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Chapter 11. Religion. Week 8 (Patrick Whelan_s conflicted copy 2012-05-05).doc

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Western University
Sociology 1020
Kim Luton

Soc1021e-652 Alexandra Sdao Chapter 11: Religion → Churches worked to bolster the middle class values, norms, and goals favoured by the majority of Canadians → Across North American, levels of religious participation began to plummet in the 1960s as many baby boomers rebelled against the “establishment”, and about half of this huge demographic group chose to follow the ethnic of the counter-culture, to “turn on, tune in and drop out” → Over the last 50 years, Canada has become an increasingly secular society → The influence of religious symbols, ideas and organizations on both the daily life and public affairs of this nation has waned dramatically → Although proportionally fewer Canadians attend church on a regular basis, the vast majority of Canadians still identify with some particular religion → It is also the case that most Canadians report that they engage in private religious activities at least once a month → Industrialization, urbanization, the growth of science, education and the state, have all effected a permanent change in the forms and functions of religion as a social institution → In much of the rest of the world, religion not only continues to be a primary marker of social identity, but its salience has increased in the face of threats to cultural autonomy posed by the process of globalization → Religious influence dominates political life in some countries Inventing the Religious Past We Need in the Present: the Goodness Meets da Vinci [Side Box] → Well before the rise of known historical religions like the religions of Greece and Rome, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-the dominant form of religion in most communities throughout the world, including Europe, was a Goddess religion. → The “Goddess” involved might have had different names in different places, but in all places She was intimately associated with the Earth and the women who served Her possessed spiritual authority → Traditions that formed around the Goddess promoted a number of other things, among them the equality of females and males, and an emphasis on living in harmony with nature and with other human communities → The idyllic world of the Goddess came to a crashing halt with the rise of patriarchal and warlike cultures whose male-centred religions came to supplant the religion of the Goddess → There is a lack of real archaeological evidence to support it → What seems to have happened is that proponents of the Goddess hypothesis took a number of gender beliefs that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s and projected these beliefs onto an invented past → Why? Because it served as a social function in the present. Studying Religious Life Sociologically The Challenges of Research on Religion Studying the religious experience → Religious experience is unique → Supernatural: those things or experiences which appear to be inexplicable in terms of the laws of nature or the material universe → The task of sociology is to detect and gauge the nature and significance of the human consequences of such claims and experiences → For the purposes of sociological analysis, it can remain an open question whether the gods or God exist; that is a matter for the philosophers and theologians to debate. → Sociologists will confine their attention to those aspects of people’s religious life that can be observed and measured in some way Soc1021e-652 Alexandra Sdao Defining religion → Substantive definitions of religion: emphasize what religion “is”, by focusing on some crucial and presumably universal feature of religious activity → a classic illustration of this substantive approach is provided by Tylor, the British anthropologist who suggested that religion be defined as “belief in Spiritual Beings” → belief is only one aspect of religion, and in many religions, both old and new, belief is secondary to various forms of actions and practice → participation in rituals takes precedence over beliefs → Tylor’s definition suffers from an additional problem. It relies on a term that is itself in need of further definition. What, we should ask, constitutes, a “spiritual being?” → Functionalist definitions of religion: focus on what religion “does” and tend to suffer from the reverse limitation: they can be too broad and inclusive → Religion is a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group struggles with the ultimate problem of human life – Yinger → Some people may throw themselves whole-heartedly into the service of some cause, like the fight for political freedom or an attempt to save the environment → They may derive much of their understanding of the world, and a sense of ultimate meaning and worth, from engaging in these activities. But is this the same as being religious? → Religion: is a system of beliefs, and practices about transcendent things, their nature and their consequence for humanity. The transcendent refers here to some level, type of dimension of reality that is thought to be intrinsically different from, and in some sense higher than, or beyond, our ordinary experience of the world Measuring religiosity → Measuring how religious people are, their religiosity , is problematic as well → Survey researchers regularly ask people about their religious affiliations, levels of attendance, belief in God, and so on → Answers to these questions can be poor indicators of how truly religious people are → Religiosity is a complex blend of states of mind, attitudes, and behaviours, and people can be religious in several ways → Glock and Stark recommended inquiring into at least eight dimensions of religious life to assess (1) the experimental, whether people think they have had contact with the supernatural; (2) the ritualistic, their level of participation in public rites; (3) the devotional, their level