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Denis Zukic

Miss Dabrowski

Assess the view that for minority ethnic groups, the practice of religion
and membership of religious groups is mainly a form of cultural defence.
(33 marks)
The term ethnic minority describes a group of people that are part of a community with
shared characteristics. These groups tend to hold their religious faith as an important part of
their identity. During the influx of immigrants during the 50s and 60s, particularly Pakistanis,
Indians, Bangladeshis and Caribbean migrants, Britain soon became known for its religious
pluralism and cultural diversity. Many sociologists such as Bruce associate religion strongly
with the idea of cultural defence, and the practice of such religious subsequently
strengthens the feeling of cultural defence. However, the view fails to recognise the cultural
defence of the majority groups, as the term minority is dependent on the location.
Pakistanis may be the minority in Britain but are clearly the majority in Pakistan.
Considering this, religion is a large part of cultural defence for minority groups, but this does
not mean the majority groups are any different, as measuring religious practice and
membership is increasingly difficult.
Bruce explains one function of religion in todays society as a form of cultural defence. This
means that it serves to bring together a community against an external threat, and can
become a significant element of a minority and its followers as it is a symbol of their
collective identity. This serves as a political component in certain religions, particularly
nations in which the state is controlled religiously such as Iran after the 1979 revolution.
Mirza (2007 and 2008) supports this statement, as her research shows how the later
generations of young Muslims have created a stronger identification with Islam particularly
due to the British foreign policies regarding Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. Many young
Muslims saw these policies as anti-Islamic and therefore reasserted the defence of their
culture and their religion by protesting against this. However, some sociologists may be
critical of Mirzas findings as they are only representative of British culture and only the
Islamic minority, whereas it cannot be applied to other minority groups. Also, as the
majority of people worship privately today, it would be wrong to assume that cultural
identity does not exist within the white community. Although only 9% of White Anglicans
and 29% of White Catholics are likely to attend weekly worship, they may simply wish to
worship at home rather than at Church, especially the older generations who despite
making up the majority of people at Sunday services still may find it easier to worship at
home. Moreover, statistics in the British Social Attitudes Survey show that the population of
people in the UK who have no faith has increased from 42.6 in 1996 to 45.8 in 2006,
suggesting an increase in secularisation, which occurs in both ethnic majorities and
minorities.

Denis Zukic
Miss Dabrowski

One of the problems faced by people who have a sense of cultural identity is how the media
represent their religion, which in turn can affect whether they see their religion as an
important part of their cultural defence. Giddens believes that fundamentalism is based on
traditionalism, and answers all of lifes questions, from politics to family life. In this respect,
fundamentalism can provide a basis for cultural defence, in the sense that it provides the
answers to questions in an uncertain late modern world that is full of risk and uncertainty.
This would lead people to have what Castells (1998) called a resistant identity, preferring
the comfort of their own fundamentalist community. However, as the media has constantly
played a part in stereotyping minority groups, there is a stigma around the religions that
people hold part of their cultural defence. In particular, Muslims are often linked with
terrorism due to rare cases of Islamic fundamentalism by extremists for example the
September 11 attacks. Despite this, there is still a growing trend in men who hold on to their
faith; 70% of British Muslims are under the age of 25, and it is likely this will last through the
next generation as they will be more likely to educate and socialise their children.
Considering this, fundamentalism can stigmatise the idea of holding religion as a part of a
cultural defence, but this is not always the case.
Minority groups also see religion as a form of cultural defence as it helps to avoid the
language barrier that many older Asian women have. As they may have a poor grasp of
English, they may rely on their religious identity and community to help them. Evidence of
the exclusion of minority groups from mainstream society can be seen in that 63% of
Pakistani and Bangladeshi households were living in poverty in 2005/6, making them the
poorest in Britain. Davie (1994) suggests that through their religion, these minority groups
reinforce the traditional aspects of their ethnic identity, such as food, dress, language, art
and marriage. Their places of worship also act as community centres to allow the younger
generations to socialise, allowing them to develop their own cultural identity without the
disillusionment of mainstream society. Samuel Huntington (1993) would criticise this view
based on his neo-conservative idea of the clash of civilisations. He believes that religious
differences create a set of hostile us and them relationships, where there are competitions
for economic and military power. He believes that globalisation makes conflicts more
frequent. Because they are rooted in culture and history they are tougher to resolve. One
example could be recent immigration policies proposed by the UK Independence Party
attempting to restrict the immigration of European minorities, based on the premise that
they are taking advantage of the British welfare system and threaten the Christian heritage
of Great Britain.
Despite this, Georg Simmel would be critical of this view as he proposes the idea that
conflict between religious groups is fundamental in producing solidarity within groups, and
therefore reinforcing the feeling of cultural defence. On the other hand, this is not just a
case of ethnic minorities; many majority populations reinforce cultural defence through a
concept called religious surrogates. America is a prime example as in many cases
nationalism stands in for religion, as the nation is seen as a religiously diverse land that

Denis Zukic
Miss Dabrowski

encourages not only the acceptance of minorities but also the national cohesion of a civic
religion (Bellah, 1970) in which people are faithful in their country and have the American
flag in their garden. Further evidence is proposed by Herberg (1983) who noted the building
of ethnic churches helped first generation migrants to cope with their migrant status and
integration. This further shows that the cultural defence influenced by religion is not simply
a case for minority groups, but also the majority. This can however be immediately criticised
by the Islamophobia in America by the 11th September attack on the World Trade centre.
Even still, many young Muslims who were outcast by society sought social harmony within
their religion and ethnic groups, similar to the way in which young British Muslims did
during the Iraq war during the turn of the 21st Century.
In conclusion, the practice of religion is clearly a form of cultural defence. Minority groups
are bound together through their community cohesion, which is brought on by their religion
and sense of religious togetherness. Particularly in Muslims, their religion has been an
integral part of dealing with societal problems such as Islamophobia, as well the material
frustration of Pakistani and Bangladeshi households who are the most affected by poverty.
However, while practice is evidence of religiosity, it should be noted that more people
practice privately, suggesting that the majority groups could also value religion as part of
their cultural defence particularly in a society that is becoming more diverse and
postmodern with New Religious movements and New Age movements that have been
increasingly prevalent since the 60s. Conversely, minority groups participating more could
just be a sign of their social frustration, as Mosques and Temples are also used as
community centres, and therefore people may just be practicing to fill a void in their life
rather than to strengthen their cultural defence.