Guide The Sociology of Religion

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Even the strongest atheists are "religious" in the sense that they do arbitrary things, they set things apart — we treat our friends differently from people we don't know, for example. However, philosophical theists make claims expressed in rational language about the nature of reality. That is not an inescapable part of human existence.

The claim that "atheism is a religion" depends on an equivocation between these two ideas of "religion" — and under this definition it doesn't stand up anyway. Atheists are not a single moral community, and atheists have no unifying system of ritual, even if we all practice rituals in daily life. This distinction is referred to as the "functional" versus the "substantive" definitions of religion. Functional analyses, most often used in sociology, look at the role religion plays in social and cultural contexts.

Substantive analyses, on the other hand, concentrate on the supernatural and philosophical content of religious thought. Fighting pseudoscience isn't free. Jump to: navigation , search. Emile ". In Claeys, Gregory. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Thought. Retrieved In contrast to Max Weber and William James, he argued that the essential features of religion are most clearly displayed in the simplest and the most primitive: Australian totemism is the test case for a general theory about religion.

Through the analysis of this material contested, as was his hypothesis , he offers a sociological explanation of religion. God and the soul are born of society and are symbolic representations of it: dependency on the sacred beings that are believed in and worshipped in ritual action being a derivative of our dependence on society. Sacred beings are created out of collective thought - in particular collective representations and forces, and he stressed the moments of collective effervescence as the birthplace of religious ideas and indeed of moments of sacred change.

Berger [13] laid a framework for this approach, "Religion is the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established. Put differently, religion is cosmization in a sacred mode. Use of the word sacred in this context refers to a quality of mysterious and awesome power, other than man and yet related to him, which is believed to reside in certain objects of experience" p.

In other words, for the social constructionist, religion is not created by or for supernatural beings but rather is the result of societies delineating certain elements of society as sacred. In the social constructionist frame of mind, these elements of society are then objectified in society so they seem to take on an existence of their own. As a result, they can then act back on the individual e. Another important element of religion discussed by Berger [13] in his outline of the social constructionist approach is the idea of plausibility structures.

According to Berger,. In short, plausibility structures are the societal elements that provide the support for a set of beliefs not necessarily religious , including people, institutions, and the processes by which the beliefs are spread, e. Another important element to consider of plausibility structures is mentioned by Berger, "When an entire society serves as the plausibility structure for a religiously legitimated world, all the important social processes within it serve to confirm and reconfirm the reality of this world" p.

The Sociological Approach to Religion | Introduction to Sociology

A good example of this may be Iran, where everything is structured to reinforce the Islamic faith as reality. Religious pluralism is the belief that one can overcome religious differences between different religions and denominational conflicts within the same religion. For most religious traditions, religious pluralism is essentially based on a non-literal view of one's religious traditions, allowing for respect to be engendered between different traditions on core principles rather than more marginal issues.

It is perhaps summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on immaterial differences and instead gives respect to those beliefs held in common. The existence of religious pluralism depends on the existence of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is when different religions of a particular region possess the same rights of worship and public expression. Freedom of religion is consequently weakened when one religion is given rights or privileges denied to others, as in certain European countries where Roman Catholicism or regional forms of Protestantism have special status.

For example see the Lateran Treaty and Church of England; also, in Saudi Arabia the public practice of religions other than Islam is forbidden. Religious freedom has not existed at all in some communist countries where the state restricts or prevents the public expression of religious belief and may even actively persecute individual religions see for example North Korea.

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Religious Pluralism has also been argued to be a factor in the continued existence of religion in the U. This theoretical approach [14] proposes that because no religion was guaranteed a monopoly in the U. As a result, religions are now better understood as capitalist corporations peddling their wares in a highly competitive market than they are as monopolistic Churches like Roman Catholicism was prior to The Reformation or, some might argue, still is in Latin America or as small, fervent, protest-like sects are.

The result of religious pluralism is, like capitalism generally in the U. Because religions are good at marketing themselves as the providers of social psychological compensators see below , they have been successful. The primary social-psychological reason why religion continues to exist is because it answers existential questions that are difficult, if not impossible, to address scientifically. For instance, science may not be able to address the question of what happens when someone dies other than to provide a biological explanation i.

