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The Cultural Construction of Religion:
Experience, Myth, Ritual, Symbols, and Worldviews
Chapter 4: Essay Questions
When it comes to essay questions, students sometimes write poorly because they are guessing about what the instructor wants, even if the question seems to be perfectly clear. For that reason we strongly recommend provision of an audience (so students know how much to assume in use of sociological vocabulary as well as how much must be made explicit) and criteria for evaluation (which is information that any writer needs to know.) Below are two sample statements that might be used as part of an essay question.
A. This essay calls for presentation and defense of an informed opinion. You should write for a well-educated reader, but one unfamiliar with sociological approaches to the study of religion. You will be graded on a) provision of a clearly stated thesis, b) the clarity and sophistication of your rationale, and c) the ability to support your argument with strong evidence. Sophistication of rationale refers to awareness of the complexity of the issues. The side of the argument that you support is irrelevant to the grading criteria.
B. Your audience for this essay should be senior sociology majors who know sociological vocabulary, but have never specifically studied the sociology of religion. The criteria for evaluation will be 1) accuracy of explanation, 2) clarity of illustrations or examples, and 3) thoroughness in exploring all dimensions of the issue.
Since some of these questions call for careful reflection, you might consider giving students a list of these and other essay questions in advance.
1. What are some characteristics and variations in nonrational religious experiences? What do you think is the role and importance of nonrational experience in religion? (Is it necessary and central?) Provide your rationale, employing the ideas of scholars to support your position.
2. How is Social Constructionism relevant to understanding nonrational religious experience? How is Social Constructionism used to understand myth and ritual?
3. Why are symbols important in religion?
4. Describe a sacred symbol with which you are familiar. Explain the processes of externalization, objectivation, and internalization as they apply to that symbol.
5. What is the relationship(s) between myth, ritual, and symbols? Be sure to discuss elements of both integration (coherence) and conflict.
6. Design a study in which you investigate the experience of the holy. What is your research question? What research method will you use (survey, ethnography, interview, content analysis, experimentation, historical-comparative)? What challenges will you face in studying sociologically something that many people belief to be very personal and private?
7. Is nonrational experience of the holy necessary for a vibrant religious faith, or is it mostly a contributing factor? Provide your rationale.
8. Is experience of the holy sufficient to mobilize a religious movement? Why or why not?
9. Discuss the ways in which the material culture of religious groups architecture, ritual/liturgy, prayers, hymns/songs reflect the groups theological beliefs.
10. Compare and contrast the two church seating plans as examples of the cultural construction of religion.
Chapter 4: Multiple Choice Test Questions
1. The interdependent systems of myths, symbols, ethos, ritual, and worldview is called the
a. meaning system.
b. belonging system.
c. structural system.
d. latency objective system.
e. subjective pseudo-system.
2. According to Berger and Luckmann, the process of creation and establishment of an important symbol in a culture goes through a series of three stages. This sequential process is
a. internalization, externalization, objectivation.
b. objectivation, subjectification, and mobilization.
c. internalization, objectivation, and mobilization.
d. subjectification, objectivation, and internalization.
e. externalization, objectivation, and internalization.
3. Which of the following is an affirmation of a social constructionist perspective on religion?
a. When humans are in ambiguous situations, they tend to look to others for a definition of the situation.
b. The belief in God is a deception of the human mind based on fears and psychological needs.
c. Meaning is defined by individuals, but that meaning is shaped in profound ways by the culture and norms of the larger society.
d. Because God is the focus of religion, this is the one area of life in which there is no ambiguity.
e. Social Systems tend to be harmonious, with each aspect of the system fulfilling some basic need.
4.. The process by which a symbol comes to have an existence of its own, independent of the creator of the symbol, is referred to by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann as
5. When individuals feel intense loyalty to a symbol that is shared among a group of people, they have ____________ the symbol.
6. When experimental psychologists administered psychedelic drugs to people surrounded by religious symbols and stimuli, they were very likely to define the experience as a religious one, bringing them closer to God, a Higher Power, or Ultimate Reality. This influence of surrounding stimuli on perception and on the definition of the meaning of an experience would support which theoretical perspective discussed in the book so far?
a. Psychoanalytic theory
b. Conflict theory
c. Structural Functional theory
d. Social Constructionist theory
e. Exchange theory
7. Emile Durkheim believed that nonrational religious experiences
a. are signs of mental illness.
b. are especially powerful because there is no ambiguity about the experience: the feelings of attraction are total and complete.
c. are usually valued for extrinsic reasons: they bring tangible benefit to the worshipper.
d. both attract and repel individuals, filling the worshipper with both joy and fear.
e. are usually valued by the worshipper because they are free of any moral or ethical imperatives.
