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Social Class And Religion

Since the earliest times of Before Common Era, several types of religion all over the world has been practiced. It is not until recently that researchers and critics have found a correlation between religion and social class. Things such as this are commonly demonstrated in Rudyard Kipling’s, Kim. Throughout the novel Kim, the author explores the experiences of his protagonist in order to analyze the ways in which social class and religion correlate within Indian culture and human relations in general.

By examining various characters and their motivations, it can be assumed that Kipling was suggesting that the higher one’s social status, the higher the likelihood was of them being religious. The story of Kim is centered around the life of Kimball O’Hara as an orphan in the late 19th century under British-Indian rule. Throughout the story, Kim is a disciple to a religious figure in the novel known commonly as the lama. During their journey together, they encounter several types of social figures, such as: spies, generals, as well as church figures.

While power shifts throughout the novel from each of these social figures, it does not change the fact that there is a correlation between religion and social class between each of these figures and how they change throughout the novel. Given that the novel was written in 1901, there was not much acceptance of a variety of religions during this time in India—India was still under the British rule, so relations were tense during the early 1900’s. The concept that there is a correlation between religion and social class is both important and relevant.

During this time, it was easy to be shunned to a lower class if your religious views did not fit the standard. An example of this would be the Amish church, who are specifically known to shun those who do not meet the standards or their strict rules (Lior). Religion is by definition the “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” (“Oxford Dictionaries”). There are many different types of religion: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Paganism, Hinduism, and more. In the novel Kim specifically, Hinduism is the center religion of the novel.

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, originating approximately 5,000 years ago (“Where Did Hinduism Originate? ”), however, some parts of the religion are so patchy, that it is hard to specify when exactly it originated. With an estimated 900 million followers of the Hindu religion, Hinduism makes up 80 percent of the Indian population claiming to be Hindu (“Where Did Hinduism Originate? ”). The religion itself does not follow a teacher or philosopher, but it does recognize the eternal soul known as Brahman.

Following the recognition of the eternal soul, Hindus also believe that there is a constant soul of “…creation, preservation, and destruction. ” (“Where Did Hinduism Originate? ”) Hindus also believe that everyone is born into a social classification: lower class, priests, farmers, artists, merchants, and more (“Where Did Hinduism Originate? ”). This is significant to note, considering that the protagonist of the story, Kim, is not born into a low-class situation. As readers know, Kim becomes low class due to the death of both of his parents.

This aspect of the novel rather contradicts the stereotypical Hindu belief that everyone is born into a social classification. Social class by definition is a “…division of a society based on social and economic status” (“Oxford Dictionaries”). The concept of social classification is extremely present in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. In May of 2012, an article was published by Jenny Fyall, which revealed that the concept of social inequality has been present since the Stone Age (“The Scotsman). Skeletons that were buried from the Stone Age were often buried with wood tools, used for smoothing or carving wood.

It was speculated that the men that were buried with these tools had more, or better, land than the ones buried without tools (“The Scotsman). The Neolithic area introduced the concept of property that was able to be inherited: such as land and livestock (“The Scotsman”). Rudyard Kipling effortlessly ties the two concepts together, religion and social class, in a sum up where the two are dependent on each other. Rudyard Kipling lived during the reign of Queen Victoria, and for parts of his life lived in England, as well as spent time in France in the summer of 1879 (Gilmour).

Following his time spent in France, at age 12, he attended the Boarding School at The United Services Colleges at Westward Ho! (Gilmour). Kipling admits to experiencing bullying at Westward, and was often referred to as a “book worm”. Rudyard was not often found pleasant. In a testimony given by one of Kipling’s classmates, one of them referred to him as “… so brilliant and cynical that he was most cordially hated by his fellow classmates. ” (Gilmour). A man hated by his classmates, bullied throughout high school, was surely one to acknowledge the cause and effect of social class.

After spending a large portion of his life at Westward Ho! , Kipling and his family moved to Lahore—given that there was more opportunity for work, as well as family unity (Gilmour). At the time, Lahore was under Anglican Reign, and was a site of army cantonment with a population of approximately 150,000. At the time, Lahore was also the population of British India. During his time in Lahore, he began working at the Civil and Military Gazette. Kipling was commonly known to criticize large government in his newspaper columns, exemplifying characteristics in his writing of satire and harsh criticisms (Gilmour, David).

After a few years working at the Gazette, he began to steadily publish more literary work; thus, leading to the eventual publishing of the novel Kim in 1901. With all of the time Kipling spent working at the Gazette as an editor and publisher, he was destined for greatness. After the publishing of Kim in 1901, Kipling went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 (Nobelprize. org). Several reviews have been written of Kim—some calling it “…an exciting read… ” another calling it “…one of the best books [to read]” (“Goodreads”).

While numerous observations and analysis’ have been made of the novel itself, few have been made in regard to the concept throughout the novel of the correlation between social class and religion. In research done by Samuel Stoope, he states that stating that if you were in a city, metropolitan, or urban area, where it was easier to have access to a larger church or religious resources, you were more likely to claim a religion (Stoope, Samuel, Feb. 2012). However, in places like rural India, where immediate resources such as these are not as available to you, it is less likely that you would be religious.

Following this claim, Stoope also suggested that it is greatly speculated that the more urban an environment is, the more likely there is to be a strengthened community interaction (Stoope, Samuel, Feb. 2012). Following Stoope’s research, there have been others to follow and explore the claim. Specifically, Philip Schwadel of the University of Nebraska, department of sociology and communications. In June of 2014, Leslie Reed published the article that explored deeply into the affiliation between social class and religion.

Following the results, Reed writes that “…the results show considerable change in the social-class hierarchy of religious traditions in the United States,” he wrote. “In younger cohorts, differences between evangelical and liberal Protestants are greatly reduced, and evangelical Protestants no longer have lower levels of education and income than do affiliates of ‘other’ religions and the unaffiliated” (Reed, Leslie). When examining the relationship between social class and religion, Schwadel limited the study to people of white coloration only, given that if there were variation in race, it may alter the data.

In conclusion to his study, Schwadel found that evangelical Protestants tend to have lower education and income in comparison to those of other religious affiliations. Schwadel also noted that the “…most significant reduction in social class difference occurred between evangelical Protestants and those who are unaffiliated” (Reed, Leslie). In studies following Stoope’s as well as Schwadel’s, philosophers such as H. Richard Niebuhr have made the note that people from the lower class are more likely to be exempt from being affiliated with a concrete religion (Debrouse, Rachael).

On the contrary, those who are middle and upper class members of society are more likely to be affiliated with religious affiliations. Niebuhr makes the claim that the “…lower class may have less room than those of the middle of upper classes to look outside of religion for answers to problematic economic situations” (DeBrouse, Rachael). All three observations lie centered around the same ideals: that there is an affiliation between religion and social class, and that the higher your social status in society is, the more likely you are to be religious.

There is the exception of Schwadel’s study, in which he was able to conclude that evangelical Protestants in fact had lower education and income. Throughout Kipling’s Kim, the protagonist explores many ways in which there is a correlation between religion and social class. After reading the novel, readers can infer that Kipling is suggesting that the higher one’s social class is, the more likely it is that they are religious. The affiliation between social class and religion is evident, as proven by Kipling’s Kim as well as studies done by philosophers and those professionally studying human relations.

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