Social Institutions

Social Institutions

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Table of Contents


Hutterites Coming of Age

Tibetan Family Life

Marital Power

The Tradition of the Bride Price

Child Marriage

Single Mothers and Society

Stages of Divorce

Inheriting Divorce

Housework within Lesbian and Gay Households

Market Exchange: The Wedding Reception

Goal Multiplication and Religious Organizations

The HalÚvy Thesis: Religion as a Stabilizer

The Ghost Dance of the Sioux

School Desegregation and the Hmong Community

Inequality in Education

Both Boys and Girls Have Reason to Feel Disadvantaged in School

Online Education

Work and Alienation: Marx’s View

In the first majority-Muslim US city, residents tense about its future



Social Infrastructure








Hutterites Coming of Age

Child-rearing practices differ among peoples of the world. The practices of one group in North America, the Hutterites, are at variance with those typically found in Canada and the US.

Although the Hutterites number about 30,000, few Americans know much about them. Today’s Hutterites are descended from Russian immigrantsHUTTERITES who came to North America in 1874. They live together in some 250 communal villages, called bruderhofs, in western Canada, the Dakotas, Montana, Washington and Texas. Their religious faith is Anabaptism, they practice adult baptism and they are firmly pacifistic. Both economically and theoretically, the Hutterites practice communalism. The live and work together for the good of the community. When Hutterites use the pronoun we, they refer not to their own family but to the bruderhof. They do not knock before entering each other’s residences; they drop in unannounced at all hours. As they see it, seclusion by individual families is unnecessary and lessens group loyalty.

Accordingly, the goal of child rearing among the Hutterites is young adults’ voluntary decision to submit themselves to the community. The sense of community will is transmitted very early in life. Only for the first 13 weeks of an infant’s life is the mother relieved of her responsibilities to the bruderhof; after that, the mother returns to her previous responsibilities, such as helping in the community kitchen. The community essentially dictates a schedule for babies, specifying times for feeding, playing and sleeping. A child’s hands are held together in the position of prayer before each feeding. Children pray voluntarily before each meal by the time they are one year old, a procedure they will follow for the rest of their lives.

Children are believed to be completely innocent until they are observed to strike someone or try to comb their own hair. Either activity is believed to indicate a level of comprehension sufficiently high to understand discipline. Young children learn that they can avoid adult displeasure if, after hitting someone, they immediately hug and kiss. Infants and young children are watched over by all members of the bruderhof. At age three they enter kindergarten, where as one Hutterite minister put it, “they learn to obey, sing, sleep, memorize and pray together.” Punishment tends to emphasize that exclusion from the group is most unpleasant.

The most important birthday for a Hutterite is the 15th, since on that day the school child becomes an adult. Almost as a rite of passage, the child is moved from the children’s dining room to the adults’ dining room and from the play group into the adult work force. Since these changes involve a single individual whereas the Hutterites emphasize the colony as a whole, the movement into adulthood goes uncelebrated.

Gradually, the bruderhof awards the new adults various gifts that reflect their altered situation. Both boys and girls are given a wooden chest with a lock in which to keep their personal belongings. Boys are given tools; girls receive a scrubbing pail, a broom and knitting needles. The first years of adulthood are occupied in apprenticeships to older people, but soon young people enter jobs considered suitable to their sex. Despite being surrounded by the culture of Canada and the US, Hutterite youngsters grow up to accept the Hutterites’ philosophy of life, economic communalism and religious beliefs.

Optional Resources:

Hutterite photos by Kelly Hofer

Who are the Hutterites, and what do they believe?

Meet the Hutterites

Hutterites: An Historical Overview

Minnesota Hutterites Continue to Thrive













Tibetan Family Life

From 1938 through 1957, His Royal Highness Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, a trained anthropologist, carefully recorded his observations of family lifeHis Royal Highness Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, a trained anthropologist in mountainous Tibet. His work offers a glimpse at family life in a culture very different from our own.

The ideal Tibetan family was a polyandrous one in which all brothers had a common wife. Unrelated men might, in some cases, share a woman. However, the close association of brothers served to reduce the jealousy that might arise if a number of unrelated men were sharing the same wife.

The co-husbands of a particular woman would agree among themselves as to which one would have sexual relations with the wife on any given day. Jamtan is photographed with her father Padma Ngutrub, first husband Nubbu, second husband Tagpa and their childrenApparently the women had little say in the matter. Birth control was nonexistent and restriction on sexual behavior prior to marriage was minimal. Nevertheless, in a very poor society that could not afford to feed many children, an unmarried woman bearing a child was expected to abandon the baby in the river.

The proportion of Tibetan marriages that were polyandrous varied from 90% in the rural areas to only 2% in the capital of Lhasa. Since polyandry was so common and more than one-fourth of Tibetan males were Buddhist monks, many women remained single throughout their lives. Some became nuns, some lived permanently in the households of their married brothers and others turned to prostitution.

As in most societies, Tibetan families did not all correspond to the ideal. Most families were monogamous, especially in the cities. Some affluent nobles and merchants practiced polygyny (one man having several wives). In rare cases, the co-husbands of a polyandrous family would collectively take on a second wife. Generally, this occurred when the first was unable to bear a p’horjag, or heir.

It should be noted that since Prince Peter recorded these observations, Tibet has become an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. As a result, these patterns have undoubtedly undergone change.

Optional Resources:

The Survival of Tibetan Culture

Tibetan Ethnic Minority

Tibet: Part I

Tibet: Part II

Tibetan Family Life (Part 2)

Tibet: Society, Culture and Religion

Polyandry in Himalaya

China’s Race Problem













Marital Power

Sociologist Robert Blood Jr and Donald Wolfe developed the concept of marital power to describe the manner in which decision making is distributed within families. They defined power by examining who makes the final decision in each of eight important areas that, the researchers argue, traditionally have been reserved entirely for the husband or for the wife. These areas include what job the husband should take, what house or apartment to live in, where to go on vacation and which doctor to use if there is an illness in the family.

Recent research suggests that money plays a central role in determining marital power. Money has different meanings for members of each sex: For men it typically represents identity and power; for women, security and autonomy. Apparently, money establishes the balance of power not only for married couples but also for unmarried heterosexual couples who are living  together. Married women with paying work outside the home enjoy greater marital power than full-time homemakers do.

Labor not only enhances women’s self-esteem but also increases their marital power because some men have greater respect for women who work at paying jobs. Sociologist Isik Aytac studied a national sample of households in the US and found that husbands of women holding management positions share more of the domestic chores than do other husbands. In addition, as a wife’s proportional contribution to the family income increases, her husband’s share of meal preparation increases. Aytac’s research supports the contention that the traditional division of labor at home can change as women’s position in the labor force improves and women gain greater marital power.

