Craig Calhoun says religion has the power to divide people – or connect them across boundaries.
The idea of connection is important, because one of the things that we think often about religion is that it produces in-group insularity. And so, all those Methodists stick together, all those Baptists stick together – well, we say maybe now, the Christians just stick together in general. That absolutely can happen.
Religion also, though, offers resources for overcoming that. The very idea of a mission – the idea of a need to reach out to the world, to care for others, the story of the Good Samaritan – these are all religious resources for thinking about ways in which we may need to connect to others, we may need the capacity to put ourselves in their shoes. And so the Good Samaritan story informs humanitarian assistance to people after natural disasters or civil wars. In general, we have a choice of whether we want to make religion a matter of exclusion and in-group differences and divisions, or whether we want to see in religion a motivation for connecting better to others – other people with different religions or other people with no religion at all.
Some of those connections come in the form of social movements and activism. So we may all care about nature, and I may tell you I care about it because of an idea of stewardship for God’s creation, and you may say that you care about it because you believe in the deep spiritual essence of nature itself, in Gaia. And somebody else may say, I care about it because I want my grandchildren to have a chance to see a world as beautiful as I see it. We can have different reasons, but we can connect through the common engagement in that. And the same goes for connecting across religious boundaries, and the boundaries of religion and no religion.