Lecture 11 - Religion
Which questions can Sociology address?
Does God exist?
Is there life after death?
How should we define and measure religiosity?
How many people in a society would define themselves as religious?
How important is the family in socializing children into a particular faith?
How regularly do people pray?
Are there any social factors that are associated with religiosity?
Has society become increasingly secular?
What are the religious denominations in a particular country?
How important is the family?
Sociologists: not concerned about the essence of religion, but studying the conditions/effects of a
particular type of social behaviour
Whether religious ideas are true is not our concern, but rather the fact that they are believed to
The fact that religious ideas are held means they potentially can have an important impact on
individuals and social life
Perspectives on Religion
Religion is functional, useful for society, meets our societal/spiritual needs
Provides financial support
Helps create moral boundaries + social solidarity
Churches served function of education
Before social services - served as social care
Durkheim's perspective on God
Gods that people worshipped are socially created
Origin of religion is social
Set of shared beliefs = collective conscience
Important aspect of religious practice is that it's often done as a group; people worship/pray
"God" was the group experiencing itself
Science doesn't have answers to most important questions in life and so religion can step in
to provide answers
Societies integrate people into society by creating sense of unity/solidarity
Evolutionary view of society - moving through diff stages
Pre-industrial society based on mechanical solidarity
Societies move to mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity
Mechanical - societies characterized by strong shared beliefs that are determined by
religious doctrine (religion, religious symbols - tells people right from wrong, religious
celebrations/rituals to renew their commitment) Moved towards organic solidarity - increasing secularism (move away from religion) and
plurality of beliefs (diff sets of beliefs)
Characterized by an absence of moral regulation
Not enough telling people right from wrong
Worried that society was facing moral crisis
Crisis in morality because source for moral regulation has shifted from religion and
held by state/government
Ineffective for source of moral authority
Felt religion was something people created
Religion is source of false consciousness for working class
Serves to pacify working class, prevents them from revolting against capitalism
Religion is the opium of the masses
Distracts them from revolting
People who lack economic/no status can get religious status (e.g. taxi driver no economic
status but head of temple theory)
Gives religious status to working class
Ruling economic class encourage religion because it's a tool of subordination
White American slave owners believed that religious slaves were better slaves because following
their religion made them better and less likely to revolt
Others argue Christian worship religiosity provides emotional/practical/social support,
education/literacy (reading bible)
Religious leaders + economic elites similar
Look at meanings attached to religion
How do they define religiosity
Religious symbols - how people dress (priests/rabbis), physical structure of place of worship
(architecture), norms (how interact with religious figures),
How religion shaped society
How religion shaped economic structures
"The Protestant Ethic" + "spirit of capitalism" books
Reason capitalism took off in England and U.S. is linked to religious ideas held by people
Protestant faith "Calvinism" taught certain religious principles which facilitated
Calvinism emphasized being frugal (saving money - invest money and open up bigger
factors), working hard
Religion taught people of Calvinism that small number of people on earth had be
chosen by god for salvation (for after life)
Know through certain signs - tied to economic things (e.g. success, frugal, working
Facilitated rise of capitalism - could exploit workers, pay them little and use religion to
legitimate their actions Feminist Theory
Emphasizing gender and critiquing gender based equality
Organized religion subordinate women
Organized religion empower women
Historical patterns of discrimination
Durkheim and Collectivity
Wrote "Elementary Forms of the Religious Life" - argued religion's origin is social
People who live in a community come to share common sentiments, creating a collective
When gathering together, they have a feeling of being in the presence of something beyond
themselves that is experienced by each member, yet greater than the sum of their individual
Labels this "God" (socially created)
Believes that religious rites provide guidelines as to how people should act in the presence of the
E.g. Muslims pray 5 times a day, Hindus cover their heads in temple etc.
Groups feel need to uphold and reaffirm collective sentiments, people come together as a
Idea of religion is inseparable from it
Religion meets needs at individual level but also creates social solidarity
Defines religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to scared things which unite
into one single moral community called a Church"
Didn't believe religion would disappear
Though dominant groups and forms of expression might change
Religion explanations will always have a place b/c science is incomplete and advances slowly thus
religion fills the gap
Max Weber and Ideas
Wasn't concerned with whether religion was false or true
Believed that religion, in addition to having supernatural components is largely oriented toward
this world and thus, religious ideas/behaviour should frequently be evident in everyday conduct
Examined possibility that the moral tone that characterized capitalism in the Western world
(protestant ethic) can be traced back to the influence of the Protestant Reformation
Wanted to understand the manner in which ideas become effective forces in history
Stated that ideas, regardless of whether they are objectively true or false represent a person's
definition of reality and thus have the potential to influence behaviour
Noted that God conceptions are strongly related to economic, social and political conditions in
which people live
Growth of monotheism (belief in one god) is related to goals of political unification
Different groups in society vary in their inclination to be religious
Peasants religious when threatened
Nobility fund religion beneath their honour
Middle class see religion largely in ethical terms
Working class replaces religion with other ideologies
Measuring Religiosity Sociologists used to ask:
What is your religion?
Do you belong to a congregation?
How often do you attend religious services?
What are the limitations of operationalizing religiosity in this way?