Comparative studies have revealed the complexity of marital power issues in other cultures. For example, anthropologist David Gilmore examined decision making in two rural towns in southern Spain. These communities, one with 8,000 residents and the other with 4,000, have an agricultural economy based on olives, wheat, and sunflowers. Gilmore studied a variety of decision-making situations, including prenuptial decisions over household location, administration of domestic finances and major household purchases. He found that working-class women in these communities, often united with their mothers, are able to prevail in many decisions despite opposition from their husbands.

Interestingly, wives’ control over finances in these towns appears to lessen with affluence. Among the wealthier peasants, husbands retain more rights over the family purse strings, especially in terms of bank accounts and investments. In some cases, they make investments without their wives’ knowledge. By contrast, in the working-class, where surplus cash is uncommon and household finances are often based on borrowing and buying on credit because of the uncertainties of household employment, the wife rules the household economy and the husband accepts her rule.

Optional Resources:

Marital Power

A Middle-Class Wife

Family Power

Marital Power

Family and Marital Relationships

The Meaning and Measurement of Marital Power: A Review

Husband-Wife Decision Making: an Exploratory Study of the Interaction Process

National Survey of America's Families

Urban Institute | Social and Economic Policy Research

The Changing American Family













The Tradition of the Bride PriceBride Price

“Ali Eski and Nuran Aydogmus were young and very much in love and wanted to get married, but their families could not agree on the bride price, so they committed suicide.” So began a story in the New York Times late in 1980.

The tradition of the bride price has persisted for many centuries in Turkish culture, particularly in certain rural areas in which age-old values remain dominant. In this case, the young woman’s father insisted on a price of 100,000 liras (about $1,100) before he would consent to the marriage. Ali Eski’s family offered 30,000 liras in advance and the rest in a promissory note, a common practice in the area, but their offer was rejected.

The tragic death of 22-year-old Ali Eski and 16-year-old Nuran Aydogmus led to a new debate over this cultural practice. Many urban young people and intellectuals attacked the bride price, arguing that it treats women as commodities to be bought and sold. But older rural people defended the custom as a guarantee of a prospective bride’s virginity; in addition, a special commission established by the Turkish government to study the issue filed a report generally favoring the bride price. As a result, this custom continues to be a part of Turkish culture.

Optional Resources:



Click on the icon to connect
to the You Tube video
The Bride Price



Click on the icon to connect
to the You Tube video
What Price?


Bride Price

Find the True Value of Your Bride Price

Bride Price Payment In Nigeria

NPR: For Chinese Women, Marriage Depends On Right 'Bride Price'

Marriage in Turkey

How To Calculate A Kenyan Woman's Bride Price (5:18)

The real cost of bride price | The Guardian Nigeria News














Child Marriage

Thirty-two-year-old Mohammad Hasamur Rahman with his new bride, 15-year-old Nasoin Akhter, in Manikganj, Bangladesh.According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world with 29% of Bangladeshi girls married before the age of 15, and 65% before the age of 18. Widespread complicity by officials has facilitated many of the child marriages. Interviewees consistently described local government officials issuing forged birth certificates showing girls’ ages as over 18, in return for bribes of as little as US$1.30. Poverty, tradition, the sexual harassment of unmarried girls and limited access to education drives the practice, convincing parents that they’re doing what’s best for their daughters. Marriage is seen as a cover of respect and protection for girls. Global data shows that girls from the poorest 20% of families are twice as likely to marry before 18 as girls whose families are among the richest 20%. Child marriage around the world is associated with many harmful consequences, including health dangers associated with early pregnancy, lower educational achievement for girls, a higher incidence of spousal violence and an increased likelihood of poverty.

Photographer Allison Joyce said, “Working on this issue [child brides] has been very troubling. The only difference between these girls and me is that I happen to have been born into a country and culture that respects girls and women, and sees a woman’s value in a society beyond the role of a mother or a wife. Seeing their future, their possibilities and potential being ripped away from these girls in the span of one night is equal parts heartbreaking and infuriating for me. I don’t think it will be possible for countries to develop to their full potential until women and men stand on equal footing.”Yemeni child brides

Optional Resources:

About Child Marriage

The UN on Child Marriage

Child Marriage ICRW

Child Marriage Facts and Figures ICRW

Too Young to Wed

Because I Am a Girl

Girls not Brides

Child Marriage HRW

Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides (10:41)                                   













Single Mothers and Society

The societal concern with unwed mothers is an excellent illustration of the labeling perspective at work. For example, is a woman in her thirties who chooses to become pregnant for the first time and have her child considered a part of a social problem? Is a married mother aged 17 part of a social problem? Is it a problem of age or marital status or both? The power of labeling can also be seen in terminology popularly used to refer to these issues: broken, disrupted, unfit, illegitimate, unadjusted, unsuitable or bastard as compared to. intact, nuclear or stable.

More specifically, this labeling is another example of the type of stereotyping that sociologist Erving Goffman has referred to as stigmatization. ByTEEN MOM definition when we so stigmatize people, they are not quite so human. It allows us the luxury of planning for them and not with them, as in the debate over welfare policies. Goffman argues that in stigmatization, we construct stigma theory, an ideology to explain someone’s inferiority and account for the alleged danger it represents. Many speeches concerning unwed mothers and welfare emphasize this danger. In the context of the 1992 South Central Los Angeles riots, then–Vice President Dan Quayle condemned Murphy Brown, the central character in a popular television program, for having a baby outside of marriage. Her actions in this fictional story line represented to Quayle a violation of family values and reinforced the media’s endorsement of unmarried mothers who presumably were less equipped to raise and watch over children and thus unable to prevent the kind of lawlessness that concerned so many during the riots.

In colonial America, the social problem was defined as that of being a bastard. A child born out of wedlock became a public charge and for the small, rural communities of the early colonies this was a financial hardship aside from any moral concerns. Punishing  women who bore such children by whipping was not unusual and often the punishments were administered in public. Many of the laws did apply to both men and women, but the latter were more likely to be convicted because their relationship to the child was, of course, more clear and they were less likely to have property that would allow them to pay fines and avoid being whipped.

While this may seem harsh, the early US was, in fact, more open-minded than Europe in these matters. In this country the concept of child protection (ie, not punishing the child for being born out of wedlock) took hold. Also, the US first recognized both common-law marriages and the possibility that illegitimate children could have some legal rights relevant to the property of their parents. In England, for example, the concept of filius nullius, a child of no one, legally prevailed for a longer time than in the US (Luker, 1996:19–20).

In the US during the late 19th century, immigration and urbanization made it increasingly difficult for a gemeinschaft community (where everyone knows one another) to assume responsibility for unwed mothers and their children. In 1883, the Florence Crittenton Homes were founded as refuges for fallen women or prostitutes. Within a few years their function was expanded and they also took in unwed mothers. It is not hard to see both the labeling and stigmatization taking place here. Sociologist WEB Du Bois in 1909 noted that there were seven homes for African-American women as well as one Crittenton home reserved for that purpose.

