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Religious Interests in Community Conflict : Beyond the Culture Wars (2007, Paperback)
Very Good. View original item. Sell one like this. We found something similar. About this product. Stock photo. Brand new: lowest price The lowest-priced brand-new, unused, unopened, undamaged item in its original packaging where packaging is applicable. Religious Interests in Community Conflict. The argument that I laid out focused primarily upon a public discourse, the public symbols and rituals surrounding that discourse and how that discourse gets polarized within competing institutions and among the elites that run them.
As I argued, public discourse is a discourse of elites. That is where you find this conflict at its most incendiary.
What Is at Stake?
So in my view, the critics all looked for conflict where it was weakest. From my vantage point, none was addressing the culture in culture wars, or at least the more complex elements of culture in culture wars. So on the face of it, the disagreement would seem to be conceptual and methodological and not substantive. Indeed, in the book I too argue that the average American was not really caught up very much in the conflict.
Most people live their lives away from the front lines. But on occasion, episodically, something will happen: a daughter will get pregnant out of wedlock; a son will come out of the closet; an issue will come up in the local school.
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And all of a sudden, even ordinary individuals find themselves caught up in a drama that is already present, scripts that are already pretty well worked out and written. And so that story can be told locally as well as nationally. In fact, I have done work that very much is in sympathy with it. It was the conclusions that he was drawing from his analysis — and from, again, other analysis that was based primarily upon survey research, focus groups and personal interviews — that I disagreed with. The second point is empirical, and here I want to come back to survey data itself.
It seems to me that in looking at the culture war in terms of survey data, you actually have to know where to look for conflict, where to look for polarization.
There are different ways to approach this. But it seems to me that no matter how you slice the pie statistically, you end up with about 5 to 7 percent of the American population on each side who represent the white hot core of opposition. And this is based upon random public opinion surveys. These people are disproportionately motivated, disproportionately active. They are the ones who send in money to special interest groups. They write their congressperson and so on.
Beyond that 5 to 7 percent at each end, there is probably another 12 to 15 percent on each end that lean strongly, though are less motivated. So right now you are up to about 18 to 20 percent of the population, at each end, who are pretty well located culturally at opposite ends. Beyond that 18 to 20 percent on each end, it seems to me that there is probably a larger public, maybe an additional 15 or 20 percent, who tilt one way or another, and in an election likely turn one way or another depending on the issues.
So it seems to me that one can in fact find conflict and polarization on cultural kinds of issues within survey data and within public opinion, but you have to know where to look for it. Now, that 5 to 7 percent may seem like a small number at each end. But we are really talking about 10 to 12 million people on each end.
That is a lot. And when you expand it out in concentric circles, you are probably talking about 60 million people oriented in one way or another. What I have left out of this empirical part so far is the role of elites, the political professionals, the special interest leaders. The critics of the Culture Wars hypothesis tend to minimize their role or to dismiss it all together. It is their sound bites that frame the debate. From my vantage point, the power of culture is the power to define reality, the power to frame the debate, and that power resides among the elites.
But they are supported in concentric circles by increasingly large numbers, though of less and less passion. Steven Brint, a sociologist at the University of California, posed the question in his review of my book, Can you have a proper war when two-thirds of the army are non-combatants? And the answer is, in fact, you can. In fact, total war is a fairly recent and a rare phenomenon in history. Through most of history, war has been a minority affair, and there are all sorts of illustrations one could call attention to.
So even within the framework of survey data — that is, on the terms that the critics are using to challenge the Culture Wars hypothesis — I actually think the data show very clearly that there is far more polarization, far more mobilization, than one might imagine. As I say, the power of culture is first and foremost symbolic.
RELIGION AND CONFLICT
There are different actors in any culture; even in the most homogeneous culture, there are different actors, different institutions that do this, that have differential access to resources. But this is especially true in a society as diverse and complex as ours. So culture by its very nature is contested. As Philip Rieff has put it, where there is culture, there is struggle.
It is the form of fighting before the fighting begins. And this is so even if it is not always reflected in public opinion. And when there is a real war, the culture part of it is the center-most part of the war. The bloodiest conflicts, it seems to me, are fought over symbols.
The fourth point I want to make is perspectival. It seems to me that in looking at this debate, a lot of the difference of opinion can be understood in terms of the distinction between the politics of culture on the one hand and the culture of politics on the other. The politics of culture is primarily about the push and pull of the mechanisms of power over cultural issues. The focus is primarily upon the mobilization of parties, the creation of coalitions among interest groups, the manipulation of public rhetoric over cultural issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, funding for the arts and so on.
The culture of politics perspective is fundamentally different. The focus here is on the symbolic environment within which political institutions are embedded and political action occurs.
In other words, the culture of politics perspective focuses on the frameworks of meaning that make particular political arrangements understandable, desirable and so on. The culture of politics perspective reflects what Michael Oakeshott famously said. He said a political system presupposes a civilization.
It has a function to perform in regard to that civilization, but it is mainly a function of protection, and to a minor degree mechanical interpretation and expression. Thus political activity may have given us the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, but it did not give us the contents of those documents, which came from a stratum of social thought far too deep to be influenced by the actions of politicians.