Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sociology of Religion - The religious cultural characteristics of Fiji in general and in Christianity (2012)

While it would seem that understanding the religious cultural characteristics of Fiji is complicated by the different cultures that exist within Fiji the reality is that by and large Fijians are culturally Dionysian. The culture of the heart - emotional, passional and experiential describes the dominant cultural patterns of Fijian culture across diverse ethnicities. However there is a complication to this description when it comes to the traditional religious culture and the arrival of new religious movements.
The three main religions in Fiji are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. These three religions have taken on cultural characteristics that are Apollon – rational, logical, analytical and intellectual. Christianity was not just introduced as a religion in Fiji but as part of European (specifically British) expansion into the Pacific (religious, followed by political). Christianity was introduced to the native Fijians by missionaries but through their chiefs. When the chief converted, the people converted. As a result the tradition of Christianity (predominantly protestant – Methodist) that has embedded itself in Fijian culture was Apollon based on the rational intellectualism of the Victorian age, even though the indigenous archaic religion of Fiji was Dionysian. Similarly as organised religion was reestablished among Indians brought to Fiji, under the British neo-slavery of the indenture system of the late 19th and early 20th century, the trend shifted. As Hindu and Muslim priests were sent from India to regularize religious practice in Fiji there was a reform from Dionysian to Apollon.
This has resulted in what I term, religious-cultural schizophrenia. The Fijian people are culturally Dionysian but religiously Apollon. Hinduism has over time, through its rituals reverted to being Dionysian in culture. Islamic tradition in Fiji remains firmly Apollon as was evidenced by the removal of a number of clerics who were attempting to create a more emotional and extreme form of Islam post-9/11. Christianity has struggled with this schizophrenia as the traditional Christian denominations, especially Methodism have been used to maintain social control of members. Emotional, passional and experiential patterns of religion are not accepted within the boundary of the Christian community, but celebrated outside in traditional life. This has also led to an increase in frustration of members of these churches. As a result with the influx of Pentecostal, charismatic and other new religious movements, many Christians who can no longer cope with this cultural schizophrenia have joined these churches which are culturally Dionysian. In the past two decades there has also been a number of breakaways from the Methodist Church in Fiji (the dominant religious group in the country) which have made the shift to Dionysian type of religious culture, but wish to hold on to some aspects of the Methodist tradition.
The influx of new religious movements in Fiji has also had an impact on theodicy in Fiji. Hinduism and Islam maintain their theodicy. In Hinduism takes the form of karma-samsara, ones present life’s position and situation is the result of their actions in a previous life and the actions in the present life will determine the position and situation in the next life. However, while Weber had, on the basis of the caste system, defined Hinduism as other-worldly mysticism, the fact that as a result of the indenture system Indian culture in Fiji has no traditional caste system has affected the method of seeking salvation for Fijian Hindus to the extent that economic activity has become important as a means for improving the quality of life, which is possible. This would suggest that Hinduism in Fiji now has the characteristic of inner-worldly asceticism.
Theodicy in Islam can be seen to have a number of similarities to Christianity – there is a reward in the next life for the suffering in this life, (other-worldly), there is a conflict between God and Satan (dualism) and the “Messiah” will come to destroy evil (millenarianism) – with the exception of soteriology. Salvation in Islam is through ascetic training expressed through the five pillars of confession of faith, worship, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. This gives it the quality of inner-worldly asceticism.
In terms of Christianity, mainline churches view evil as conditional and able to be sanctified through God’s grace. They are soteriological in their theodicy, based on the doctrine of the atonement. However the theodicy many of new religious movements differ in their understanding of God’s justice and unjust situations and thus place greater emphasis on different types of theodicy. There is predominance among Pentecostal sects to focus on eschatology and hold a millenarianism perspective in the belief that we are living in the end times and that Jesus is coming very soon to destroy all evil powers and will reign for a thousand years. A precondition given by a number of groups is that total evangelism must occur for this to happen. Some smaller sects practice a type of syncretism in which mysticism is practiced and traditional Fijian religious-cultural rituals are used. God’s justice in this case is a mystery.

In terms of the social location of religion, Fiji has been characterized by shifts based on the socio-political situation. For many years we enjoyed a period in which the culture was religiously inclusive and socially tolerant. However in the twenty five years since the first political crisis there was a major swing in the pendulum to religiously exclusive and socially intolerant. This was reflective of the emergence of Christian fundamentalism and ethnocentrism among the dominant ethnic group of indigenous Fijians. Recently we have settled for a social location that is religiously exclusive and socially tolerant. However in the current military led regime that is purporting to be working towards unity in diversity, efforts are being made to shift towards being religiously inclusive and socially tolerant once again.

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