The discussions about poverty and single parents are almost always intertwined with questions of race. Many people immediately think of unwed mothers or babies having babies as African American. Although the image is not totally false — African Americans do account for a disproportionate share of births to teenagers and unmarried women — the majority of all babies born to unmarried teenage mothers are born to whites. Also, since 1985, birthrates among unmarried white teens have been increasing rapidly, while those among unmarried black teens have been largely stable.

Other myths concerning unwed mothers relate specifically to welfare. Sociologist Ruth Sidel notes that:


Virtually all social science studies indicate that over four-fifths of teenage pregnancies are unintended.

From 1975 to 1994, the average AFDC benefit per family measured in constant dollars (ie, accounting for inflation) dropped by 37%.

In no state do welfare benefits plus food stamps bring the recipient families up to even the minimum of the federal poverty line.

71% of adult AFDC recipients have recent work histories and almost half of the families who leave welfare do so to work.

The Center on Social Welfare and Law in a 1996 report clarified some other frequently held notions concerning welfare. In their report they found the following:

Concerning welfare dependency, fewer than half of welfare families are on the public assistance rolls for more than three years.

Being on public assistance is not automatically intergenerational. Most women on welfare did not receive it as children (Pollitt, 1996).

Is there a direct relationship among low-income people between the number of babies and the size of welfare checks? The answer is presumably relevant to those who argue that maintaining or increasing subsidies to unmarried mothers only serves to increase illegitimacy. The pattern in the US and other industrial nations is that governments are cutting back on welfare provisions as a result of the tightening global economy, while out-of-wedlock births have actually increased. In the US, the real value of a welfare check has declined since 1973, even as women of all age groups have chosen more often to become single mothers. Worldwide, the industrial nation that has witnessed the sharpest increase in the proportion of babies born to unwed mothers has been Great Britain, which has also instituted conservative anti-welfare policies.

Much of the concern, as noted earlier, reflects labeling. Babies having babies is labeled as a problem in the US, but would it be better to have more abortions? Research suggests that young people in the US are about as likely to be sexually active as their counterparts in Great Britain, France, Germany and Scandinavia. Yet in other nations they are more likely to seek an abortion. So, from a labeling perspective, if one is concerned about abortion, the situation in the US is much less of a problem. Of course, the real question may be why people who are unprepared to be parents are having sex, or at least unprotected sex, in the first place.

Sociologist Kristin Luker (1996:11) in Dubious Conceptions, draws upon two decades of social science research to conclude: “The short answer to why teenagers get pregnant and especially why they continue those pregnancies is that a fairly substantial number of them just don’t believe what adults tell them, be it about sex, contraception, marriage or babies. They don’t believe in adult conventional wisdom — not because they are defiant or because they are developmentally too immature to process the information (although many are one or the other and some are both), but because the conventional wisdom does not accord with the world they see around them. When adults talk to teenagers, they draw on a lived reality that is now ten, twenty, thirty, forty or more years out of date. But today’s teenagers live in a world whose demographic, social, economic and sexual circumstances are almost unimaginable to older generations. Unless we can begin to understand that world, compete with its radically new circumstances, most of what adults tell teenagers will be just blather.”

Another way of viewing this difficulty in communicating across generations is to view it in what sociologist William S. Ogburn termed culture lag. Many elements in our society, including both people and social institutions, refuse to adjust to the profound social changes, such as family formation and pregnancy, that have occurred during the latter half of the 20th century.

From a feminist perspective the welfare debate certainly qualifies as blaming the victim. African-American sociologist Patricia Hill Collins notes that the tendency to view black women matriarchally, as the sole positive influence in otherwise dysfunctional households, also leads to blaming them for the failure of their children and for the continuance of poverty intergenerationally. Emphasizing the need to get welfare women jobs also seems to undermine the importance of parenting producing the irony of trying to strengthen the household economically while undermining the family’s integrity.

The discussion about single mothers and welfare has changed in the last 20 years. In the 1970s, conservatives wanted teens to be less active sexually, to have fewer abortions and to contribute less to the growing AFDC rolls. Liberals sought to have women regain control over their reproductive destinies and economic future. Increasingly, conservatives were joined by what has been termed the New Right, which saw the issue in moral terms. Today, according to Luker, the debate over early childbearing has become more heated due to the slowdown in economic growth and greater disparity between rich and poor. Liberals argue that society should make a greater investment in teenage mothers through training programs and education but this approach ignores the multiple problems (violence, poverty, racism, a history of sexual abuse or domestic violence, and underequipped schools) that so many bring with them. In this social context, training programs have very real limits. Luker defends the need for better public funding of contraception and improved sex education. But she cautions that if trends continue (the number of sexually active teenagers doubled between 1970 and 1990) there may be only modest improvement in delaying childbirth.

Optional Resources:

Single Mothers 'Bad For Society', Pew Research Center's Latest Poll Finds

Stereotype and the Single Mother

In Defense of Single Motherhood

The Rise and Downfall Of The American Single Mother

Goffman: Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

Sidel: Celebrating the Strength of Single Mothers

Luker: When Sex Goes to School

The Statistical Abstract of the US

National Survey of America's Families

Urban Institute | Social and Economic Policy Research

Census Bureau Population Statistics

Institute for Women's Policy Research













Stages of Divorce

Divorce is a complex and difficult experience for all family members. Anthropologist Paul Bohannan has identified six overlapping experiences that arise from divorce and which vary in intensity depending on the couple. The six stations of divorce, as Bohannan calls them, are as follows.

PAUL BOHANNAN1. emotional: represents the problem of the deteriorating marriage

2. legal: based on the grounds on which the marriage will be dissolved

3. economic: deals with the division of money and property

4. co-parental: includes decisions having to do with child custody and visitation rights

5. community: changes in friendships and institutional ties that a divorced person experiences

6. psychic: focused on the person’s attempt to regain autonomy and self-esteem

As Bohannan has observed, undivorced people rarely appreciate the difficulties that the divorced person experiences in mastering these stations of divorce.

Optional Resources:

Divorce and After Review

The Peacemaking Option For Divorce


Stages of Divorce: A Psychological Perspective

The Six Stations of Divorce













Inheriting Divorce

Are the children of divorced couples more likely to become divorced themselves? The answer appears to be in the affirmative but the reasons are complex. Sociologist Paul Amato analyzed longitudinal data to determine the extent of intergenerational transmission of divorce. Data came from the Study of Marriage Over the Life Course, which consisted of telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,033 married persons who were 55 years old and younger in 1980. They were then interviewed again, in keeping with a longitudinal analysis, in 1983, 1988 and 1992.

Based on these data, parental divorce is associated with increased risk of offspring divorce, especially when the wives or both spouses have experienced the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. This association is true in second marriages, as well as in the initial marriages. The age of offspring at marriage, cohabitation, socioeconomic attainment and pro-divorce attitudes have only modest impact on the estimated effect of parental divorce. In contrast, a series of interpersonal behaviors offers the largest share of explanation. Among interpersonal behaviors, Amato includes problems with anger, jealousy, hurt feelings, communication, infidelity and so forth. These findings suggest that parental divorce elevates the risk of offspring divorce by increasing the likelihood that children will exhibit behaviors that interfere with the maintenance of a mutually rewarding marriage relationship. Adult children from divorces are exposed to poor models of two-person behavior and may not learn the skills and attitudes that facilitate functioning in a dyadic social relationship. Similarly, children of divorce may be predisposed to develop traits, such as a lack of trust or an inability to commit, that lead to disharmony.

