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March 22, 2011 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Are there any people or communities that deal with spirituality as well as social justice & anti-oppression (rather than perpetuate it further)?

I've been feeling a push and pull need about spirituality for some years now; sometimes I'll feel really in tune and sometimes I'll be agnostic to the point of apathetic or atheist. I grew up Muslim but fell out of it for various reasons, and tried various strands of Paganism for a while.

I'm mainly tired of feeling disconnected and yearn to rebuild that connection with something bigger than I am, and I'd really appreciate a community of people to do this with.

However, I can't seem to find this community. There are plenty of alternative spiritual groups in my area, but I often stick out for being young & brown & foreign, and there's a lot of cultural appropriation and privilege-denying happening by people who claim to be "enlightened".

(Today I just had a tussle with people who didn't get how the Law of Attraction plays into victim-blaming and marginalisation, and I'm sick and tired of people who toss around "karma" and "chakra" and random Asian deities as though they don't mean anything.)

I have found people who seem to embody what I'm after - people who examine spirituality and how it intersects with privilege and oppression, people who are often marginalised themselves, people who aren't in it for a quick buck but are mostly about building community. But they seem to me like feathers from mystery birds, that fly away too swiftly before you can work out where they come from.

Do more exist? Are there any more compassionate thoughtful aware minds and spirits out there?

As an aside: I am greatly unhappy with contemporary Western takes on atheism too. They often also seem to be really addled with Western White privilege and erase the experiences & wisdom of various cultures, especially indigenous cultures, not to mention their tendency to lump all spirituality into one basket. So please don't recommend them as an option too.
posted by divabat to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For some reason the Quakers is pinging for me. It is a Christian denomination, but very "low-key" -- the worship services are just sitting in quiet reflection -- and there's a great emphasis on community-building and social service.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may be interested in engaged buddhism.
posted by headnsouth at 9:47 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you been to a Unitarian Universalist church? There's quite a lot of variability from congregation to congregation so I can't say that it'll definitely be a perfect fit, but I know a lot of UU's, and most of them are pretty explicitly having conversations about just these issues.

(One note: the current demographics for the church are lean white, upper-middle class, educated, and older. So you may still stick out.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:50 AM on March 22, 2011

Seconding Quakers.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:05 AM on March 22, 2011

There are local community centers in every major city, and usually someone is available to chat and answer questions. In my personal experience, the overall atmosphere is very family-like, warm and engaging. The main goal is that every individual become happy, in their own unique way. Happy people = peaceful world. As an organization, we are grounded in social justice, women's & children's rights, gay rights, environmental issues, etc. But it's also pretty free and open - participate as much or as little as you like, no pressure. Rubber-meets-the-road, practical application for modern living buddhism :) Feel free to memail me.
posted by tanuki.gao at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2011

Check out Liberation Theology if you haven't. It sounds right up your alley, if you're okay with Jesus being involved.

Liberation Catholics do awesome and immensely brave social justice work.

And speaking of Catholics, The National Catholic Reporter does good reporting on social justice.

Around here, the evangelical churches do excellent social justice work but their theology is more conservative than I can take.

On a more political/corporate level, there is an organization called Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which is a group that combines the forces of all sorts of religion (though heavily Christian) to make social change through shareholder action. It's not a community, though.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2011

Quaker communities are great, too.
posted by tanuki.gao at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2011

Yeah, Quakers came to mind first. Followed by Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh, whose teachings on meditation are very engaged with social justice and compassionate living. Also from the Christian side Fr. Richard Rohr and Tom Sine and Mustard Seed associates.
posted by cross_impact at 10:12 AM on March 22, 2011

You might look into the work of Thorn Coyle, who is an American Pagan with Sufi and Western ceremonial leanings, and if you're looking for a more Christian bent, you may dig on Matthew Fox (not the guy from Lost).

Coyle's work may appeal to you as a testament to how far some of the emerging Pagan movements have come from their beginnings, depending on your prior experience.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2011

Yeah, social justice-oriented Catholics fit your bill. In an urban area you may find more diverse congregations as well, though perhaps not of your particular background. But you may not feel you stand out as much in a place with at least some diversity. (My last parish used to do prayers of the faithful in 12 languages from all over the world, though most parishioners were English or Spanish speaking; we had at least individual members/families from all over the place.)

