Other Primary-Identity Sub-Cultures and Movements
This document lists major primary-identity sub-cultures and movements which function in the same sociological niche as religions, but which are not usually classified as religions. The purpose here is to provide a statistically more complete picture of religious demographics from a sociological perspective.
NotesReligions and other primary-identity sub-cultures fill an identical sociological niche because they:
* Art and imagination: An example is the Animal Rights Counterculture web page, which states that its purpose is to "create and allow access to a repository of freely-distributable, original artistic works which promote the abolition of animal exploitation." It has a "Songs and Stories page" and encourages the "submission of original creative works."
Furthermore, not everybody who supports a particular movement or engages in a particular activity is considered an "adherent" in a socio-religious sense. Many people read science fiction or play sports, but for only a few do these activities constitute their primary source of socialization, goals, and/or philosophy. Many people support feminism in general, or many of the social ideas articulated by the feminist movement. For only a minority of people who consider themselves feminists does feminism constitute their primary philosophical system and outlet for volunteerism and social action, i.e., their religion.
Additional Comments Regarding Inclusion on this ListSociologists have defined religion as being the "ultimate reality" that people believe in, or the primary motivating factor in their lives. One homey saying has it that "Your religion is whatever you do on the sabbath."
Such definitions are potentially very broad and can pertain to anything at all. Thus defined, "making lots of money" could be a person's religion, or a person's family, or even their car, could be their religion. A definition this broad is not as useful in classifying distinctive religious groups and cultures, however. Movements and sub-cultures have been listed on this page because they meet certain additional criteria:
Factors which are not criteria for including movements and sub-cultures on this list. Movements and sub-cultures have not been listed here because they are controversial, "liberal" or "conservative", desirable or undesirable, etc. Some movements and sub-cultures have been associated more frequently with "liberal" or "left-wing" individuals and groups (e.g., environmentalism and the animal rights movement). Other movements and sub-cultures have more frequently been associated with "conservative" or "right-wing" individuals and groups (e.g., radical gun rights advocates and survivalists). But these movements are not primarily political in nature and a strong association with them is usually not motivated solely by where they fall on a left-right political spectrum as seen by outsiders.
For example, a person who considers herself generally liberal and is a frequent participant in animal rights activism may also be strongly pro-life (opposed to abortion) -- a position labelled as conservative. It would be rare for one person to lend substantial time and support to both movements simultaneously, but their involvement is not based simply on what is considered "liberal" or "conservative." Somebody else, active in the gay and lesbian community (considered a "liberal" movement) may be strongly opposed to the animal rights movement because they perceive it as slowing down AIDS research by preventing the use of laboratory animals by pharmaceutical companies. They may also be fiscally conservative and participate in Republican politics. Once again, their membership in a sub-culture is not necessarily based on its position on a political spectrum.
To reiterate, inclusion of a particular movement or sub-culture on this list implies neither approval nor disapproval. Nor does it imply any parallel to any particular religion. A direct parallel to religion in general is not implied, except in a sociological sense.
Why these are not typically classified as religionsClearly there must be reasons why some movements, sub-cultures and groups are generally regarded as religions while other movements which fulfill similar sociological functions are not regarded as religions.
One popular and often useful notion is that a "religion" addresses the issues of deity and the afterlife. But these are only two possible topics among the endless possible topics for humans to be concerned about yet unable to quantify mathematically. Also, for many people and groups, religion and spirituality has little to do with deity and the afterlife. There are forms of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism (Zen, tantrism, Reconstructionists) that focus little or not at all on deities or the afterlife, but are nevertheless classified as religions.
In a theological discussion, addressing specific concepts may be a useful criteria for what constitutes a religion. But a sociological definition is based on the impact a movement has in people and groups, not on the content of its message.
Some of the general differences are summarized below, although for each point there are many exceptions.
TABLE: Some differences between "religions" (in the sociological sense) which are traditionally labelled as "religions," and those which are not.
One indicator that a group or movement is functioning as the sociological equivalent of a religion is that its constituents strongly object to being classified as a religion. To say that something clearly non-religious such as "being blonde" or "being a Michael Jordan fan" is a religion would incite little or no protest. Blonde people and Michael Jordan fans have little group identity associated with blondeness or with Michael Jordan. Such a statement may appear to have so little meaningful truth in it, or be so innocuous, that they feel no need to counter it.
On the other hand, to say that the environmentalism is a religion is likely to draw protests by proponents who do not wish their movement to be associated with religions they or others don't like ("unwanted baggage"), who do not wish to think of themselves as a "member" of a religion other than another one they identify with, or who do not wish to lose the advantages a non-religious movement has in dealing with the public sphere (schools, government, media, etc.). Transcendental meditation is one recent example of a religious movement which had considerable latitude in introducing itself into public schools and government programs, until it was recognized as a religion. Essentially all religions have adherents who claim that their religion is not a religion.
Conservative / Liberal. The inclusion of Conservatism and Liberalism on this list should be explained. Nobody who considers themselves generally conservative or liberal would say that their "Conservatism" or "Liberalism" is their religion. Most people would like to think that they make a reasonable decision regarding various political, ethical, moral and social topics, regardless of where their decision falls on a "left-right" or "liberal-conservative" spectrum. Most people, if they list enough issues, would be able to list at least some views which are considered conservative and some which are considered liberal. Furthermore, on any given issue there will usually be somebody more liberal or conservative. A person may think their stance on gun control is conservative, for instance, because they oppose additional restrictions on gun purchases. But an even "more conservative" ("far-right") position might call for eliminating on all legal restrictions on gun sales, and support for marksmanship classes in high schools. Most people fall "somewhere in between" on most issues. Certainly, many people are generally conservative or generally liberal, as the terms are commonly understood, but these are relative terms. The terms "conservative" and "liberal," as described here, are not religions or primary-identity sub-cultures.
"Conservatism" or "Liberalism" operate as de facto religion for people who are commonly called "knee-jerk liberals" or "knee-jerk conservatives." These are people who lend essentially unquestioning allegiance to whichever viewpoints are associated with their favored point on the ideological spectrum. They are the type of people who take a liberal stance on gun control, affirmative action, and welfare reform. Then, because identify so strongly with liberalism, they support the "liberal" position on the magnet schools, tort reform and Surinamese water rights. Yet there may not actually be an inherently "liberal" or "conservative" position on many issues.
A person who is authentically influenced by a particular religious or ethical philosophy, such as Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam or Humanism, will have viewpoints which are on both ends of the "liberal-conservative" spectrum. This is because traditional religions are not based on contemporary local social debates. Any person who supports all liberal causes or all conservative causes carte blanche may be said to be an adherent of Liberalism or Conservatism in an essentially religious or tribal sense. [Related article.]
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Web page created 31 March 2000. Last modified 20 September 2005.
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