Billions of people follow a religion, each with their reason. For some, it’s about finding a deeper meaning to life, while others want to believe that there is something bigger than themself.
Whatever the reason is, deaf people are just like hearing people with reasons to have religion in their life. Since deaf people are a minority community, finding that sense of belonging is equally important. Let’s explore the role of religion in the deaf community.
Deaf Culture as a Collectivist Society
Culture typically falls into two categories. In countries like the U.S., England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and others, it’s an individualistic culture. People are more independent and want to make a life for themselves. They seldom depend on others for survival.
In a collectivist culture, like China, Japan, and India, it is all about the community and how each person can contribute to a greater cause. People tend to look out for one another, and most things are in the interest of others.
While being deaf isn’t an ethnic or racial characteristic, they have a unique culture from mainstream society. People in the deaf community value the group more than being an individual. There is a true sense of togetherness amongst deaf people because sign language and history unite them and are at the forefront of their society. Therefore, finding a faith-based system to further that togetherness is ideal.
Spiritual Development of the Deaf Community
There are positives and negatives to religion involving spiritual development in the deaf community. For example, deaf Christians experience feeling isolated, not only because of language barriers at hearing churches but also stems of the Bible. From a line in Psalm 58, “The wicked go astray from the womb; they err from their birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ears.”
This idea that they are disabled and punished in the eyes of God can have a tremendous effect on their overall spiritual development, such as questioning the ideas set out in the Bible and the belief system as a whole.
On a more positive note, having a religion also gives deaf people a sense of belonging, and creates a tight-knit community. They still follow religion in the same way as a hearing person. They visit the place of worship and participate in religious activities, and they can also be volunteers within their community. A study made by Boni Boswell, author of, Dance of Disability and Spirituality, tells us that religion has the role of igniting self-reflection for deaf people that allows them to see the positives and negatives of being deaf.
The Barriers to Places of Worship
Deaf people face barriers to understanding the world around them. The same happens in places of worship. A fair amount of frustration is experienced by deaf people not being able to understand the message or service given by the religious figure. This puts deaf people at a disadvantage because they want the experience.
Communication as Barrier
The main problem is with interpreters and translators in the church. Wayne Morris, author of Theology Without Words: Theology in the Deaf Community, points out that deaf people experience religious service less authentically because the translation lacks emotional connection.
Even though communication is the dominant issue, some deaf people find solace. In religions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, there is silent prayer. It’s a time of reflection and being alone with God(s). Silent prayer is an essential moment for a worshipper to create a closer relationship with their creator. Deaf people do practice this by praying in their heads. Even if there is a slight disconnect during the public service, they can still feel a spiritual connection in private.
How Places of Worship are Changing the Experience
The world is slowly evolving for deaf people. There are initiatives taken to make religion more accessible. Religious groups are also doing their part to change how deaf people experience faith. The most important part of changing this is increasing awareness, which countries like the U.S. lack.
A Deaf Priest is Paving the Way
The biggest barrier for Deaf people is communication and listening to the message during the service. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many deaf priests in the United States. However, one Deaf Korean man has changed things for deaf Catholic worshippers. Park Min Seo was the first ordained deaf priest in Korea and also one of the only Catholic deaf priests in the world.
Naysayers told Park that his mission of creating a church for the deaf was impossible, but he knew the struggles and feelings of disconnect associated with not understanding the mass. Park strived to help deaf people have an agency with the church and play an active role. Park’s efforts were successful when he raised enough funds to open deaf churches in Korea and open access to deaf churches by leading the masses in the United States.
How Religious Spaces are Becoming Inclusive
There are several ways that religion is becoming more accessible to deaf people. Some deaf communities have churches specifically for them. Deaf churches are micro-communities and allow people to worship without language barriers.
The Efforts to Inclusiveness
Visual aids are crucial for communication with deaf people. It’s important for a place of worship to have things like a transcript, PowerPoint, or captioned videos. It makes the service more engaging and helps the deaf understand it better.
Another way churches, temples, synagogues, and so on are improving the experience of deaf people in the church is by learning sign language. Religious leaders learning the language and using it during the service will increase connection to the religion and cultural sensitivity towards the deaf tremendously.
Having services dedicated to signing language is a step forward. But more can be done. Deaf people want to feel part of the religious community as much as hearing people are. Having opportunities for deaf people to be in positions of power creates that sense of unity. They can be teachers in religious education classes, leaders in ceremonies, and active participants during services.
Deaf people still experience a tight-knit community despite the feelings of isolation from mainstream society. Religion has played a positive and negative role within the community, as it does with everyone else. Religion can also be another tool for creating micro-communities for further relationships and connections in the deaf community.
To discover more about how Unspoken Language Services is making the world more inclusive to deaf people, visit, https://www.unspokenasl.com/