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Chapter 13

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SOC 103

SOC103 – Chapter 13 Churches & Religion Religion: any system of beliefs about the supernatural & the social groups that gather around these beliefs • Economic growth accompanied the rationalization of society & accumulation of scientific knowledge • Religion lost much of its relevance in the West , we are now more autonomous • 60% of Canadians consider themselves either moderately or highly religious • Although attendance at religious services has decreased over the years, many people report worshipping in their own homes • Increasing number of Canadians turning to new religious movements (NRMs): groups & institutions comprising people who share similar religious or spiritual views about the world but who are not part of mainstream religious institutions, which they see as better serving their spiritual needs. Church: any social location or building where people carry our religious rituals Canada is a multi-faith society (80% of Canadians identify as Christian) & Christianity still influences public life Ways of looking at religion • Durkheim: functionalist, religion is universal, promotes social solidarity by reaffirming values, understood religion would decline with modernization, focuses on forms • Marx: critical, religion as form of social control, part of dominant ideology, opiate of the masses making them submissive, uncritical & easily manipulated, believed religion would decline in the future as workers would revolt & identify with class concerns alone • Weber: subjective meaning & personal experience of religion, inner need to understand the world as meaningful, focuses on values Classic Studies: The Elementary forms of religious life • Durkheim: The Elementary forms of religious life (1968 [1912]): Totemism: use of natural objects & animals to symbolize spirituality, adopted by small pre-literate societies to symbolize faith in a higher power. They connect people, providing an opportunity to escape everyday life – called profane life – into a higher, sacred plane of experience. • Religion expresses a collective consciousness: the sum of people’s individual consciousness & shared way of understanding the world • Durkheim: The Division of Labour in Society: recognized that in industrial societies, people would have a harder time subscribing to the same single set of beliefs & rituals. Organic society: diverse & interdependent, would be torn apart by religious tensions if old, homogeneous way remained. This urban industrial society would need a form of humanism: a worldview that lets people connect with one another around their common humanity, & not around specific religious beliefs, as was the case with mechanical solidarity. • Canadian society, in many of its aspects, remains conventionally religious to this day & will likely remain largely due to immigration • Wine: historically played a role in many different religious practices. In the Catholic Mass, wine is believed to become the blood of Jesus Christ through transubstantiation Definitional Problems • Religion: difficult to define, encompasses many concepts connected to spirituality & faith & may mean different things to different people • McGuire (2005): can usefully distinguish between substantive definitions: what religion is & its core elements & functional definitions: what religion does for an individual or social group (i.e. how religion provides a sense of connectedness while often creating strife between religious denominations). However, sociological theories of religion can contain both types of definition • Durkheim believed that social life could be divided into sacred & the profane (secular) parts & that religion resided in the sacred part. • Many religions also use drugs & alcohol to help people shift their consciousness from sober this-worldly concerns – thrift, efficiency, & profitability – to other-worldly concerns – ecstasy, reflection & a focus on the deeper meaning of life • I.e. religions that see God or the supernatural as residing in all natural objects cannot easily split the sacred from the profane. For such people, every tree, rock, bird & animal is imbued with spiritual meaning & purpose. If so, the totemic objects Durkheim descried are not entirely without substantive meaning. Westerners have tended to rely on the Judeo- Christian tradition to define what a religion is (substantive definition) & what it does (functional definition). • Organized religion: set of social institutions: groups, buildings, resources etc (usually public religious belief) • Spirituality: set of beliefs that, though shared, may not be enacted with other people (usually private religious belief) • Seekers: people & group who draw on the teachings of several religions & philosophies to fulfill their needs for spirituality • Role of religion in social altruism: in motivating people to do things for others from which they will themselves not profit Religion in Canada Today • The Globe & Mail: Canadian rank highly among people of the world in terms of their charitable giving, & research reveals, people who give more to charity tend to be happier than people who do not. • There is something about a commitment to social equality & social altruism that makes people happy when they give to charity • The correlation between charity & happiness is similar to the correlation between religion & happiness: highly religious people tend to report being happier than less religious people. • Most, if not all, religions include charity as an important component of religious adherence among the faithful • Science has no more interest in charity than it has in social justice • Science is concerned only with finding the laws of nature • Religion – spirituality, more generally – by contrast is concerned with promoting ethical & charitable behaviour & with transcendent goals: in the Christian formulation: religion is about faith, hope & charity • Clark & Schellenberg (2006): Canadian Social Trends, religion plays a more important role in the lives of Canadians than many have suggested. Only