One difficulty is that the sort of "thoughtful" religion you are looking for will probably be dominated by the well-educated, who are often children of privilege, even if they are socially aware and committed to social justice; impoverished religious communities are typically more dominated by folk beliefs and practices and are less invested in theology and theory. But I think you've hit on it above when you talk about "privilege-denying" and so on; you want to look for thoughtful people, who may come from privileged backgrounds, but who are self-aware about it and strive to share rather than appropriate and so on. It's very rare for the community of "thinkers" not to be at least some distance from the impoverished (big issue for early Marxists, even), and it doesn't have to be a clueless obnoxious kind of thing, but there will always be a tension there.

One option might be the Catholic Worker movement: ("The Catholic Worker Movement is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person. Today 213 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.") I know there are houses in New Zealand; there may or may not be in Australia, though there are people in the movement. You don't have to be Catholic to work with them. If you were in the U.S. I could suggest many more options. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:26 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Was also going to say Quaker, that's my denomination. Its roots are Christian but today there are a lot of non-Christian quakers, and there is no dogma, the emphasis is on seeking truth as you understand it. The Unitarians are similar but have a more traditional form of service and less emphasis on their Christian history.
posted by Miko at 11:19 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

UU congregations vary; in NYC Community Church would fit the bill, All Souls not so much. Give your local congregation a try. They are sometimes more Christian, sometimes less.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:49 PM on March 22, 2011

Also, if you're under 35, a UU young adult group might be good. Often there's a lot of commitment to social justice, and anti-oppression work and they are at least young. Definitely, YMMV with UUs.
posted by plonkee at 2:50 PM on March 22, 2011

Salvation Army are major providers of social services, though at first glance might seem too conservative for you.

There are various flavors of Mennonites with strong intellectual leanings. Acknowledgements upthread that intellectual groups can be mimsy ring true, but.

A lot depends on the specific group. I recommend trying each group that meets your necessary conditions and giving them a go, even if on paper they seem too conservative or too x or whatever. Often when a group hits your sweet spot, it's when you least expect it.
posted by tel3path at 4:43 PM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: I've been to the Brisbane UU group; they're nice people, but older and white and have the tendency to be all "ooh your English is so good!". Kinda like a Rotary meeting.

I'm heading to the Bay Area in June for about 3 months so any recs for anything based there would be good.

Not so keen on anything with a dogma (and the Salvation Army hasn't had a great rep here beliefs-wide) but some interesting leads here, thank you.
posted by divabat at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: I just realised that we may be working with different ideas of social justice here. I'm not really talking about doing good deeds or charity work (which can sometimes be patronising) but more thoughtful community building that takes into account politics and social issues. Activisty in a way.

I'm somewhat more inclined towards what someone described above as folk practices, since they usually tap into deep communal history. My ancestry and community origins are largely Muslim which doesn't help! The closest culturally would be Hinduism, and I've been referred to some African women who seem intriguing, but I still feel like I'm intruding on someone else's sacred space.

posted by divabat at 12:21 AM on March 30, 2011

...more thoughtful community building that takes into account politics and social issues. Activisty in a way.

Well, as a nonreligious person who has found community and value in a UU church that hosts a buddhist meditation group, it's my opinion that "church" and "activisty" shouldn't mix. I cringe when the church newsletter invites people to write their congressmen about this or that issue, or when the minister uses her sermon to talk about environmental issues. It doesn't matter that I agree with what she's saying, it's just that if it's ok for my progressive, social-justice-seeking minister to involve her independent-thinking congregation in politics, then it's also ok for the right-wing megachurch hate-spreading ministers to involve their authority-following congregations in politics too. And that's really not ok with me.

It may be a matter of semantics, but good deeds, to me, do build community, just through service rather than advocacy. And the soup kitchen where my church serves doesn't require the guests there to listen to a sermon before they eat.
posted by headnsouth at 9:11 AM on March 30, 2011

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