Optional Resources:

The Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce

The Effects of Divorce on Children

Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce

Consequences of Parental Divorce and Marital Unhappiness for Adult Well-Being

The Intergenerational Transmission of Attitudes on Divorce and Marriage

Trends in the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce













Housework within Lesbian and Gay Households

CHRISTOPHER CARRINGTONThe recognition that family structures are variable has led social scientists to begin exploring some previously overlooked variations. Combining interviews and observation research, sociologist Christopher Carrington conducted a study of the housework of 52 lesbigay households (26 lesbian households and 26 gay men’s households).

Carrington looked at couples who had been in relationships at least two years. The housework considered included cleaning, taking care of pets and plants, yard work, laundry and household paperwork. In general, housework is often taken for granted or designated as an unfortunate part of family life. Rarely in the US is daily housework viewed in a positive light. However, the research suggested that participating in housework helps lesbigays develop a stronger sense of themselves as families, “maintaining our yard and building.”

Lesbigay couples with more resources were able to invest more money and time into the housework. Carrington found such couples to have developed more of an identity as a family.

Optional Resources:

Gay Parents Find No place Like Home

Same-Sex Couples, Families, and Marriage

Familial Construction in Christopher Carrington’s ‘There’s No Place Like Home’

National Survey of America's Families

Urban Institute | Social and Economic Policy Research

Institute for Women's Policy Research













Market Exchange: The Wedding Reception

An exchange occurs when all participants recognize and take account of all the exchange opportunities in calculating their pricing strategies. We may all be aware of this at an auction, but we are less likely to see it in a wedding reception unless we use sociological imagination.

In the US, it is expected that the close relatives of the bride will provide a feast for members and friends of the bride’s and bridegroom’s families. This feast is generally held after the religious or state-sanctioned ceremony, which is considered the only absolutely indispensable part of the ritual legitimating marriage. Thus, the feast is not absolutely compulsory and some who are very poor or nonconformist dispense with it. Most families, however, expend a large percentage of that year’s income on a feast.

The exchange of goods involved is as follows. The bride’s family offers food and alcoholic drink in their home, at a hotel or in another grand setting for which they pay rent to the owners. In return, each of the guests brings a gift to the bride and groom. The food is offered in a special, ceremonial manner, and the gifts are brought in special, ceremonial wrapping, often with verses of well-wishing attached to the wrappings. That this situation is definitely not a market transaction may be seen in the fact that the guests would never overtly evaluate the food and drink in terms of money; nor would the bride and groom comment on the money value of the gifts in the presence of the givers. The participants are not aware of an obligation to expend equal amounts. Each giver sees his or her own giving as an act of friendship, without specific hope of return. A guest without a gift would never be stopped at the door though the omission might be negatively commented on in the privacy of the family circle.

The feast is paid for by the bride’s family as a kind of dowry for having the woman, traditionally considered a financial liability, taken off their hands. The feast also performs a function in the prestige system of the natives (that is, Americans). Each family will go to great lengths to put on the grandest display of wealth it possibly can. Much honor is reflected on the bride’s parents for their ability to provide such a lavish display. Feasts in each locality are described in local newspapers and give an indication of the family’s high position. The feat is therefore an exchange of goods for prestige. It should be noted, however, that there is no simple or automatic exchange of dollar value for prestige. Rather, the feast must be presented in a certain traditional style felt to be proper. Any other style would bring ridicule down on the heads of the givers even though they had spent many dollars. In this sense, as well, it can be seen that this is not simply a market transaction.

The feast also serves to strengthen the legitimacy of the union in the eyes of relatives, friends and the community in general. Parents feel that they express love for their daughter by giving a grand feast, even though, interestingly enough, the young couple is seldom as excited or pleased by the arrangements as the parents are.

Optional Resources:


Wedding Rituals

The Life-Cycle of Familial Relationships













Goal Multiplication and Religious Organizations

Religious groups fulfill many of what Durkheim would term secular (rather than sacred) functions. In recent years (with the emphasis on government downsizing),╔mile Durkheim churches and other religious organizations have started providing services previously assumed by government agencies. Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, want to roll back government-funded welfare programs and shift the social safety net to private organizations in general and to churches and religious charities in particular.

There appears to be public support for this role. Yet, the public rejects the notion that the nation’s religious organizations should be the main source of funds for the needy. In a 1995 national Gallup survey, respondents were asked: “Who do you think should be more responsible for providing assistance to the poor — government or religious organizations?” The results showed 55% selecting the government, 28% religious organizations, 10% both, 4% neither and 3% with no opinion. Among Republicans and Protestants, the government was still favored as a source for such funds, but by smaller margins. Only self-identified conservatives favored religious organizations over the government as the main source of support for assisting the poor.

Some clergy and other observers are concerned about religious groups playing more of a role. They feel it is unconstitutional and spiritually wrong to force the poor through a religious doorway to meet their basic needs.

Federal legislation has been proposed that would create a charity tax credit of $500 per taxpayer. It would allow taxpayers to designate money to a religious or charitable organization that devotes 70% of its efforts to poverty relief.

Optional Resources:

The Social Functions of Religion

Overview of Religion

Defining the Characteristics of Religion

Basic Characteristics of Religion

Sociological Perspectives on Religion

The Symbolic-Interactionist Perspective on Religion

The Functionalist Perspective on Religion

Introduction to Sociology/Religion

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

Religion Defined

Major World Religions

Gallup Organization: Religion in the US

World Religions:



Roman Catholicism

7th Day Adventism





The World Mission Society Church of God

Happy Science: a 21st century religion or an ancient pagan religion?













The HalÚvy Thesis: Religion as a Stabilizer

Max Weber is not the only scholar to contend that religion can exert an important influence on the process of social change. Elie HalÚvy (1870–1937), a Frenchman and noted historianElie HalÚvy who wrote at about the same time as Weber, was primarily interested in the stability of English society during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The HalÚvy thesis suggests that Methodism, under the influence of John Wesley (1703–1791) and his followers, provided a kind of escape valve - a stabilizing function - for the discontented English working class. This religious faith became a mechanism for dissent, an outlet for opposition to everything from labor practices to the monarchy itself. Yet this opposition was basically peaceful and was oriented to social reform rather than revolutionary change. From a Marxist point of view, Methodists were not part of the ruling bourgeoisie, yet they served the interests of the wealthy and powerful. For HalÚvy, the rise of Methodism explains why England, of all the nations of Europe, was most free from political disorders and revolutions during the 18th and 19th centuries.