Science is also unable to address the question of a higher purpose in life other than simply to reproduce or exist. Finally, science cannot disprove or prove the existence of a higher being. Each of these existential components are discussed below in greater detail. Studies have found that fear is a factor in religious conversion. Altemeyer and Hunsberger , in their book Amazing Conversions , note that one of the primary motivations for people to seek religion was fear of the unknown; specifically, fear of the after-life and what it portends.

While fear likely does not motivate all religious people, it certainly is a factor for some. Religion can provide a non-falsifiable answer to the question of what happens after people die. Such answers can provide comfort for individuals who want to know what will happen when they die. Religion providing a purpose in life was also a motivation found by Altemeyer and Hunsberger in their analysis of religious converts. Batson et.


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However, he introduces a caveat that is particularly telling for religious individuals — for the most positive impact on SWB, goals should be difficult but attainable. Difficult but attainable is a good description of salvation for religious people. People have to work toward salvation, but they believe it can be achieved. Thus, religion can provide a goal and purpose in life for people who believe they need one.

Belief in God is attributable to a combination of the above factors i. The biggest predictor of adult religiosity is parental religiosity; if a person's parents were religious when he was a child, he is likely to be religious when he grows up. Children are socialized into religion by their parents and their peers and, as a result, they tend to stay in religions.

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Alternatively, children raised in secular homes tend not to convert to religion. This is the underlying premise of Altemeyer and Hunsberger's main thesis — they found some interesting cases where just the opposite seemed to happen; secular people converted to religion and religious people became secular. Despite these rare exceptions, the process of socialization is certainly a significant factor in the continued existence of religion.

Combined, these three social-psychological components explain, with the help of religious pluralism, the continued high levels of religiosity in the U. People are afraid of things they do not understand death , they feel they need a purpose in life to be happy a. SWB , and they are socialized into religion and believing in God s by parents.

A detailed description of these religions is beyond the scope of this chapter and the interested reader is encouraged to follow the above links for more information. One note is, however, in order concerning these religious groups. The classification of these groups as world religions is, like all classifications, artificial. In the European academy, Christianity was originally deemed the only "world religion," a move that oriented the modern academic study of religion around Christianity as an ideal type to which other traditions were compared.

Although the traditions of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam eventually joined the artificial pantheon of "world religions," the current version of the list overlooks the widespread influence of traditions such as Yoruba, Confucianism, Sikhism, etc. Finally, the nonreligious - individuals without a religious affiliation - are actually a larger percentage of the world's population than Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews. In short, classification as a world religion is more than a little arbitrary.

Even so, familiarity with these major religions is a good starting point for learning about religion as a force that has shaped human civilization. One explanation for the greater involvement of women in religion is socialization. In fact, since many major denominations see below for more on these dynamics emphasize women's submission to god and men, many religious traditions may aid feminine socialization associated with developing submissive, nurturing, and subordinate social roles.

Recognizing these patterns, scholars have argued religion may play a pivotal role in the construction and maintenance of gender inequalities. Counter-intuitively unless gender inequality is one of the primary goals or functions of much religion , even though women are more religious than men, many religions continue to disenfranchise women. The primary reasons these religions refuse to allow women to be ordained are Biblical literalism believing the Bible is the literal word of god and not believing that it is a historical work written in a different time and sacramentalism the belief that the person performing sacramental rituals must represent Jesus in his "manliness".

Even within the religions that do allow women equal rights and ordination, women experience discrimination. They include five distinctions in their discussion. If you are an American of African descent, you are more likely to:. Religion has been one of the primary resources that African descendants have drawn upon since their arrival in the U. Religion has provided a sense of community and support for African-Americans and was also extremely influential in the Civil Rights Movement [20] As a result, religion has a more prominent role in the day-to-day lives of African-Americans.

Religion is also divided by race. During the U. After the American Civil War, former slaves left the white-dominated religions and created their own as they were mistreated in the white-dominated churches. Today, predominately black churches and predominately white churches remain distinct with very few churches catering to mixed race congregations though megachurches tend to be more multi-racial. Emerson and Smith [21] convincingly argue that white Evangelical Christians in the U.

This is the result of white Evangelicals refusing to see structural factors that contribute to inequality and their proclivity to blame poor blacks for their poverty. Socioeconomic status SES or class tends to be associated more with how religion is practiced rather than degree of religiosity i. Members of lower classes tend to associate with more fundamentalist religions and sect-like groups.

