SOCA01H3 Lecture Notes - When Prophecy Fails, Leon Festinger, Big Bang

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Published on 25 Jul 2012
Sociology looks at the social impact of religious ideas & historical this impact has been
Classical sociology was preoccupied with religion as a social force they (Marx, Weber, and
Durkheim) often asked what impact does religious belief have on social organization?
Max Weber asked what impact does religion have on social change
Many sociologists who specialize in the sociology of religion are indeed religious but when
they study it they suspend their religious beliefs and look at it objectively
Definition of the situation what people believe to be true is true in its consequence for
example, if people believe that a particular teaching is true that belief will have consequences =
sometimes known as the Thomas Theorem (invented the definition of the situation)
o Thomas says it’s what people believe that’s important, it’s not whether if it’s actually
true or not
o Cheddar Cheese Cult hypothetical example
Looking for the impact of belief on social organization and behaviour
This cult believes that the moon is made up of cheddar cheese so whenever
there is a full moon the cult goes into a farmer’s field and proceeds to eat
cheese throughout the night believing that by eating cheese this will confer
salvation & everlasting life
Impact of cheese festivals, economically = price of cheese will go up because
behaviour of the cult produces a shortage of cheese
o Leon Festinger & book called ‘When prophecy fails’
About cults
He asks what happens when a prophecy made by religious group/cult doesn’t
come to pass
Festinger studied a cult that believed that on a certain date a spaceship would
descent from heaven and carry believers away to an interglacial l journey where
they would reside in the lap of heaven & god
1000s of people showed up (mostly farmers who gave away their land because
they thought they were going to heaven) & spaceship didn’t arrive – they were
all left in the lurch
When the prophecy failed they didn’t abandon the cult & they just became
more firm and committed in their believes
When prophecy fails indicative of many religions such as global warming (part
of modern environmental religion)
GAIA cult when they receive contradictory evidence on global warming such as
no global warming since 1998, temperatures are not increasing but CO2 levels
keep rising, sea levels have dropped since 1998 this is contradictory to their
belief yet they believe in global warming more strongly now
Sea levels are supposed to rise as the earth warms up and melts ice in the Artic
and the Antarctic but this hasn’t occur
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Satellite data from 1970 shows that global ice cover has remained the same
since this time period
Religion and ultimate questions
o Defining traits of religion is that they try to answer ultimate questions that we have
about existence purpose of life, why are you here, why was the universe created
o These questions cannot be answered by science science deals with empirical/factual
issues = leaves room for religious interpretations of ultimate questions
o Science can tell us when the big bang took place 10 billion light years ago, small
primordial piece of matter exploded and is still exploded which is why the universe is
o We can calculate how long ago the big bang took place via empirical observations
o BUT can’t answer why it happened or who lit the fuse
o How religious are people, how deeply committed are they to their religious beliefs
o Various measured have been developed to look at it
o One measure that is not very reliable = how frequently do people attend their place of
People attend for all sorts of reasons for example they may go to be socially
acceptable, compelled to attend (often the case with children)
o Slide 4 elements of religiosity between 1975 & 2005
More people pray privately weekly or more often increased from 1975 to 2005
Belief in god or a higher power has fallen slightly from 86 to 82
Identify with a religion has fallen, keeping with secularization
Attend monthly services has fallen
Attend weekly services has fallen a bit
o In order to handle how religious people really are sociologists have developed
religiosity measures = depth of religious commitment (slide 5)
Can ask people questions to measure their strength or belief , emotional
attachment to a religion, knowledge about religious ideas, frequency of
performing rituals through the day, and applying religious principles to everyday
o Social factors associated with religiosity (slide 6)
Opportunity seniors have more time on their hands and they tend to be more
religious than younger people, younger people believe that the party is never
going to end and don’t need to believe in death
Religion you were born into and the religion that your parents attend = huge
impact on religiosity
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o Is the enemy
o Is a modern developed many people say we live in a secularized world and it’s an
important pattern of social change
o It’s a decline in the importance of the super natural and sacred
o Scope of religious authority begins to decline
o BUT - 2000 nationwide Canadian survey - 81% of adults & 71% of teenagers believed in
God or a higher power - young people less religious than older people
o Secularization is all about this religion declines in importance & same with religious
authority one of the reasons is because other institutions begin to elbow religion out
of the way medicine, psychiatry, criminal justice, education, etc.
o Secularization is most advanced in the wealthier parts of the world
o An improvement in the quality of life has a lot to do with secularization
Europe in the middle ages = life was nasty, brutish, and short; people at this
time called existence a vale of tears
Middle ages life span = 35 they were poor
when we were poor epidemics/plagues were frequent (black plaque of 1340s or
black death was the worse- killed 1/3 of Europe’s population, 10s and millions of
peoples died)
people also faced violent deaths
peasants which most of originate from had no legal rights, they weren’t citizens
& had no legal rights or responsibilities
social inferiors were treated by superiors like chattel ( like property) people
were property and treated as such
there was little law and order during most of the middle ages
nation state idea started in the later 16th, 17th century established law and
order in a large geographical area
premature painful death was a fact of life small cut on the finger could cause
death due to infection
blood poisoning was common in the middle ages they had no antibiotics so
people died of minor infections (antibiotics only came around in the 1930s)
there was no medicine and ones that did exist were hit or miss medicine was
based on bloodletting they would draw blood with a special knife and would
keep taking it out until you improved; people often died from loss of blood
this was practiced for 2500 years and originated from Greece & popular in the
middle east, India, Europe
bloodletting AKA phlebotomy even upper classes who had access to medicine
their medicine wasn’t that great because it was based on phlebotomy (starting
questioning it in 1850)
the cure was worse than the disease for many people
Famine was frequent and crop yields were low = little margin for error
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