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SOC201H1 Study Guide - Religion In The United States, Alexis De Tocqueville, Totem

Course Code
Dan Dolderman

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SOC201 Reading Compilation
October 28 - Tocqueville
1. Hard to Specify
-Can it be understood objectively?
-What is meant by “religion”?
-Can religiosity be measured?
2. The Secularization thesis – Peter Berger’s Theory
3. Secularization thesis – some evidence
4. Religion among the Huron: an enchanted world
5. Weber on the disenchantment of the world
6. Tocqueville on religion in the age of public opinion
Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Tocqueville on religion – all have distinct, identifiable positions
Religious attendance rate, dropping for both men and women in Canada since 1985 –
monthly attendance 50% and 30% versus 30% and 25%
Religious and sacred are interchangeable words. Definition: extraordinary, transcendent,
outside everyday life
oIn opposition to profane
Religion for Weber  provides a set of answers to inescapable problems of human
existence like suffering and death
For the poor, religion provides justification or a way of coping
For the rich, religion offers reasons for why privilege is deserved
Position of god in religious belief varies
oMonotheism – one god
oPolytheism – many gods (Weber & Ancient Greeks)
oAtheism – no gods
oAnimism – (Buddhism) pervades living matter, spirit in everyday things (e.g.
Animism and religion contradict under definition of sacred (both thought to be sacred)
When social situations collide with each other, religion suffers
Question: how can they both be right or wrong?
Erosion of belief
1.Hard to specify
Can it be understood objectively? By relying solely on outward behavior/evidence
Sufficient to ask how many times people attend religious ceremonies? Are we really
looking at extent of religiosity? Is it a good indicator of how religious society is?
Certain detachment for objectivity
What is meant by religion? Key problem: what is defined as sacred varies.
No agreement in religion – conformity to practices versus beliefs
Other religions don’t have these beliefs
Can religiosity be measured?

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Praying, engaging in practices with others or can there be personal belief?
Need a multidimensional understanding. To be religious does it mean you need to have
some sort of contact with supernatural? Participating in rituals? Public Rites? Private
Rituals? It’s a messy field
2. Secularization thesis
Secular thesis – coined in 1967 by Peter Berger in the book The Sacred Canopy
Secular = worldly as opposed to supernatural or religious
Trend in modern society – religion is losing its plausibility/persuasiveness in modern
It is losing its ability to compel adherence
Religion is becoming a matter of individual choice/private matter because increasing
contact of variety of beliefs/increasing contact with other religions (aka through
urbanization, literacy, education, travel, migration)
How can all these religions be valid?
Accompanying modernity
Losing plausibility when no religion has a more compelling force than they other (the
cancel each other out)
Intermarriage and ethnic mixing undermine religion (secularization)
Secularization accompanies modernity
Do religious institutions sit back and allow religion to be unabated? 2 responses to
a) Accommodation – adjustment to modernity
Dilution of traditional religion
Accommodate trends to modern society
b) Entrenchment – staying traditional
Sticking to old truths
Rejecting modernity like nothing has changed
Outcome: notwithstanding these two attempts, secularization will continue
a. Accommodating modernity leads religion to lose its uniqueness/specialness
b. Entrenchment results in marginalization
3. Evidence
In Canada, many believe god exists, but many have no religion
Canadian survey: different organizations asking if God exists → 1985: 84%, 2000: 81%
→ roughly the same
The two are compatible
Many believe they have experienced God’s presence
This has not changed overtime
Drop in attending religious services
US more religious society than Canada
Revival of the evangelical protestants
In India, the revival of Hindu nationalism
oThere is a lot of evidence to contradict what Berger says (especially in eastern
Europe/middle east)
Seems secular thesis may not be true/taken with grain of salt. Even if Berger is right, then
the road to secularization is complex/bumpy than Berger would lead us to believe.

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4. Religion among the Huron: an enchanted world
Weber – disenchantment of the world
Whether we are scientists of academics, if we do the research we could do it in a
scientific way – contrasts with religion
Overtime enchantment has been receding because its amenable to scientific
Bruce Trigger – Huronia prior to religious contact
oDescribes Huronia as a very enchanted world
oCollective beliefs of the Huron
oAnimistic – earth, rivers, lakes all have a soul
oPossess power to do things ordinary men cannot do
oSky is the most important power – sky can punish offenders, people would bring
tobacco offerings
oPrayed to spirit of rock to protect home
oLandscape bounded with supernatural
oEveryday life pervaded by the sacred
Weber moves away from this idea
oThe truth lies between Weber and Berger – hard to find people who live in a
world as magical as Huron, but not as disenchanted as Berger suggests
5. Weber on the disenchantment of the world
Germans know much less of how the world works
Savage knows his tools, how to get food (in simple societies) – people in contemporary
societies are much more ignorant to conditions in which they live
One can in principle master all things by calculation – pleasing spirits does not fit into
scientific world
Retreat of all values (like religion) into private life (small groups of people).
Berger- religion on the decline with modernity
Weber- as science advances, religion retreats (but not all together) – private religiosity
continues in the modern world
6. Tocqueville on religion in the age of public opinion
Is religion central to American society or does it shape a bit of it?
The latter – religious beliefs are embedded in a broader system of beliefs – not primary
Tocqueville on secularization thesis: religion survives and is not disappearing
Accommodation helps religion survive in this modern society
Religion retains an influence in America because its accommodated so well into
American institutions
Contrary to Berger argument
Discusses danger of atomization
Self-confidence comes from democracy
Self-reliance strikes Tocqueville as characteristic of a democratic society
Comes across a scientific approach to knowledge
Resolves difficulties unaided in practical affairs – similar to Webers disenchantment of
the world
Tocqueville continues – Americans reject anything they cannot understand so where is
there place for religion?
A. Oddly, in America, religion is compatible with rationality
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