Members of the middle class tend to belong to more formal churches. Like income, educational attainment tends to vary by religious group. People in more fundamentalist religious groups tend to have lower levels of educational attainment while people in more liberal religious groups tend to have higher levels of educational attainment. This relationship between education and religion is illustrated in the figure below. An important study by Johnson [23] draws a complex but interesting picture of the relationship between religion and education attainment.

Johnson found a dichotomization of religiosity as a result of college education. Those who make it through college with their religious beliefs intact tend to be more devout than those who do not attend college to begin with yet remain religious. On the other side, those who don't make it through college with their religious beliefs intact end up far less orthodox and are more likely to disavow religion altogether.

The relationship between education and religiosity is a dichotomization — college education strengthens both religiosity and irreligiosity, it just depends on where you end up. Johnson's finding is particularly insightful in light of the social psychological theory of cognitive dissonance , which argues that religious people will at least initially reinforce their beliefs in light of disconfirming evidence. According to Batson et.

Sociology of religion

In order to understand this nuanced relationship, it is necessary to clarify the different types of religiosity Batson et. These types or orientations stem from the work of Gordon Allport who distinguished two types of religiosity and provided their corresponding labels: intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Extrinsic religiosity refers to people who use religion as a means to an end e. Intrinsic religiosity refers to people who see religion as the end e.

Quest religiosity refers to the religious seeker who constantly asks questions and may not believe there are any clear answers to them. If one does not take into consideration the different types of religiosity i. In other words, numbers of members might still be growing, but this does not mean that all members are faithfully following the rules of pious behaviors expected. In that sense, religion may be seen as declining because of its waning ability to influence behavior.

According to Rodney Stark , David Martin was the first contemporary sociologist to reject the secularization theory outright. Martin even proposed that the concept of secularization be eliminated from social scientific discourse, on the grounds that it had only served ideological purposes and because there was no evidence of any general shift from a religious period in human affairs to a secular period.

Correspondingly, the more religions a society has, the more likely the population is to be religious. Peter Berger observed that while researchers supporting the secularization theory have long maintained that religion must inevitably decline in the modern world, today, much of the world is as religious as ever.

Sociology of religion

This points to the falsity of the secularization theory. On the other hand, Berger also notes that secularization may be indeed have taken hold in Europe, while the United States and other regions have continued to remain religious despite the increased modernity.

Berger suggested that the reason for this may have to do with the education system; in Europe, teachers are sent by the educational authorities and European parents would have to put up with secular teaching, while in the United States, schools were for much of the time under local authorities, and American parents, however unenlightened, could fire their teachers. Berger also notes that unlike Europe, America has seen the rise of Evangelical Protestantism, or "born-again Christians".

Bryan R. Wilson is a writer on secularization who is interested in the nature of life in a society dominated by scientific knowledge. His work is in the tradition of Max Weber, who saw modern societies as places in which rationality dominates life and thought. Weber saw rationality as concerned with identifying causes and working out technical efficiency, with a focus on how things work and with calculating how they can be made to work more effectively, rather than why they are as they are.

According to Weber, such rational worlds are disenchanted. Existential questions about the mysteries of human existence, about who we are and why we are here, have become less and less significant. Wilson [14] insists that non-scientific systems — and religious ones in particular — have experienced an irreversible decline in influence. He has engaged in a long debate with those who dispute the secularization thesis, some of which argue that the traditional religions, such as church-centered ones, have become displaced by an abundance of non-traditional ones, such as cults and sects of various kinds.

Others argue that religion has become an individual, rather than a collective, organized affair. Still others suggest that functional alternatives to traditional religion, such as nationalism and patriotism, have emerged to promote social solidarity. Wilson does accept the presence of a large variety of non-scientific forms of meaning and knowledge, but he argues that this is actually evidence of the decline of religion.

The increase in the number and diversity of such systems is proof of the removal of religion from the central structural location that it occupied in pre-modern times. Unlike Wilson and Weber, Ernest Gellner [30] acknowledges that there are drawbacks to living in a world whose main form of knowledge is confined to facts we can do nothing about and that provide us with no guidelines on how to live and how to organize ourselves. In this regard, we are worse off than pre-modern people, whose knowledge, while incorrect, at least provided them with prescriptions for living. However, Gellner insists that these disadvantages are far outweighed by the huge technological advances modern societies have experienced as a result of the application of scientific knowledge.

