In a televised debate last week, Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Richard Mourdock explained why he opposes access to legal abortion for women, even in cases when women are raped: “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock’s comments set off a political firestorm. Although they reflected an almost universally held view among activists in the U.S. pro-life movement, they are at odds with the views of most Americans. And the incident reinforces the most common way most people view the relationship between religion and social movements: Mourdock roots his political beliefs in religious ones. His comments are a prime example of how religion can act as a source of beliefs and justifications within a social movement. Continue reading
Scholarship over the last fifteen years has demonstrated why religion is so useful to people trying to mobilize for change. A number of scholars have made what I would call “social organization” arguments – congregations are physical places that allow for meetings among like-minded participants who have established leaders and communication networks. Further, for many congregations, denominational ties provide built-in connections between the local and national. Other scholars focus more on the “cultural” dimensions of religion and mobilizing – religious ideas are easily adapted to the moralized meanings that form “injustice frames.” A sense of religious duty can get people to internalize the idea that remedial action concerning that injustice is up to them, and motivates them to get personally involved. The stakes can be ultimate – religious people may feel their souls are at risk. And the “narrative turn” in social movement study can easily show how religious stories – ranging from those that recount the perseverance of persecuted people to those that reassure the faithful that the Almighty will guarantee their success – can be fitted to almost any situation a social movement faces. Continue reading
When wire-cutting and banner-wielding peace activists broke into the Y-12 nuclear plant grounds during the predawn hours of July 2012, the severity of their unprecedented security breach was offset only by its sympathetic protest leader: 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun, Sister Megan Rice.
The image of a plant-protesting, pacifist nun is perhaps no less curious than the crowd of sisters participating in a nine-state “Nuns on the Bus” campaign preceding the 2012 election, or “protest chaplains” staffing prayer tents in the “Occupy” movement, or the financial firepower of the all-Catholic and exclusively male “Knights of Columbus” mobilizing for the preservation of traditional marriage.
Religious people are activists, too. Continue reading