Social Cohesion and a Sense of Belonging
By emphasizing shared symbolism, religious teachings and practices help promote social cohesion. An example is the Christian ritual of communion, which not only commemorates a historical event but also aUows followers to participate in the unity ('continuum") of themselves with other believers (McGuire, 2002). All religions have some form of shared experience that rekindles the group's consciousness of its own unity. Religion has played an important part in helping members of subordinate groups develop a sense of social cohesion and belonging even when they are the objects of prejudice and discrimination by dominant group members, For example, some scholars suggest that African Americans initially brought into the United States as slaves found cohesion and stability in religion: Common religious beliefs and practices provided a new form of social cohesion in place of the old forms that had been destroyed when the slaves were seized in Africa and forcibly brought to America. Black churches brought about a distinctive culture and worldview that paralleled rather than replicated the culture of the land in which blacks resided involuntarily. TIle terms of their faith-salvation,
freedom, and the Kingdom of God-were roo led in the black experience and expressed themselves in joy and jubilation tinged with mournfulness. (Kosmin and Lachman, 1993: 31) Religion has also been important to those who voluntarily migrated to the United States. For example, Irish Catholic and Italian Catholic churches helped Irish Americans and Italian Americans preserve a sense of identity and belonging (Greeley, 1972; Roberts. 2004). Since the 1960s. Korean Americans have found religious and ethnic fellowship in more than two thousand Korean American churches. mostly Presbyterian. Southern Baptist. and United Methodist (Kosmin and Lachman, 1993). Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, Russian Jewish immigrants have found a sense of belonging in some congregations. and even though they did not initially speak the language of their new country. they still shared established religious rituals and a sense of history. Shared experiences such as these strengthen not only the group but also the individual's commitment to the group's expectations and goals (McGuire, 2002).