sociology of religion


  • [36] Peter Berger[edit] 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.

  • 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.

  • Although he believes some generalized statements about social life can be made, he is not interested in hard positivist claims, but instead in linkages and sequences, in historical
    narratives and particular cases.

  • [34] This contradicts the older view of secularization which states that if a liberal religious community is tolerant of a wide array of belief, then the population is less
    likely to hold certain beliefs in common, so nothing can be shared and reified in a community context, leading to a reduction in religious observance.

  • [35] The religious economy model sparked a lively debate among sociologists of religion on whether market models fit religious practices and on the extents to which this model
    of religious behavior is specific to the United States.

  • [44] Religion and the social landscape Not only does religion shape large-scale social institutions such as government and social movements, it plays a part in families, race,
    gender, class, and age – things involved in everyday lives.

  • [29] Despite the claims of many classical theorists and sociologists immediately after World War II, many contemporary theorists have critiqued secularization thesis, arguing
    that religion has continued to play a vital role in the lives of individuals worldwide.

  • [15] Rationalists say that one cannot explain forms of knowledge in terms of the beneficial psychological or societal effects that an outside observer may see them as producing
    and emphasize the importance of looking at the point of view of those who believe in them.

  • Durkheim’s definition of religion, from Elementary Forms, is as follows: “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say,
    things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.

  • Because religion helps to define motivation, Weber believed that religion (and specifically Calvinism) actually helped to give rise to modern capitalism, as he asserted in
    his most famous and controversial work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

  • A religious group or individual is influenced by all kinds of things, he says, but if they claim to be acting in the name of religion, we should attempt to understand their
    perspective on religious grounds first.

  • Families[edit] One of the biggest indicators of religiosity in adulthood is the religious atmosphere within families and upbringing, given that religious beliefs and practices
    are passed on from generation to generation.

  • Others argue that religion has become an individual, rather than a collective, organized affair.

  • However, as the division of labour makes the individual seem more important (a subject that Durkheim treats extensively in his famous The Division of Labour in Society), religious
    systems increasingly focus on individual salvation and conscience.

  • 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.

  • [29] In relation to the processes of rationalization associated with the development of modernity, it was predicted in the works of many classical sociologists that religion
    would decline.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • This is the case as with the advent of modernity, religious meaning making has shifted more into the individual domain.

  • His underlying interest was to understand the basic forms of religious life for all societies.

  • Religion was considered to be an extremely important social variable in the work of all three.

  • Puritan theology was based on the Calvinist notion that not everyone would be saved; there was only a specific number of the elect who would avoid damnation, and this was
    based sheerly on God’s predetermined will and not on any action you could perform in this life.

  • But he “did not believe in science for science’s sake … he believed that he was also advancing a theory that would … be a useful tool … [in] effecting a revolutionary upheaval
    of the capitalist system in favor of socialism.

  • A cult is a religious movement that makes some new claim about the supernatural and therefore does not easily fit within the sect-church cycle.

  • Belief systems are seen as encouraging social order and social stability in ways that rationally based knowledge cannot.

  • [33] Stark is well known for pioneering, with William Sims Bainbridge, a theory of religious economy, according to which societies that restrict supply of religion, either
    through an imposed state religious monopoly or through state-sponsored secularization, are the main causes of drops in religiosity.

  • This along with the rationalism implied by monotheism led to the development of rational bookkeeping and the calculated pursuit of financial success beyond what one needed
    simply to live – and this is the “spirit of capitalism”.

  • Still others suggest that functional alternatives to traditional religion, such as nationalism and patriotism, have emerged to promote social solidarity.

  • Ernest Gellner[edit] Unlike Wilson and Weber, Ernest Gellner[40] (1974) 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.

  • Thus later sociologists of religion (notably Robert Neelly Bellah) have extended Durkheimian insights to talk about notions of civil religion, or the religion of a state.

