Chapter 17: Religion
Sociology: a Canadian Perspective
Sociologists are concerned with how humans act out their religious beliefs and practices, as well as how religious beliefs
and social institutions intersect. However sociologists do not care whether or not god exist.
Reasons why religion was not taken seriously in sociology:
General acceptance that we live in a secular society
where Marx worried religion to be an illusionary distraction to take away from people seeking real happiness
Religion in Profile
Mainstream Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, etc.) dominates Canada’s historic landscape. In 2001, about
80% Canadians identified themselves as Christian.
Statistical data regarding religion can give little information in question relating to how religion and spirituality are acted
out in our daily lives.
The answer to religion causing violence is not easy. However, it can certainly provide ideological justification for violent
Religion can provide a source of comfort, direction, and community. It is also an important influence on how people think
about issues like same-sex marriage, abortions, and gender roles.
The religion demographic in Canada is changing as we are becoming more diverse as a nation. Canada has increased in
Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu communities. Also, those born in Canada were less likely to addend religious
services as opposed to immigrants. Most Canadians today do not have a long-standing attachment to a place of worship.
Most people state that htye have no religion in BC. People are largely Protestant in the Maritimes and Prairies. Most of
Quebec identified themselves as Roman Catholic.
Definitions of Religion
Meredith McGuire categorizes definitions religion into two ways:
1. Functional (focus on what religion does for the social group and for the individual)
2. Substantive (focuses on what religion is and what does not count as religion)
Emile Durkheim views religion as a contribution to social cohesion or civil religion – the core of the social
Civil religion is the idea that society is based on and functions because of shared values and perspectives that serve
as the foundation of a cohesive society.
Robert Bellah argued that civil religion transcended any specific religion tradition and formed an ethical framework
that existed apart from any religion o Can be counterclaimed by US’s strong Christian presence – argues that civil religion forms an overarching
framework supporting a cohesive society, and should also remember on the idea that society is based on
and functions because of shared values and perspectives.
Often characterized by a reliance on Christianity to form the basis of the determining criteria
Linda Woodhead especially critical of the dominance of functionalist perspective, particularly Durkheimian models
that privilege religion over magic despite that they are related to the sacred or transcendent
Sociologists often minimize religion or spiritual religions that don’t fit into organized religion patterns like
McGuire proposed a possible way to step away from Christian thinking of religion by attempting to bracket assumptions
that we hold about religion. She emphasizes the importance of lived religion, arguing that it is critical that sociologists pay
attention to the ways in which people integrate and practice religion everyday.
New Religion Movements
There are some very practical implications of decisions about what constitutes a religion – religion groups may receive
privileges simply because they are religious (such as tax exemptions as charitable organizations in Canada).
New religious movements (NRMS) area often persecuted through harassment, denial of benefits, or put under close
scrutiny. NRMS are religious groups whose development is recent and whose development is recent and who often have a
less established position in society than more mainstream religious groups.
Eileen Barker (wrote The Making of a Moonie) was intrigued on the talk of NRM and its relationship with cults,
brainwashing and deprogramming. Her investigation in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church (Moonies)
reported that this was not so.
Raelians are also an example of NRM.
NRM suffer from a great deal of stigma. Language used to define NRM often relates to brainwashing.
Theories of Religion and Society
Secularization is the process by which religion increasingly lose its influence. However the secularization level of society
depends on how we define secularization.
Secularization defined by
Church attendance, marriage and baptism can be challenged by the possibility that a population increasingly made
up of people for whom church attendance is not and has never been a measure of religious participation
Level of institutions. As religion loses its influence, it has less and less presence in social institutions (i.e. law,
education, health care, etc.)
However, several religious groups (Catholic