Analysis of Wendy Cadge and Lynn Davidman’s Study on Religion and Identity

When trying to determine ones religious identity, there are two ways of classifying how we rationalize our religious lives. Ascription is the idea that one’s religious identity is the one that were born into. We inherit the religious experience. The contrasting idea is that religious identity is linked with achievement. This means that we relate how religion works into our lives, and the faith we hold in it based on how we practice it. Originally it has been said that people generally focus their religious beliefs based on one of these two frames of mind. Wendy Cadge and Lynn Davidman (To be referred to as Cadge/Davidman from now on) contend that in modern America, there is a blending of both ideas in the religious experience. Using a study of third generation Jews and first generation Buddhists, they make the case that religion in America does not follow one of the two theories, but rather a mixture of both, tailored to each person by their own beliefs and interpretations of their respective religions.

The importance of birth in religious identity can be found in almost any religion. Most people associate their religion very closely with family traditions, and generally people follow the religion they are born to. People identify with their born religion, and as they mature they branch out and explore religion to find practices and methods that suit their level of faith. There often is a very close correlation between Ethnicity and Religion. One Buddhist in the Cadge/Davidman study was quoted as saying, “to be Thai is to be Buddhist”. Often religion is so deeply rooted within the culture of a people that it begins to form its culture. The same case can be made for Judaism. Many Jews do not consider their faith based as much in their servitude and obedience of God as it is to a connection with a rich and historical culture and heritage. Some people do admit that, for example, not all Buddhists are Thai and not all Thai are Buddhist. But in America religion is plentiful, and most religions are a minority in a given community. This creates the need for a definite and strong religious identity.
Religion does not solely derive from its birth given identity. There is also a strong correlation between faith and practice. Within the idea of religious practice there are many contrasting views. Some believe that the community is a pivotal aspect of practice, while others maintain that religion is a very personal thing, and that though the use of a temple may be necessary, it can be done alone. A community can link religion to other important aspects of your life. Such as a religious community outreaching to the poor, or performing fundraisers. Being able to utilize religion in other walks of life brings us closer to our faith, and gives us a better understanding of ourselves and our own religious ambitions. The different views on how to practice religion is stemming from the interpretation of religions being taken from a uniform source, and instead being found inside of ourselves. The spoken word is more of a suggestion, but we look to the real answers of our faith in ourselves. This has caused many people to find the aspects of their religion that suit them, and not ignore the rest, but focus their lives on the parts they identify with. The rift caused by varying levels of faith in a single religion causes people to wonder what makes your religious identity. Does your religious identity consist of your actions and practices? Or are you a part of a larger entity? Does being born into a religion override our thoughts and feelings about faith in God?

It is believed that religious identity comes from our mixture of the two of these. Many base their entire belief system in the religion they are born into. There are converts and atheists, but on the most part people stick to the religion they are born into. So there is an aspect of ascription that can be found in most religions. But as we mature and our minds grasp the idea of what their religion stands for. There are holes where religion doesn’t explain, or where life just doesn’t fit into the religious schema. That is where people take the theory of achievement and mix it into their religious identity. We strive to find where religion is comfortable with us. Some like it at arms length, others attached at the hip. Practices are starting to take less and less a strict form, and are being more a representation of the intellectual ideal; giving slack to modernization and the complication of the day to day lifestyle. Since there are such varying interpretations of religion spreading, the classic two category religious associations cannot be used. Instead there is one big grey area. I believe there is a song to the name “Personal Jesus” that fits the idea fairly well.

I found this study interesting, because I find myself contemplating my own religious identity many times. Though I do not believe myself to be very religious, I use Catholicism as a frame of mind many times when I am thinking ethically or morally. So I can definitely say that my identity is influenced by my religious views. Cadge/Davidman used Buddhists and Jews because as minorities they would have more definite religious characteristics, and they would also be more concerned with confirming their own identity. While I agree with this idea, I also think there is something to be seen in the affirmation of one’s religious identity in a majority religion in America. There must be some contrasting views to that of a minority religion that would be interesting to compare. There was also an over complicating of the idea of practice versus birth. I believe that we initially place our faith deeply in the religion we are born into, but as humans we are also a questioning kind. As people grow older and more importantly independent, we start to tailor religion to suit ourselves. It is not pressed on us by parents; rather it is a personal issue. The freedom to pursue religion in America allows people to actively question faith, and determine what suits them best. This will inevitably lead to many factions being created. These are not all different religions, only different perspectives of the same religion. It is not a question of battling identities, but taking religious responsibilities yourself, and not listening to someone else tell you how it should be done.

Cadge/Davidman are merely stating that the two existing theories were too general to be applied to a large community. Because religion is ultimately a singular experience, there are many ways in which people practice the same religion. Some draw from their ancestry and heritage, others to their personal views and practices. Either way, people praise the same concept, just through a different means.

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