Self in Society
Course Unit Guide
This course unit will focus on the transformational dynamics of the selfthe processes that can effect fundamental changes in beliefs, values, personality, and behavior. These dynamics can be intentional or accidental, but in both cases they often appear to be discontinuous or asymmetrical with the identity previously constructed through the processes of socialization and individuation.
Religious Faith/Spiritual Transformation
religiona formal system of spiritual belief (theology) and practice (faith, ethics, piety)
spiritualityan awareness, acknowledgment of a transcendent dimension of life experience
pietya self-conscious attempt to conform behavior to ethics and belief
(religious) ethicsa system of spiritual values and norms grounded in religious belief
Three Approaches to Spiritual Transformation
via negativa/self-denial asceticism (West) less-is-more hierarchy of needs, concerns
mysticism/meditation union with God, the divine otherworldly; spiritual depth
focus within self, mind
piety/allegorical lives/ works of love, charity heilsgeschicte,
hagiography witness, baptism, confession, God in history (Jewish)
sacraments, worship. salvation by faith (Protestant)
evangelism salvation by works (Catholic)
Church/Sect Typology: Religious Belief in Sociological Perspective
Religion as a System of Belief and Practice
In this course unit on the transformation of the self we will examine religion as an ideology, system of thought, and symbolic domain that interacts with social dynamics in shaping the faith and behavior of believers. The following glossary terms are typical components and vocabulary of a systematic theology.
high church/low church
As societies and cultures develop and change, so too do their paradigms of individual development, personality, and successful living. Therefore, as a culture transforms itself, it likewise transforms the individual self through socialization to a new model of contemporary individuality.
The Social Construction of Individuality Through American History
The Theocentric/Allegorical Model
The Self as a Pilgrim Soul
(roughly through the Colonial period - 1607-1783)
Location of Meaning, Identity: This model is explicitly religious and focuses on Christ and God's will as the paradigm and ordering principle of productive individual growth. Individual life is successful to the extent it follow otherworldly ideals; experience in this world is consequently devalued and seen as sinful or "broken." The religious community "counter-defines" itself as a "city on a hill" focused above worldly reality.
Personal Integrity: Faith is the ordering principle in the development of individual personality; "works" (deeds) alone cannot ensure salvation and life after death. Education focuses on discovering the mysteries hidden within earthly life and revealed through scripture and prayer. Allegorical, ideal lives (as in Bunyan's A Pilgrim's Progress) are held up as models of faith and devotion. Individuality apart from God is devalued as "worldliness."
Community, Social Order: Religious communities are seen as distinct from secular social organization and in some cases are formed in reaction to religious persecution. Church life and religious values shape and judge the social order; social roles are traditional and strictly defined in rural, agricultural economies.
The Natural World: Wilderness and primitiveness are viewed as chaotic and hostile, with the Garden of Eden mythology often serving as a paradigm. Civilization pushes back the wilderness and creates order within chaos; colonization viewed as an "errand into the wilderness."
The Congruent/Correspondent Model
The Self as an Educated, Responsible Citizen(roughly through the Civil War and Victorian era - 1783-1865)
Location of Meaning, Identity: With the development of a national identity, established religions, voluntary associations, and civic-minded Deism, the focus shifts to this world and to civic virtues. Jefferson uses Classical models to integrate personal faith and civic responsibility. The anti-slavery movement uses religious principles to inform social action. The Transcendentalists pick up Romantic motifs and see God mystically suffused through all of this world's natural and social order.
Personal Integrity: Here the focus shifts from "pilgrim" to "citizen" as the growth of cities creates more accessible opportunities for community service through public office. Emerson's "representative men" share their virtues within a historical context and continuity. Virtue is both attainable and practical as the focus shifts toward thisworldliness and the growth of the nation. The Civil War is seen as a crisis of national disunity while the anti-slavery cause marches forward to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The focus shifts from faith to piety and civic virtue.
Community, Social Order: With the birth of a new nation and the growth of cities, the dichotomy between faith and worldliness diminishes and the possibility of salvationor at least recognition!through works reappears. As railroads push back the frontier and violently replace Native American culture with "civilization," Hudson River artists project idyllic landscapes with the primitive well contained within Classical order.
