SOC100H5 Chapter Notes - Chapter 19: Polytheism

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15 Feb 2011
Chapter 19: Religion
Religion: Basic Concepts
Profane: outside the temple; an ordinary element of everyday life
Sacred: set apart as extraordinary, inspiring awe and reverence
Religion: social institution involving beliefs and practices based on recognizing the
Durkheim explained that people understand profane things in terms of everyday
Ritual/formal: ceremonial behaviour
Religion and Sociology
Faith: belief based on conviction rather than scientific evidence
Theoretical Analysis of Religion
Function of Religion: Structural-Functional Analysis
Totem: an object in the natural world collectively defined as sacred; ex. An animal
Durkheim identified three major functions of religion that contribute to operation of
1.Social Cohesion
-religion unites people through shared symbolism, values and norms
2.Social Control
-society uses religious ideas to promote conformity
-many religions encourage people to obey cultural norms by defining their god as
a judge
3.Providing meaning and purpose
-religious belief offers the comforting sense that our brief lives serve some
greater purpose
Constructing the Sacred: Symbolic-Interaction Analysis
Religion is socially constructed
Ex. Marriage could be seen as a contract, but there a religious meaning to it which
makes it harder to try to break out of it
People use Religion to give everyday life sacred meaning
Inequality and Religion: Social- Conflict Analysis
Highlights Religions support of social inequality
Karl Marx
Religion and social inequality also linked through gender
Religion and Social Change
Max Weber
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Religion has promoted dramatic social changes
Max Weber: Protestantism and Capitalism
Weber argued that particular religious ideas set into motion a wave of change that
brought about the Industrial Revolution
Liberation Theology
Defn: the combining of Christian principles with political activism, often Marxist in
Christian activists continue to help people in poor nations liberate themselves from
abysmal poverty
Message is simple: social oppression runs counter to Christian morality so
Christians must promote greater social inequality
Gained strength in the poorest countries of Latin America, where many peoples
Christian faith drives them to improve conditions for the poor and oppressed
Types of Religious Organizations
Defn: type of religious organization that is well integrated into the larger society
Have well-established rules and regulations
Leaders have to be formally trained and ordained
Church accepts the ways of the profane world
Members think of God in intellectual terms and favour abstract moral standards
By teaching morality in safely abstract terms, church leaders avoid social
May operate with or apart from the state
State church: church formally allied with the state
oState churches count everyone in society as a member which sharply limits
tolerance of religious differences
Denomination: a church, independent of the state, that recognized religious
oFormally separate church and state
oMembers of any denomination hold to their own doctrine, they recognize the
right of others to have different beliefs
Defn: type of religious organization that stands apart from the larger society
Members have rigid religious convictions and deny the beliefs of others
Form an exclusive group
Religion is not just one aspect of life but a firm plan for how to live
Less formal than churches
Members may be highly spontaneous and emotional in worship
Personal experience is divine power
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Churches and sects also have different patterns of leadership. The more churchlike
an organization is, the more likely that its leaders are formally trained and
ordained. Sect-like organizations which celebrate the personal presence of God
expect their leaders to exhibit divine inspiration in form of charisma (divine
favour; extraordinary personal qualities that can infuse people with emotion and
turn them into followers)
Generally form as breakaway groups from established religious organizations
Less stable than churches
Sects value highly the experience of conversion(personal transformation or religious
Churches tend to include people of higher social standing
Sects attract more disadvantaged people
Defn: religious organization that is largely outside a societys cultural traditions
Typically forms around a highly charismatic leader who offers a compelling message
about a new and very different way of life
Cult principles or practices are unconventional, the popular view is that they are
deviant or even evil
Even more at odds with the larger society than sects
Demand that members not only accept their doctrine but also adopt radically new
Brain-washing their members
Religion in History
Religion in Pre-Industrial Societies
Animism: the breath of life; belief that elements of the natural world are conscious
life forms that affect humanity
Its followers view forests, oceans, mountains, and wind as spiritual forces
oEx. Aboriginals
Religion in industrial societies
Growing emphasis on science
People looked to doctors and scientists for the knowledge and comfort they
previously got from priests
Science is powerless to address issues of ultimate meaning in human life
How the world works is a matter for science, but why we are the rest of the universe
exist at all is a question of faith
World Religions
Most widespread world religion
Almost one-third of the worlds people
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