HalÚvy’s thesis has been criticized; in fact, many of the objections are similar to those raised in response to Weber’s monumental work. Some critics have argued that HalÚvy exaggerates the influence of Methodism and fails to explain the lack of revolt in England before this religion arose. Nonetheless, HalÚvy’s work, like Weber’s, contains important insights regarding the relationship between religious beliefs and the process of social change.

Optional Resources:

The Surprising Reason Why More Americans Aren’t Going To Church

The False Equation of Atheism and Intellectual Sophistication

How Will Young People Choose Their Religion?

Religious Landscape Study: Belief in God

Choosing a New Church or House of Worship

Religion and Society

╔lie HalÚvy

The HalÚvy Thesis

Max Weber's Home Page


Major World Religions













The Ghost Dance of the Sioux

An example of the integrative function of religion can be found in so-called millenarian movements. A millenarian movement is a religious group that believes in a prophecy that a cataclysmic upheaval will occur in the immediate future, followed by collective salvation. This shared world view offers its members a sense of belonging. During the late 19th century, a millenarian movement appeared among the Sioux Indians.

Life for the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians was especially oppressive in the middle to late 19th century. Spurred on by General George Custer’s exaggerated reports of gold in the Black Hills, many white settlers infiltrated Sioux territory in what is now South Dakota. Hostilities followed and in 1876 the Sioux won a great victory in the battle of the Little Big Horn. But the Sioux were eventually defeated by the US Army and forced to sell much of their land. Unable to continue hunting game as they traditionally had, members of the tribe found life on the reservation increasingly unbearable.

Many Sioux sought an escape through the supernatural and turned to the ghost dance religion, which included dances and songs thatGhost Dance proclaimed the return of the buffalo and the resurrection of deceased Indians in a land free of whites. The ghost dance had originated among the Paiute Indians of Nevada and soon became a symbolic or millenarian movement. Ironically, it had spread northward to the Plains Indians through the schools — the institution that served as the cornerstone of forced assimilation of native Americans.

By 1890, according to sociologist Russell Thornton, about 65% of the Indian tribes in the west were involved in the ghost dance. From a functionalist perspective, this millenarian movement can be viewed as a means of coping with the domination of white intruders. While the ghost dance was essentially harmless, whites feared that the new Indian solidarity encouraged by the movement would lead to renewed warfare. As a result, more troops were summoned to areas where the ghost dance had become popular.

In late December of 1890, anticipating that a massive ghost dance would be staged, a cavalry division arrived at an encampment of Teton Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge reservation. When the soldiers began disarming the warriors, a random shot was fired at them touching off a close-range battle. The cavalry then turned its artillery on Indian men, women and children. Approximately 300 Sioux and 25 soldiers were killed in the ensuing fighting.

One Sioux eyewitness later recalled: “We tried to run, but they shot us like we were buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot children and women.” The Wounded Knee massacre was not the worst defeat suffered by native Americans during the 19th century but it shattered the Sioux hope for a return, even a supernatural one, to the life they had known.

Optional Resources:

Millenarian Movements



Click on the icon to connect to
the 1894 Sioux Reenactment of
the Ghost Dance. (1:25)


The Ghost Dance

The Ghost Dance Among the Lakota

The Messiah Letter

The Ghost Dance

The Ghost Dance: A Promise of Fulfillment

Thornton's We Shall Live Again

Sioux Religion

Indigenous History, Religious Theory and the Archaeological Record

The "Sioux Outbreak" in the Illustrated Press

The Lakota Ghost Dance after 1890













School Desegregation and the Hmong Community

HMONG WOMANWausau (population 30,060) is a community located in rural Wisconsin best known, perhaps, for the insurance company bearing its name that advertises on television. To sociologists, it is distinctive for its sizeable Hmong population. Wausau finds itself with the greatest percentage of Hmong of any city in Wisconsin. These Southeast Asians are 10% of the city’s population and 22% of its kindergarten pupils. But because the Hmong are concentrated in the more affordable downtown area, they constitute as much as 62% of the students in some schools. The Hmong immigrated to the US from Laos and Vietnam among the refugees who came following the April 1975 end of the US involvement in Vietnam.

In the view of school officials, progress in teaching the Hmong English in Wausau was stymied because the newcomers associated mainly with each other and spoke only their native tongue. The Wausau school board decided in the fall of 1993 to distribute the Hmong and other poor students more evenly by restructuring its elementary schools in a scheme that requires two-way busing.

The desegregation result has divided the city, with residents voting in a 1993 special recall election to decide whether to fire the five board members who backed the plan. “People feel this decision was just stuffed down their throats,” said Peter Beltz, director of Families Approve Neighborhood Schools (FANS), which fielded candidates and gathered the signatures for the recall.

HMONG SCHOOL CHILDRENWausau school officials said their plan, which is not federally mandated, is aimed less at achieving a more equitable socioeconomic balance and learning environment. The busing, they say, was begun as a convenience for parents, whose children now travel an average of two miles farther than before.

Recalls are rare, but in December 1993, opponents of the busing plan that integrates Asian American youngsters into mostly white grade schools won a majority on the Wausau school board by ousting five incumbents in a recall election. “Busing and partner schools as envisioned is [sic] over,” Don Langlois, one of the winners, declared after the votes were counted on a Tuesday night. “We plan to have a neighborhood school plan for the fall 1994 school year,” Langlois said.

But board president Richard Allen, one of those defeated, said he expects supporters of the busing plan to take the matter to court with a lawsuit claiming that to remove busing would cause segregation. Christopher Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said after the successful recall effort that his group was willing to file a lawsuit to stop the school board from overturning the changes. “Where a governmental body by law engages in an intentional act of resegregation, that would violate all kinds of constitutional standards.”

Optional Resources:

School Desegregation Efforts Divide Town

Two Peoples Apart Inviting Hmong Refugees To Live In Homogeneous Wausau, Wis., Was A Well-meant Idea. But It Hasn't Worked Out So Well.

The Hmong: A Human Resource in Transition

Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association

The State of the Hmong American Community 2013

National Center for Education Statistics

The Social Context of Education

Hmong Page













Inequality in Education

Educational achievements play a critical role in social mobility. Consequently, concern has been expressed that subordinate minorities in the US, such asJOHN OGBU blacks, Hispanics and native Americans, do not have positive experiences in schools that will assist them in later competition in the job market. This country’s minorities, however, are not alone in this experience.

The anthropologist John Ogbu looked at educational opportunities and achievements in six societies and found group inequality in all of them. In Great Britain, for example, West Indian immigrants and their descendants (many of whom are born in Britain) perform poorly in school. By contrast, in New Zealand it is the native Maori people (the original islanders now outnumbered and dominated by white Europeans) who have the greatest difficulty in the educational system. Whites are 350 times more likely than Maori to attend college.

In these societies, race was the critical factor differentiating successful and unsuccessful educational performance. However, in studying other societies, Ogbu found that inequality was evident even when racial distinctions were absent. In India, people from lower-caste backgrounds are physically indistinguishable from other residents. Yet children from the lower castes are much less likely to attend the private schools that launch Indians toward better careers. While lower caste children account for more than 15% of India’s population, they constitute only about 5% of those attending college.