about 1/3 of adult Canadians go to church at least once a month, but more than half conduct their own private religious activities every month. • Ethnic Diversity Survey (2002): found that 21% of the adult population carry out religious practices in their own home yet rarely or never attend public religious services. So, church attendance on its own is not an accurate measure of religiosity in Canada. A more useful indicator is called the religiosity index. This index includes four dimensions of religiosity: affiliation, attendance, personal practices, & (stated) importance of religion. Using this measure, 40% of Canadians have a low degree of religiosity, 31% a moderate degree & 29% a high degree of religiosity. • Religiosity varies demographically: it is highest among older people, women & people from religious families, especially families in which both parents had the same or a similar religious background • 41% of the immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1982 & 2001 had a high degree of religiosity, compared to only 26% of the people born in Canada. • Those with the highest levels of religiosity come from South Asia (e.g. Pakistan) & those with the lowest levels from East Asia (e.g. China) & western & northern Europe (ibid; Beyer, 2005). • Canada ranked second-most charitable in the world: (Adapted from Boesveld (2010), tied with Ireland, just behind first-place Australia, 2/3 of Canadians having both given money & having helped a stranger & 1/3 having done volunteer work. Last place when to Burundi & Madagascar • Helping strangers is the most widely practiced form of charity, performed by 45% of the world population, followed by giving money to charity at 30% and by volunteering at 20%. The survey correlates life satisfaction with giving, finding that people who report that they are happy are the ones who tend to give more. Happiness seems to have more of an effect than does wealth(based on the wealth of the nation as a whole) on people’s willingness to give, leading the authors to state it would be reasonable to conclude that giving is more an emotional act than a rational one. Religion vs. Science: The Debate of the Modern Era • Secular society: people today are less religiously inclined than they were a century ago • Rational-legal society: Weber, society characterized as technological & scientific, disenchanted or demystified about the natural world • Advances rest on empirical research that obeys the norms of science: Merton (1976) called CUDO: communalism, universalism, disinterest & organized skepticism. • Peer review: how science advances (combatively): scholars evaluate credibility of findings & research methods • Science advances by: independent, disinterested (unbiased) research, a public debate of findings, application of universal criteria of judgment & organized skepticism (all conclusions are considered tentative, awaiting disproof) • By contrast, religion is not expected to advance since it is based on timeless revealed truths. Religious debates are rarely public • Religions vary in their flexibility & adaptability under pressure. Like other organizations, they always have a Plan B. Such adaptability is the use of hadiths in Islam. In theory, Islam is based on a literal interpretation of the Koran. However, Islamic societies differ widely in their social, political & economic sophistication. Islam has historically made great use of hadiths to allow flexibility in the interpretation of the Koran. • Institutional inflexibility: poses a huge problem to the survival of traditional religions. I.e. Catholicism inflexible views about birth control, abortion & premarital sex. Religions are most likely to loosen their grip under pressure. I.e. Roman Catholic Church did not officially admit that it was mistaken in prosecuting Galileo on his views of the solar system until 1992, 3 centuries after his famous trial (Lockwood, 2000) & has been with the greatest reluctance that the Catholic Church has started to come to terms with sexual abuse of children by ordained priests • I.e. Phlogiston theory (Becher & Stahl): a theory of combustion that had widespread support until it was disproven by Lavoisier • Science is forward looking, while religion is backward-looking (rigid & unyielding) • However, science has no important role in increasing social solidarity • Institutionally, religions are committed to creating & preserving order. By contrast, sciences are committed to creating & fomenting skepticism & (in that sense) disorder • People remain religious is because religions give people a sense of meaning & purpose • Science Studies: is science really disorderly? Studies scientific & technological human practices through the methods of sociology • Paradigms: Kuhn’s, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), define what constitutes acceptable theoretical & experimental behaviour in the sciences (norms & values). Science premised on a set of prevailing beliefs about how nature works & how it should be studied. Conventional science is, for long periods, orderly (makes science more like religion): by contrast, brief & infrequent paradigm shifts are profoundly disordering. Weber observes that periods of cultural & social disruption – paradigm shifts – are typically set off by what he calls charismatic leadership. Afterward, cultural & social order is re-established through rountinization of charisma: return to conventional, institutionalized social life. Both religious institutions & scientific institutions we find an alternation between upheaval & convention (or routine). This is a second respect in which the line between these two institutions – science & religion – is blurred Classic Studies: Civilization & its discontents • Sigmund Freud, Civilization & its Discontents (1957 [1930]): Argues religion is a symptom of neurosis & God is an illusion. That we are driven by buried desires & wishes of which we are unconscious. This repression explains by life in civilization is normally discontented, even neurotic. Freud sees the monotheistic Judeo-Christian tradition as a means of
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