8. The nonrational experience is described in the text as:
a. An experience being outside the usual categories of logical, systematic reasoning; neither logical nor illogical.
b. An experience that is mostly based in the olfactory sense (smell) rather than seeing or hearing.
c. An out-of-body experience
d. An encounter with an other-worldly being
e. A dream that cannot be interpreted
9. Which of the following is NOT a conclusion that Roberts and Yamane (your textbook authors) think that we can make regarding nonrational religious experiences?
a. They have far less importance to religion in the modern world than to religion in pre-industrialized societies.
b. They vary in intensity from one person to the next.
c. They vary in content depending on the culture and religious tradition.
d. They vary in frequency with which people experience them.
e. They are most likely to be experienced by persons who expect to have such experiences.
10. Sociological critics of Rudolph Ottos emphasis on the mysterium tremendum complain that
a. he does not place enough emphasis on the combined sense of awe and fear.
b. he goes beyond description and analysis and suggests that this experience ought to be at the center of all religious commitment.
c. he fails to communicate the fact that the experience involves a feeling of moral conviction.
d. his description is so unlike Durkheims formulation that it proves how narrow his sample was.
e. he tries to dismiss nonrational religious experiences as unimportant.
11. What is NOT one of the five qualities of mysterium tremendum?
a. A sense of awe and fear.
b. An overwhelming feeling because of the unapproachability of the holy.
c. A feeling of power, energy, or urgency.
d. A sense of fascination with and attraction to the holy.
e. A sense of relief that the holy does exist.
12. A member of which of the following religious groups would most likely have a religious experience involving a vision (rather than hearing a voice)?
b. Roman Catholic
13. Sociologists define myths as
a. ideologies based on false presuppositions.
b. ideologies used in the practice of magic.
c. stories and beliefs which help people define meaning and purpose in life.
d. folk stories, but without a moral.
e. beliefs regarding the supernatural which disprove the need for rituals.
14. Which of the following is NOT true of a social scientists view of myths?
a. Myths reinforce social norms and values.
b. Myths provide an overall worldview for the believers.
c. Myths provide an explanation of perplexing events.
d. Myths involve insights that are metascientific.
e. Myths are ignorant, pre-scientific beliefs.
15. According to the authors of your textbook, Protestant Worship is designed to move worshippers through a sequence of moods or phases. This is a ritual procedure which follows a progression in order to reinforce
a. the creation myth.
b. the covenantal myth.
c. the mythology of Jesus as the incarnation of God.
d. the idea of reincarnation.
e. the belief in life after death.
16. Contrary to Roman Catholic belief, most Protestant churches have traditionally assumed that the worship service should NOT be conducted if no one is present but the minister. This Protestant approach is part of
a. folk religion.
b. an objective approach to worship.
c. a subjective approach to worship.
d. clergy manipulation.
e. critical rites.
17. The part of religion that involves an intellectual ordering of experience and making meaning out of life is called an
18. The powerful moods and motivations associated with religion are called the
19. The rush of feelings that a Navajo may experience when she smells juniper smoke and hears the chanting of a medicine man is an example of a religious
a. limphonic consciousness.
c. worldview .
20. According to Edmund Leach, religious symbols are like computer chips in that they
a. are absolute and never change.
b. are used by people who do not understand them.
c. store information and ideas.
d. are both examples of the material culture of modern societies.
e. none of the above; Leach thinks that there are no analogies to religious symbols.
21. Which of the following statements is generally true about Christianity in the Western world?
a. It emphasizes ritual over belief.
b. It emphasizes belief over ritual.
c. Its symbols always come before its myths.
d. More individuals adhere to the official version of Christianity than to the folk version.
e. Christianity doesnt employ as much symbolism as other world religions.
22. What, according to Mary Douglas, is the purpose of biblical taboos?
a. To maintain the health of the followers.
b. To keep individuals from being immoral.
c. To protect the cultures worldview and provide a category for anomalies.
d. To keep the Jews segregated from Gentiles.
e. All of the above.
23. Which of the following is NOT correct with respect to the order of traditional Protestant liturgy in the United States?
a. Services begin by creating a mood of awe and praise.
b. The proclamation of the word is the third movement, following a mood of humility and forgiveness.
c. The service of confession changes the mood from celebration and praise to one of humility.
d. The climax of the liturgy is the confession of sins and recognition of forgiveness.
e. The service of dedication concludes the worship service.
25. Which of the following is NOT one of the theses that Roberts and Yamaneyour textbook authorshave set forth in your text regarding religion?
a. Symbols, myths, and rituals typically reinforce and sacralize one another.
b. Myths are often true.
c. Worldview and ethos of a religion are usually in conflict, so that most religions have either one or the other, but seldom have both.
d. Symbols, myths, and rituals usually act together to sustain a worldview.
e. Religious systems are made up of subsystems that often support one another, but sometimes will conflict and exist in a state of tension.
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