  • According to functionalists, “religion serves several purposes, like providing answers to spiritual mysteries, offering emotional comfort, and creating a place for social
    interaction and social control.

  • For instance, some sociologists have argued that steady church attendance and personal religious belief may coexist with a decline in the influence of religious authorities
    on social or political issues.

  • [16] People do not believe in God, practice magic, or think that witches cause misfortune because they think they are providing themselves with psychological reassurance,
    or to achieve greater social cohesion for their social groups.

  • It provides social support and social networking, offering a place to meet others who hold similar values and a place to seek help (spiritual and material) in times of need.

  • [47] Children receive a religious legacy from their parents and from the society immediately surrounding them, through instruction and (intentionally or unintentionally) through
    the power of example that is shaped by values, personality, and interests.

  • 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.

  • Pre-modern discourses were dominated by religion, where things were defined as good and evil, and social life was centered around these concepts.

  • In the field work that led to his famous Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim, a secular Frenchman, looked at anthropological data of Indigenous Australians.

  • One of the differences between these theories is whether they view capitalism as positive or problematic.

  • [10] Weber argues for making sense of religious action on its own terms.

  • [11] Over time, the habits associated with the spirit of capitalism lost their religious significance, and the rational pursuit of profit became an aim in its own right.

  • [citation needed] Twentieth-century rationalist thinking generally rejected such a view, reasoning that pre-modern people didn’t possess inferior minds, but lacked the social
    and cultural conditions needed to promote rationalism.

  • Their religious legacy is among the factors that condition people throughout their lives, although people as individuals have diverse reactions to their legacies.

  • 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.

  • Of these, Durkheim and Weber are often more difficult to understand, especially in light of the lack of context and examples in their primary texts.

  • 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.

  • Weber gives religion credit for shaping a person’s image of the world, and this image of the world can affect their view of their interests, and ultimately how they decide
    to take action.

  • His work is in the tradition of Max Weber, who saw modern societies as places in which rationality dominates life and thought.

  • Dr. 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.

  • 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.

  • Theoretical perspectives Symbolic anthropology and phenomenology[edit] Symbolic anthropology and some versions of phenomenology argue that all humans require reassurance that
    the world is safe and ordered place – that is, they have a need for ontological security.

  • He was deeply interested in the problem of what held complex modern societies together.

  • In particular, sociologists use the words ‘cult’ and ‘sect’ without negative connotations, even though the popular use of these words is often pejorative.

  • The inability of science to offer psychological and emotional comfort explains the presence and influence of non-scientific knowledge in human lives, even in rational world.

  • Functionalism[edit] Unlike symbolic anthropology and phenomenology, functionalism points to the benefits for social organization which non-scientific belief systems provide
    and which scientific knowledge fails to deliver.

  • By simply selling their work for wages, “workers simultaneously lose connection with the object of labor and become objects themselves.

  • Other sociologists have taken Durkheim’s concept of what religion is in the direction of the religion of professional sports, the military, or of rock music.

  • Wilson[18] insists that non-scientific systems – and religious ones in particular – have experienced an irreversible decline in influence.

  • [31] The rise of Islam as a major world religion, especially its new-found influence in the West, is another significant development.

  • [37]: 82  Globalization The sociology of religion continues to grow throughout the world, attempting to understand the relationship between religion and globalization.

  • 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.

  • To the contrary, as globalization intensified many different cultures started to look into different religions and incorporate different beliefs into society.

  • To outsiders who know them, people are identified in part by their religious legacy.

  • Peter Berger, an American sociologist, considers secularization is the result of a larger sociostructural crisis in religion is caused by pluralism.

  • [30] They claimed that there would be a separation of religion from the institutions such as the state, economy, and family.

  • It follows, then, that less complex societies, such as the Australian Aborigines, have less complex religious systems, involving totems associated with particular clans.

  • Modern life became increasingly subject to medical control – the medical gaze, as Foucault called it.

  • Official doctrine held that one could not ever really know whether one was among the elect.


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