Topic 8 – Religion (Week 8 lecture + NS Chp 13 + SIQ Chp 7)
Sociologists’ approaches of religion
-- The question of whether god exists is not answerable from a sociological perspective, and is not at
the interest of sociologists.
-- Instead, sociologists deal with:
- Cause and effects of religious affiliation:
- Under what circumstances does religion serves as acts of social stability?
- Under what circumstances does religion serves as forces of social change?
- how does religions differ across people, time and space?
- Origins of religions:
- Why are people religious? Who are more religious than others?
- How are we becoming less religious?
William James’s quote (see slides)
Karl Marx’s quote (Opium of the People)
-- The quote underscores Marx’s position in religion and economy;
-- Argues the anesthetic affects of religion: people, particularly the poor, are drawn to religion like
opium to escape their painful economic position;
-- Religion leads people to be passive, submissive, inactive towards unjust social conditions;
-- People will not be motivated to change to current situation.
-- Divine Control: God has determine its influence on the good and bad sides of people’s lives; an
individual’s life lies according to God’s will and God’s plan;
-- In Western culture God intervenes in people’s most trivial daily life; it influences political decisions,
especially in the US;
e.g. Joe Biden on the eve of his US Presidential election, starts his speech by “god willing…”
-- different mental representations; given human and gender attributes: master, father, friend, mother,
-- Divine controls have roots in all religions;
-- Some people feel intimate bonds with God, feel God as a conscious being who is omnipotent and
knows everything; God has explicit expectation for everyone much like parents.
SES – Socioeconomic Status
-- Socioeconomic Status (SES) of an individual = Yearly Income of the individual + Highest level of
education he/she attained;
-- Indication of one’s class;
Two theories about why people are religious:
-- Deprivation-Compensation Thesis
-- Demythologization Thesis
1. Deprivation-Compensation Thesis (def-slide)
-- Similar to the Marx’s “opium” analogy;
-- Reliance on an omnipotent, all-knowing God can offset the depressing and worrisome real life, bad
working condition, unemployment, low pay, bad living condition;
-- People of lower SES tend to be more likely to seek out god in prayer, higher level of interaction of god,
feel greater connections with GOD, more belief in the divine control of God;
-- people of lower SES also derive more physiological benefits from being religious; positive health of
-- e.g. black church is of central importance to the black community who occupy a low class in American
society; the black church, despite for its functions, provides comfort from god, comfort needed to face
the discrimination, economic disadvantages, day-to-day hardship.
2. Demythologization Thesis
-- Higher socioeconomic (SES) status diminishes the belief in the supernatural-mythological orthodoxy of
-- Same outcome as 1 (lower SES = more religious), but for quite different reasons:
-- People who receive more education see life as not controlled by god, but in rational terms by
-- People of high SES report lower level of devotions to God;
Study of the Effect of Prayer on health
-- Dr. Herber Benson in Boston; the study involves 1802 patients and 6 hospitals
-- All patients have similar cordial conditions, all received the same surgery
-- Patients are divided into 3 groups: 1) pray/unknown; 2) pray/known; 3)no pray/unknown;
-- Clever design: effect of prayer because you know it? Or it’s simply because you are prayed.
-- Prayers are simple and same for every patients;
-- results: - prayers have no effect on recovery.
- 1 and 3 (who did not know): no difference
- 1 and 2 (who did know): 59% in group 2 had complications, while 52% in group 1 had
complications. People who are told of the prayer did worse.
-- A term used to describe the actions or ideologies of religious individuals or groups outside the
perceived center of a given religion; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards of a
-- has no home in any particular religion; no religion has a monopoly of religious extremism;
-- varies across time and space, and across different religious groups;
-- No matter how unorthodox a given set of belief it is, if that’s the norm, then it really cannot be called
a religious extremism;
-- e.g. medieval Europe, over 50,000 women burned alive on the charge of witchcraft;
-- The act itself does seem to be sickly and extreme, but it’s not a case of a religious extremism,
because it’s common in that religious practice, though it doesn’t make it right to do these things;
-- an extreme act IS NOT EQUAL TO religious extremism; should consider the act in the relative context
within the religion;
-- Example of religious extremists: The Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church
- known for Christian extremely belief and hate towards homosexuals;
- “US has become a country of sinners and bound for hell”;
- All bad things are acts of retribution that caused by the angry God;
- Most sinned: homosexuals;
- Most western countries are going to hell because they protect homosexuals;
- they assert that their beliefs are decreed by God by reading the Bible literally and taking every
word as a direct communication from God;
-- e.g. video
- “GOD HATES USA” “THANK GOD FOR 911” “THANK GOD FOR THE WAR”;
- Selective, literally biblical tradition “billions of people are killed during the time of Noah; women
who have affairs are killed; homosexuals are killed”;
Guest Lecture: Religion and Secularism in the Modern West – Brian Carwana;
Central Question: does religion erode in the West?
Leads to the secondary question: How do social structures affect religious beliefs, practices and identities?
-- the structural separation of society into different spheres;
(e.g. education, government, commerce …and religion)
-- Previously, religion in the West permeated all aspects of life
Question: Does Secularism Erode Religion?
The Yes Case Steve Bruce: 4 ways that secularism erode religion
-- Gains in technology and scientific understanding leaves less room in everyday life for explanations
based on divine intervention and the demonic (latter almost disappears);
-- e.g. when you are sick, it’s because you get a cold, not because you are cursed; and you go to a doctor
for a treatment instead of a priest for prayers.
-- doesn’t mean you don’t pray anymore; it’s just less rooted;
-- Increased religious and cultural diversity due to new religions and geographic and economic mobility
-- First Step: Protestant Reformation – Martin Luther;
-- Cross-religious and cultural diversity; less likely to hold on to exclusive truth; less likely to demonize
-- Rise of nation states requiring cultural unity despite growing religious diversity; therefore they opt for
religiously neutral secular spaces;
-- Sate based on citizenship (political identity), not religious identity;
-- e.g. we may be Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, but we are all Canadians.