Gellner doesn't claim that non-scientific knowledge is in the process of dying out. For example, he accepts that religions in various forms continue to attract adherents. He also acknowledges that other forms of belief and meaning, such as those provided by art, music, literature, popular culture a specifically modern phenomenon , drug taking, political protest, and so on are important for many people.

Nevertheless, he rejects the relativist interpretation of this situation — that in modernity, scientific knowledge is just one of many accounts of existence, all of which have equal validity. This is because, for Gellner, such alternatives to science are profoundly insignificant since they are technically impotent, as opposed to science. He sees that modern preoccupations with meaning and being as a self-indulgence that is only possible because scientific knowledge has enabled our world to advance so far.

Unlike those in pre-modern times, whose overriding priority is to get hold of scientific knowledge in order to begin to develop, we can afford to sit back in the luxury of our well-appointed world and ponder upon such questions because we can take for granted the kind of world science has constructed for us. Michel Foucault was a post-structuralist who saw human existence as being dependent on forms of knowledge — discourses — that work like languages.

In order to think at all, we are obliged to use these definitions. The knowledge we have about the world is provided for us by the languages and discourses we encounter in the times and places in which we live our lives. Thus, who we are, what we know to be true, and what we think are discursively constructed.

Foucault defined history as the rise and fall of discourses. Social change is about changes in prevailing forms of knowledge. The job of the historian is to chart these changes and identify the reasons for them. Unlike rationalists, however, Foucault saw no element of progress in this process. To Foucault, what is distinctive about modernity is the emergence of discourses concerned with the control and regulation of the body. According to Foucault, the rise of body-centered discourses necessarily involved a process of secularization. Pre-modern discourses were dominated by religion, where things were defined as good and evil, and social life was centered around these concepts.

With the emergence of modern urban societies, scientific discourses took over, and medical science was a crucial element of this new knowledge. Modern life became increasingly subject to medical control — the medical gaze , as Foucault called it. The rise to power of science, and of medicine in particular, coincided with a progressive reduction of the power of religious forms of knowledge. For example, normality and deviance became more of a matter of health and illness than of good and evil, and the physician took over from the priest the role of defining, promoting, and healing deviance.

BBC News reported on a study by physicists and mathematicians that attempted to use mathematical modelling nonlinear dynamics to predict future religious orientations of populations. The study suggests that religion is headed towards "extinction" in various nations where it has been on the decline: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

The model considers not only the changing number of people with certain beliefs, but also attempts to assign utility values of a belief in each nation. Thomas Luckmann maintains that the sociology of religion should cease preoccupations with the traditional and institutionalized forms of religion. Luckmann points instead to the "religious problem" which is the "problem of individual existence. The sociology of religion continues to grow throughout the world, attempting to understand the relationship between religion and globalization.

Two older approaches to globalization include modernization theory , a functionalist derivative, and world-systems theory , a Marxist approach. One of the differences between these theories is whether they view capitalism as positive or problematic. However, both assumed that modernization and capitalism would diminish the hold of religion. To the contrary, as globalization intensified many different cultures started to look into different religions and incorporate different beliefs into society.

For example, according to Paul James and Peter Mandaville :. Religion and globalization have been intertwined with each other since the early empires attempted to extend their reach across what they perceived to be world-space. Processes of globalization carried religious cosmologies — including traditional conceptions of universalism — to the corners of the world, while these cosmologies legitimated processes of globalization.

This dynamic of inter-relation has continued to the present, but with changing and sometimes new and intensifying contradictions. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the book by Max Weber, see Sociology of Religion book. For the academic journal, see Sociology of Religion journal. Main article: Marxism and religion.

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. January Learn how and when to remove this template message. This section is written like a personal reflection, personal essay, or argumentative essay that states a Wikipedia editor's personal feelings or presents an original argument about a topic. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style.


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This section needs more links to other articles to help integrate it into the encyclopedia. Please help improve this article by adding links that are relevant to the context within the existing text. Main article: Sociological classifications of religious movements. Main articles: Secularization and Civil religion.

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