Ogbu found certain common themes in all the societies he studied (one of which was the US). The dominant groups in each society agree on the importance of education and the key role of educational attainment in shaping one’s position in adult life. At the same time, however, folk explanations in many societies contribute to prejudice and discrimination by ascribing failure in school to the alleged inferiority of subordinate minorities.

More recent studies have demonstrated that educational inequalities persist around the world.

A study of educational attainment in Taiwan found a substantial difference between the mainlanders (those who immigrated to Taiwan from mainland China in the 1940s) and the native Taiwanese. The latter are much less likely to continue schooling than are the mainlanders.

Researchers have found a significant gap in educational attainment between Jews and Arabs living in Israel. In part, this has resulted from the government’s failure to apply compulsory school attendance laws to Arab residents as forcefully as it has to Jews.

According to a 1992 report by the World Bank, children from poor and rural families around the world are less likely to attend primary schools than children from affluent and urban families. Moreover, girls from all types of families are less likely to attend primary schools than boys. The report urges governments to ensure greater access to education for these underrepresented groups.

Optional Resources:

Education Inequality

Inequality in Education

Why Education Inequality Persists and How To Fix It

Ogbu's Racial Stratification and Education in the United States: Why Inequality Persists

Lessons from the Interpretation/ Misinterpretation of John Ogbu’s Scholarship

Racial Stratification and Education in the United States: Why Inequality Persists

Minority Status and Schooling: John U. Ogbu’s Theory and the Schooling of Ethnic Minorities in Europe

World Inequality Database on Education

American Studies Web: Race and Ethnicity

National Center for Education Statistics

The Social Context of Education

Despite the increasing demographic diversity in our K-12 population, according to the Government Accountability Office, school segregation is sharply increasing.













Both Boys and Girls Have Reason to Feel Disadvantaged in School

Recent studies have focused on how schools work against young women, documenting such sexist practices as failing to involve women as much as men in classroom discussion, differential treatment in career guidance and even episodes of sexual harassment. However, University of Chicago educators Larry Hedges and Amy Howell point to systematic differences in reading and writing, with girls outperforming boys. The same analysis of six national data sets from 1960 through 1992 also showed that boys outperform girls in science, mathematics and auto mechanics.STUDENTS

Why these differences exist and persist is not clear. For example, closer analysis shows that larger sex differences occur even in areas not generally taught in schools, such as mechanical comprehension and other vocational aptitudes.

On writing tests, young men score significantly below women. Larry Hedges observes “The data imply that males are, on average, at a rather profound disadvantage in the performance of this basic skill.” Some of this difference may come from differences in reading between boys and girls: because reading may be linked to writing, girls write more fluently since they may also read books more frequently than boys. These results suggest that both men and women are harmed by these differences.

Optional Resources:

Single-Sex Education: The Pros and Cons

The Truth about Boys

The Disadvantages of Schools Segregated by Sex

What's Happening to Boys?

Research Summary: Gender in Education

Student Performance: Males versus Females

Where the Boys Are

National Center for Education Statistics

The Social Context of Education

The New Gender Gap: Why Are So Many Boys Floundering While So Many Girls Are Soaring?













Online Education

One of the most profound changes in college level education in recent years has been the development of online courses and online degree programs. An online course may consist of a Web site that contains a course syllabus, course notes, power point presentations, links to relevant sites on the Internet, e-mail capabilities between the instructor and students and between students, a real time or synchronous chat room and an asynchronous bulletin board for class discussions.

Online courses are just the latest manifestation of distance learning courses, which have been available since the mid-1800s. Distance learning permits students to take college courses without being on a college campus full-time. Correspondence courses; television-, radio-, and newspaper-based courses; and, interactive television courses are several types of distance learning courses. Schools may offer several types of distance learning courses in addition to traditional classroom or on-ground courses. At many colleges, students may now complete an entire undergraduate or graduate degree by taking only online courses.

COMPUTER STUDENTOnline education may be examined using each of the three major sociological perspectives. Functionalists might note that online courses are a very flexible form of education that enables working students, homebound students and housewives with child care responsibilities to take courses when their schedules might not otherwise permit. Conflict theorists, on the other hand, would suggest that not all students have access to online courses. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to own or have access to a computer that will permit them to take advantage of online courses. Interactionists would focus in on the surprising statement made by many online instructors that they get to know their students better and they have better class discussions online than they have ever had in a classroom because the level of interaction in an online class is more frequent and more personal than in a traditional course.

In addition, the advent of online courses has had a significant impact on the organizational structure of colleges and the administrative relationship of colleges to one another. For example, one of the leaders in the field of online education is the state of New Jersey. For the first time in state history, all 19 of the state's community colleges have banded together in an educational endeavor. Students may register for an online course at their local community college but, if their school does not offer the course that they want, they can take the course from any one of the other community colleges in the state that is offering the course. All 19 colleges have agreed to charge the same fee to students for online courses. When students have completed a course, the grade is sent to the student's home college and the letter grade, not a transfer grade, is added to the student's transcript. A system of this type has organizational implications for how each of the member schools does business, which is an interesting research base for future studies of formal organizations.

Optional Resources:

High Score Education: Games, Not School, Are Teaching Kids to Think

The Pros and Cons of an Online College Education

Strengths and Weaknesses of Online Learning

Exploring the Pros and Cons of Online, Hybrid and Face-to-face Class Formats

Pros and Cons of Online Education

Minority Students Should Weigh Pros, Cons of Online Education

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me BEFORE Taking Online Classes










1964 – the men who helped build the Chase Manhattan Bank




Work and Alienation: Marx’s View

For millions of men and women, work is a central part of day-to-day life. Work may be satisfying or deadening and the workplace may be relatively democratic or totally authoritarian. Although the conditions and demands of people’s work lives vary, there can be little doubt of the importance of work and workplace interactions in our society and others.

All the pioneers of sociological thought were concerned that changes in the workplace resulting from the industrial revolution would have a negative impact on workers. ╔mile Durkheim argued that as labor becomes more and more differentiated, individual workers will experience anomie, or a loss of direction. Workers cannot feel the same fulfillment from performing one specialized task in a factory as they did when they were totally responsible for creating a product. Max Weber suggested that impersonality is a fundamental characteristic of bureaucratic organizations. One KARL MARKresult is the cold and uncaring feeling often associated with contemporary bureaucracies. But Karl Marx offered the most penetrating analysis of the dehumanizing aspects of industrialization.

Marx believed that as the process of industrialization advanced within capitalist societies, people’s lives became increasingly devoid of meaning. While Marx expressed concern about the damaging effects of many social institutions, he focused his attention on what he saw as a person’s most important activity: labor. For Marx, the emphasis of the industrial revolution on the specialization of factory tasks contributed to a growing sense of alienation among industrial workers.

