. Func­tion­al­ists, there­fore, see re­li­gion as play­ing a ma­jor role in so­cial co­he­sion. Re­li­gion pro­vides a ba­sis for so­cial or­der be­cause they are based on con­sen­sual val­ues.


Marx­ists re­gard re­li­gion as serv­ing the needs of those groups dom­i­nant in the econ­omy. Re­li­gion acts as a con­ser­va­tive force in the so­ci­ety by mak­ing le­git­i­mate the val­ues that the cap­i­tal­ist ma­chin­ery needs to con­tinue to ac­cu­mu­late prof­its. While we un­der­stand the world view held on re­li­gion, Marx­ists chal­lenge us to re­flect on our ori­en­ta­tion to re­li­gion and de­cide to what ex­tent it is pre­serv­ing the sta­tus quo or about per­sonal sal­va­tion and em­pow­er­ment.


The Caribbean has a va­ri­ety of re­li­gions with Chris­tian­ity be­ing the most dom­i­nant.

There are es­tab­lished churches: Angli­can, Catholic, Bap­tist, Pres­by­te­rian, etc.

There are those churches that are syn­cretic in na­ture. These churches are a mix of Euro­pean and African prac­tices to cre­ate new forms of wor­ship. Ex­am­ples of these are the Shouter Bap­tists of Trinidad, New Tes­ta­ment Church of God, Re­vival­ists, etc.

Syn­cretism of re­li­gious forms in the Caribbean dis­plays el­e­ments of re­sis­tance, in­de­pen­dence and a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the divine. Syn­cretic re­li­gions, there­fore, help to com­fort the wor­ship­per and op­pose main­stream val­ues, thus seek­ing to un­der­mine the sta­tus quo. How­ever, these re­li­gions do not have a ma­jor­ity fol­low­ing yet. Their value sys­tems are not dom­i­nant in the so­cial in­sti­tu­tion of re­li­gion. Over­all, the func­tion­al­ist ideas of re­li­gion, and how it im­pacts our lives, tend to dom­i­nate. Many forms of syn­cretic re­li­gions in the Caribbean at­test to the de­sire of Caribbean peo­ple to not only fash­ion be­liefs and wor­ship so that they can find so­lace and com­fort but, in so do­ing, to re­sist tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tional val­ues


Re­li­gion im­pacts our lives as a con­ser­va­tive force as­so­ci­ated largely with pos­i­tive val­ues. More­over, Chris­tian re­li­gion is le­git­imized by the val­ues in the so­cial in­sti­tu­tion of re­li­gion more than any other form of wor­ship. Chris­tian wor­ship, then, has his­tor­i­cally been as­so­ci­ated with pre­serv­ing the so­cial life per the norms and cus­toms of Euro­pean and Caribbean peo­ple who have ac­cepted those val­ues. Marx­ists, on the other hand, choose to dis­rupt the pos­i­tive mes­sages as­so­ci­ated with re­li­gion. They be­lieve re­li­gion has “hood­winked” the masses into be­liev­ing that they can find peace and com­fort through wor­ship. Syn­cretism of re­li­gious forms in the Caribbean dis­plays el­e­ments of re­sis­tance, in­de­pen­dence and a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the divine.

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