The Natural World: The ideal balance between man and the environment is visualized as Leo Marx's "middle landscape" of nature harmonious and tamed with hard work and with the new steam and locomotive technologies. Western expeditions bring back glowing accounts of beauty and bounty on the frontier, including some of the earliest photographic images from the Yellowstone area. Railroads break through to the Pacific Coast; Yellowstone Park (1872) becomes the first national park to preserve (and contain) primitive wilderness.
The Individualistic/Improvisational Model
The Self as an Improvised Individual
(roughly through the Industrial Revolution to the present - 1865-present)
Location of Meaning, Identity: Cities emerge as wholly self-sufficient and vital apart from nature. Paradigms and resources shift from agriculture to industry; individualism emerges in the industrious, "self-made man" and in heroes who tame the wilderness on the frontier or concentrate power in corporate monopolies. Public education seeks equality and preparation for civic, occupational, and democratic responsibilities. A faster pace of life encourages flexibility, adaptability, and technical competence.
Personal Integrity: Two strands of individualism emerge as described in Habits of the Heart: Expressive individualism idealizes self-confidence, self-esteem, romantic attachment., dedication to work and family, honesty, sincerity, self-fulfillment, and integrity. Instrumental individualism stresses self-sufficiency, ambition, accomplishment, physical comfort, independence, and initiative. Salvation now shifts almost completely to a focus on works; self-realization replaces salvation-by-faith; social mobility substitutes for religious growth; emotional honesty and integrity in relationships supplants traditional religious piety. Civic voluntarism persists as service to others and community while government picks up many of the public welfare services previously provided through religious and civic charities. Rapidly shifting roles and statuses encourage improvisational life skills, the projection of developmental stages through adult life, and a pervasive preoccupation with the quality of both work and leisure time.
Community, Social Order: The Industrial Revolution creates displaced workers, slums, urban crime, and a more visible concentration of social problems in cities. The Social Gospel and political liberalism emerge as a critique of social inequities and the widening division between rich and poor. Environmental sensitivity and activism develop as a reaction to industrial pollution. The institutional and community idealism and activism of the New Deal, Civil Rights Movement, and the Great Society is more recently replaced by a cynicism that sees government as a distant, inefficient bureaucracy. Improvements in communication technologies, particularly the Internet, create global consciousness; older political blocks and alignments shift and disassemble. "Depression" and "alienation" replace "repression" and "anxiety" as typical psychological preoccupations and disease categories. Religious reaction to these modernisms coalesces into the Religious Right in defense of traditional values and family structures. Evangelical churches with a more personalistic focus attract members from the older, established churches and denominations.
The Natural Order: As industrial pollution becomes more systemic and insidious, the environmental movement emerges in the Sixties with dire, global predictions about the future of the planet. Space and other technologies approach previously remote frontiers in medicine, communication, engineering, and computer science; at the same time, global warming, acid rain, and depletion of the ozone layer threaten what one environmentalist calls the "end of nature." Post-industrial civilization appears less and less enmeshed in natural rhythms and necessities even while its by-products threaten to render the earth unlivable. Recycling, "natural" products, and outdoor recreation become increasingly popular and valued while particle physics again glimpses God behind nature.
The Self in the Natural World
reading and class discussionJon Krakauer, Into the Wild
paper and guest lecture on Into the Wild by Jeff Cochran
my papers on nature and the self and the oceans and the self
The Effects of Televison Culture on Self and Society
reading and discussionNeil Postman, Amusing Outselves to Death
* * * *
We grow accustomed to the Dark-
When Light is put away-
As when the Neighbor hold the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye-
A Moment-We uncertain step
For newness of the night-
Then-fit our Vision to the Dark
And meet the Road-erect-
And so of larger-Darknesses-
Those Evenings of the Brain-
When not a Moon disclose a sign-
Or Star-come out-within-
The Bravest-grope a little-
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead-
But as they learn to see-
Either the Darkness alters-
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight-
And Life steps almost straight.
Emily Dickinson c.1862
I could not prove the Years had feet-
Yet confident they run
Am I, from symptoms that are past
And Series that are done-
I find my feet have further Goals-
I smile upon the Aims
That felt so ample-Yesterday-
Today's-have vaster claims-
I do not doubt the self I was
Was competent to me-
But something awkward in the fit-
Proves that-outgrown-I see-
Emily Dickinson c.1862
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This page last modified 09/23/2004