The term alienation refers to the situation of being estranged or disassociated from the surrounding society. The division of labor increased alienation because workers were channeled into monotonous, meaningless repetition of the same tasks. However, in Marx’s view, an even deeper cause of alienation is the powerlessness of workers in a capitalist economic system. Workers have no control over their occupational duties, the products of their labor, or the distribution of profits. The very existence of private property within capitalism accelerates and intensifies the alienation of members of the working class since they are constantly producing property that is owned by others (members of the capitalist class).

The solution to the problem of workers’ alienation, according to Marx, is to give workers greater control over the workplace and the products of their labor. Of course, Marx did not focus on limited reforms of factory life within the general framework of capitalist economic systems. Rather, he envisioned a revolutionary overthrow of capitalist oppression and a transition to collective ownership of production (socialism) and eventually to the ideal of communism.

Optional Resources:

An Introduction to Marx's Theory of Alienation

Capitalism and Alienation

Marx: Capitalism and Alienation

What is Marxism? A Bird's-Eye View

Marx's Theory of Alienation

Alienation from Hegel to Marx

Marx/Engels Archive

Max Weber's Home Page

Manifesto of the Communist Party

Durkheim Pages

Durkheim's On the Division of Labor in Society

The Walking Dead and Social Organization

Durkheim's “suicide” in the zombie apocalypse














In the first majority-Muslim US city, residents tense about its future.

 A Muslim woman wears a niqab as she walks past a McDonald's restaurant in Hamtramck, Mich. HAMTRAMCK, MICH. — Earlier this month, this blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendents for more than a century became what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a majority-Muslim council.

In 2013, Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-ik) earned the distinction of becoming what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the US following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade. The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.

 “It’s traumatic for them,” said Mayor Karen Majewski, a dignified-looking woman in a brown velvet dress, her long, silvery hair wound in a loose bun.

Majewski, whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century, admitted to a few concerns of her own. Business owners within 500 feet of one of Hamtramck’s four mosques can’t obtain a liquor license, she complained, a notable development in a place that flouted Prohibition-era laws by openly operating bars. The restrictions could thwart efforts to create a thriving entertainment hub downtown, said the pro-commerce mayor. And while Majewski advocated to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, she understands why some longtime residents are struggling to adjust to the sound that echoes through the city’s streets five times each day.

“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”

Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear. Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.

“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari, who received the highest percentage of votes (22%) of any candidate. “When we asked for votes, we didn’t ask what their religion was.”

Past clashes with present

Surrounded by Detroit, Hamtramck is Michigan’s most densely populated city, with about 22,000 residents occupying row after row of two-story, turn-of-the-century bungalows packed into two square miles. Polish Catholic immigrants began flocking to Hamtramck, which was originally settled by German farmers, in 1914 when the Dodge brothers opened an auto assembly plant in town.

While the city’s Polish Catholic population has shrunk from 90% in 1970 to about 11%, in part as the old residents have moved to more prosperous suburbs, Polish American culture still permeates the town. Labor Day, known as Polish Day here, is marked with music, drinking and street dancing. The roof of the Polish cathedral-style St. Florian Church peaks above the city landscape, and a large statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1987, towers over Pope Park on Joseph Campau Avenue. The Polish pope’s cousin, John Wojtylo, was a Hamtramck city councilman in the 1940s and 1950s, according to local historian Greg Kowalski. A statue of Pope John Paul II in Hamtramck’s Pope Park is a nod to the city’s Polish American beginnings.

 The once-thriving factory town now struggles with one of the highest poverty rates in Michigan. In 2009, American Axle shut down its plant in Hamtramck, laying off hundreds of workers. There is a new class of entrepreneurs, including Igor Sadikovic, a young Bosnian immigrant who plans to open a coffee shop with an art gallery by next summer, and Rebecca Smith, who owns a handbag store that employs Muslim women.

But the new businesses have not been enough to offset the loss of a manufacturing base and reductions in state revenue sharing. Since 2000, Michigan has twice appointed an emergency manager to the city, which has an annual operating budget of $22 million.

Hamtramck’s exceedingly low home prices and relatively low crime rate have proved especially attractive to new immigrants, whose presence is visible everywhere. Most of the women strolling Joseph Campau Avenue wear hijabs, or headscarves, and niqabs, veils that leave only the area around the eyes open. Many of the markets advertise their wares in Arabic or Bengali, and some display signs telling customers that owners will return shortly — gone to pray, much in the same way Polish businesses once signaled that employees had gone to Mass.

Tensions rise in volume

Many longtime residents point to 2004 as the year they suspected that the town’s culture had shifted irrevocably. It was then that the city council gave permission to al-Islah Islamic Center to broadcast its call to prayer from speakers atop its roof. From left, Abdul Motlib, president of al-Islah Islamic Center, with secretaries Imam Abunsr Tafader and Masud Khan.

“The Polish people think we were invading them,” said Masud Khan, one of the mosque’s leaders, recalling that time in an interview earlier this month. “We were a big threat to their religion and culture. Now their days are gone.”

The mosque, which attracts about 500 people for its Friday prayer services, has purchased a neighboring vacant limestone building in the heart of the city that once was a furniture store. The mosque’s leaders plan to put a minaret — a spire — on the building and use it to continue broadcasting a call to prayer five times a day. The private sale enraged city leaders, including the mayor, who sees the area as key to commercial growth. Mosque leaders estimate that the 20,000-square-foot building will hold up to 2,000 people once the renovation is finished next year.

The town’s transformation caught Mike Bugaj off guard. When the Hamtramck native left to join the Air Force in 1972, the city was widely referred to as “Little Warsaw.” When he returned from the military in 1995, “the Muslims were here,” said Bugaj, who is of Polish and Native American descent. The new majority Muslim council has Bugaj worried that old traditions soon will be wiped away.

Air Force veteran Mike Bugaj, 61, in front of the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 10 in Hamtramck.

 He and other residents are “concerned about what they would want to change, that they could mistreat women,” said Bugaj, who wore feather earrings and a T-shirt with wolves on it. “Don’t come over to America and try to turn people to your way of thinking.”

Wayne Little, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years at Corinthian Baptist Church, said many of the city’s African American residents are also waiting to see whether the new Muslim-majority city council will represent their interests. “They are clannish and stick together. . . . The jury is out on them.” Little said.

But Hamtramck’s Muslim population is hardly a monolith — the city is about 23% Arabic, 19% Bangladeshi and 7% Bosnian. The predominantly Muslim groups don’t intermingle much because of language differences, according to Thaddeus Radzilowski of the Piast Institute, a census information center. Adding to the city’s burgeoning diversity are the young, white hipsters who have begun to migrate here from surrounding areas for the food, bars and art shows.

On a recent Saturday, about 40 people crowded into a one-room studio to sip wine from red Solo cups and enjoy a watercolor exhibition by African American artist Olayami Dabls as reggae music thumped in the background. The nudity and sexuality portrayed in Dabls’s paintings provided a startling contrast that afternoon to the handful of veil-clad Muslim women poring over produce at the Yemeni-owned grocery store visible across the street through the window.