of participation in activities like praying or saying grace before mealsw; (4) belief, the degree to which they agree with the doctrines of their faith (5) knowledge, their degree of recognition and understanding of the beliefs of their religion (6) the consequential, the effects of their religion on their everyday life (7) the communal , the extent to which they associate with others members of the same religion and lastly (8) the particularistic, the degree to which they think their religion is the one and only truth path to salvation → Glock and Stark tended to use conventional criteria to measure each dimension in their work on American piety with at least two undesirable consequences → First, unconventional religious practices, like the belief in astrology, were simply excluded from their study → Second, a bias toward a more conservative style of Christianity was implicitly built into their measures → No matter how on chooses to measure religiosity, every approach is plagued by the problems of self-reporting → In general, people are inclined to provide researchers with answers that exaggerate their religiosity because it is still thought of as socially desirable to be at least somewhat religious, especially in the U.S Soc1021e-652 Alexandra Sdao The Insight of Issues and Classical Theory Marx: Religion and ideology → Marx believed that in every age, religion served to justify the rule of one class over another → That hierarchy was seen either as divinely ordained or as part of the natural order of things → Marx argued that humanity had not been created in the image of God and that God had been created in the image of humanity → The beliefs and teachings of religion, he stated, are conforming illusions, designed to compensate people for the sacrifices and misery of their present lives with promise of rewards for good behaviour in another life → Categorized religion was the “opium of people” → The quest for religious virtue subdues the mind and distorts thinking, just like a powerful narcotic, distracting people from developing a critical appreciation of the real source of their deprivation: their economic and political exploitation at the hands of a dominant class → For Marx, Christianity was a clear example of how religion served the interests of the ruling class to the detriment of the working class → Marx argued that the Christian message suggest that what happens in this world, including the fact that one is poor, oppressed, is far less important than what happens in a supposed next world and so it discourages people from thinking about their lot in this world → Christianity also promoted interests of the ruling classes to the extent that particular Christian denominations stress blind obedience to authority or beliefs that certain forms of inequality are established by God Durkheim: Religion and Social solidarity → Durkheim saw a greater purpose for religion in society → Was interested in understanding the processes that held societies together, that kept them unified and strong in the face of adversity and change → In the past, he believed religious beliefs and practices had protected the moral integrity of social relations → They worked to hold individualistic impulses at bay, while cultivating an altruistic desire to serve the needs of the group even above those of the individual → Durkheim had to interest in the dismissing religion as an unnecessary illusion → Durkheim sought a natural and not supernatural explanation for the persistence of religious convictions → Argued that the origins of religion are to be found in the experience of society itself → Devised a theory of religion based on the study of what was then though to be one of the simplest of religions, that of an Australian Aboriginal group, the Arunta → Now said to be mistaken → Durkheim defined religion as “ a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things...which unit into one single moral community...all those who adhere to them.” → The most distinctive trait or traditional religious life, Durkheim stipulated, is the division of all things into two opposed categories, the sacred and the profane → Sacred: those things set apart by society and treated with awe and respect, in many cases because of their association with gods or God → The sacred, whatever it may be, is thought to possess a tremendous and unique power that requires people to take special care in its presence → Profane: quite literally, all that is not sacred. In most cases, the world of everyday, non- religious experience → Religious systems place people in controlled contact with the sacred in order to call upon Soc1021e-652 Alexandra Sdao its power to protect them from the challenges of profane life → Religion, unlike the mere practice of magic or superstition, is always a group activity → It is a social phenomenon and like the religion of the Arunta, deeply concerned with the regulation of the internal and external relations of the group → Durkheim observed two features of being in the presence of things deemed sacred → First, devotees are moved by feelings of heightened strength → Second, believers feel that this strength comes from sharing in a power that is both outside of themselves and greater than themselves, and capable of acting upon them with or without their consent → Collective conscience: the term Durkheim used to describe the sense of excitement and power people experience when participating in lively events involving relatively large crowds, like a religious revival, a rock concert, or good football game → Caught up in the emotional and almost contagious energy of the crowd, people will often experience levels of enthusiasm, ecstasy, pride and fear quite out of keeping with their solitary experience → Collective effervescence: Durkheim used to describe the sense of excitement and power people experience when participating in lively events involving relatively large crowds, like a religious revival, a rock concert, or goo
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