Social Class and Religion

By Mitchem, Stephanie Y. | Cross Currents, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Social Class and Religion


Mitchem, Stephanie Y., Cross Currents


This issue of CrossCurrents' focus on social class and religion is one that is overdue and difficult. This focus is overdue because we have too little comprehension of how and why religion and social class overlap, compete, or support one another. In the early twentieth century, sociologist Max Weber's analysis reminded us Americans to check the relationship between capitalism and religion: just how wedded are they? We are too much the inheritor of the imperialistic religious understandings of the Emperor Constantine, whose fourth century conversion to Christianity brought any state religion a whole new meaning. We are caught in old Marxist analyses of class and labor and worker.

Instead, as Stanley Aronowitz points out in How Class Works, the categories that previously defined classes no longer fit well, as new groupings rapidly develop. The agrarian society that was at odds with the development of industry at the turn of the twentieth century is very old news. The professional-managerial class and the creative class become new and not necessarily pleasant options. Aronowitz states: "Despite conventional wisdom, Americans have in fact entered a period of intense social conflict marked by struggles over class formation." (1) His statement indicates one of the difficult parts of conversations around class.

The United States operates with a classless society myth. Everybody is welcome; everybody can be who they want to be; everybody can take advantage of end-less opportunities. But these myths are not true; rather, we are caught up in living into or out of classes. How can we define the parameters of social classes today? How would we know the class of Mike Tyson or Loretta Lynn or Michael Moore or Oprah Winfrey? Money alone does not define social class. But is that still true? In America, has money and personal wealth trumped all other indicators of class? Or is Walmart merely a modern version of a fiefdom? The category of labor is extremely problematic. What do the breakup of the AFL-CIO and the failure of pension plans mean to an understanding of "labor" in the US? …

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