Even some residents who are nervous about the new council speak of the city’s diversity with pride, noting the eclectic mix of restaurants and the fact that at least 27 languages are spoken in Hamtramck schools. Frank Zacharias, an elderly Polish American usher at St. Ladislaus, the Catholic parish across the street from the mosque, is intimately familiar with life on Hamtramck’s streets, which he tromped for 28 years as a mail carrier before retiring. The changes have stunned him, he said. “It was hard at the beginning,” he said, referring to 2004, when the mosque began the call to prayer. But, he added: “They’re human. You gotta live with them. Hamtramck is known for diversity.”

University of Michigan at Dearborn professor Sally Howell, who has written a book on Michigan and U.S. Muslims, said that although some outsiders have equated the election results with “a sharia takeover,” that is not a fear she hears expressed by Hamtramck’s non-Muslims.

It all boils down to “a fear that this city council won’t represent the community,” Howell said. Her own sense is that it will. The discord intensified before the election, beginning when several senior citizens living in an apartment complex complained about the volume of the 6 a.m. call to prayer from a nearby mosque.

Susan Dunn, who was on her fifth unsuccessful run for city council, raised the issue before the governing body. “I have my own rights, as well,” she said. “I’m not a hater. It wasn’t a calculated move.” At one point as she spoke, a mosque close to Dunn’s house began broadcasting the call to prayer. “You try reading a book in your back yard while your dog is barking to that,” Dunn said, clearly exasperated.

City Council member Saad Almasmari, 28, far right, talks with community members inside a grocery store.

On the eve of the vote, then-candidate Almasmari sent a photo of a flier he said he had found on the street to Majewski, the mayor, and Dunn. “Let’s get the Muslim out of Hamtramck in November 3rd. Let’s take back our city,” it read. The photo of the flier, which was illustrated with images of three white candidates, including Dunn, began circulating on Facebook. Dunn said she had nothing to do with it.

Then, after the election, a Muslim community organizer upset many residents when he praised the composition of the new council.

“Today, we show the Polish and everybody else,” said Ibrahim Algahim in an address to fellow Muslims that was captured on video.

Muslim community activist Kamal Rahman said he empathizes with the older residents’ concerns and has been working to help unify the town by meeting with city leaders. Rahman, who in 1986 became one of the first Bengalis to attend a Hamtramck high school, said he considered moving to a mostly white Detroit suburb but decided against it once he discovered that a Ku Klux Klan group also had an address there. Instead, he built a five-bedroom home next to a Yemeni mosque just outside of Hamtramck, and sends his children to charter schools in the city.

Rahman encourages other Muslims to watch their language, because it can seem threatening. “It sends the wrong message. If I were white, I would feel scared,” he said.

Unneighborly acts

As he sat in a Yemeni restaurant neatly dressed in a blue dress shirt and dark blue striped tie, Almasmari, the council member, recalled feeling shaken in the weeks leading up to the election, when he discovered that dozens of the yard signs touting his candidacy had been spray-painted with an “X.”

On a boarded-up building on the city’s main street, a poster to re-elect council member Anam Miah had been partially covered with big block letters — “DON’T VOTE” — and a swastika was drawn on Miah’s forehead. But Almasmari insists that long timers’ fears are unfounded. Already, he said he has scheduled a meeting with residents who wish to talk about their concerns — economic, educational and otherwise.

“People talk about Muslims by talking about ‘them,’ but we’re not going to be as single-minded as people think,” said Almasmari, a married father of three who covered his Facebook profile picture last week with the French flag filter.

Back in her vintage shop down the block, Majewski said she sympathizes with the stories of immigrants in search of a better life. It is a subject the mayor knows something about, having specialized in immigration and ethnicity when she earned her doctorate in American culture at the University of Michigan, said Majewski, who works at UM’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.

A few minutes later, she pointed to a large, vacant building down the street that she said had once housed a popular department store. It was purchased by a Yemeni immigrant and has sat empty for two years, she said. “It creates a lot of resentment and drags down the property values. That’s a real source of tension,” Majewski said. “Is that ethnic? What do you call that? Can you criticize his lack of action? There’s certainly an ethnic element, the feeling that they don’t care about the city. How do you disentangle those?”

She paused to tell a shopper that the red plaid shirt he was trying on looked like a good fit before concluding aloud that the new conflicts in Hamtramck have less to do with ethnicity and religion and more about to do with what it means to be a good neighbor.

“We live on top of each other,” she said. “You can pass your plate through the window to the person next door.”

Optional Resources:

Why Is the West So Powerful—And So Peculiar?













Social Infrastructure

Social infrastructure is the glue that binds communities together, and it is just as real as the infrastructure for water, power or communications, although it’s often harder to see. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg says that when we invest in social infrastructures such as libraries, parks or schools, we reap all kinds of benefits. We become more likely to interact with people around us, and connected to the broader public. If we neglect social infrastructure, we tend to grow more isolated, which can have serious consequences.

The first time Klinenberg thought about social infrastructure was when he was a graduate student doing a research project about a terrible heat wave that took place in Chicago in 1995. It was a disaster that killed more than 700 people, and as a social scientist, Klinenberg was interested in understanding the patterns that emerged from it. The first pattern he observed was the most predictable, which was that poor or segregated neighborhoods on the South Sides and the West Sides of Chicago had the highest death rates by far. But when Klinenberg looked more closely at the patterns, something really puzzling emerged. There were a number of working class neighborhoods that demographically appeared as though they should have fared very badly in the disaster, but actually proved to be strikingly resilient, and even safer than some affluent neighborhoods on the North Side.

Even more interesting, there was a pair of neighborhoods where the demographics were identical and separated by just a street. They were neighboring neighborhoods, but one had an astronomically high death rate and the other was one of the safest places in Chicago. Klinenberg started spending time in the neighborhoods, and what he observed was that the places that had low death rates turned out to have a robust social infrastructure. On a daily basis, people got to know each other pretty well and used the social infrastructure to socialize. When the heat wave happened in Chicago, neighborhood residents knew who was likely to be sick and who should have been outside but wasn’t. This meant they knew whose door to knock on if they needed help. Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods that had really high death rates the social infrastructure was depleted. People were likely to stay home, a deadly thing to do during a heat wave.

Optional Resources:

Palaces for the People

Social infrastructure

Broken Windows theory 

Being Near Greened Vacant Lots Lowers Heart Rates

Why the Syrian regime has been targeting civilian infrastructure

There has been in recent years a rise of Islamophobia in schools and the subsequent bullying of Muslim American schoolchildren. We learn from data-driven reports that approximately 55% of Americans voice unfavorable opinions of Islam. Such attitudes threaten to redefine and corrupt the most fundamental meaning of American democracy that is based on the Jeffersonian idea of religious freedom. (See Thomas Jefferson’s A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom and James Madison’s Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.)




Copyright ę 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   05/07/2023 1630

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