Religion and Society
Theoretical Approaches to the Sociology of Religion
Durkheim, Functionalism, and the Problem of Order
Apart from drawing a huge audience, the Stanley Cup playoffs generates a sense of
what Durkheim would have called “collective effervescence”.
oThe Stanley Cup makes us feel part of something larger than we are.
oPeople enjoy sharing the sentiments and values of a larger collective. They
banish thoughts of their own mortality. They gain a glimpse of eternity as
they immerse themselves in institutions that will outlast them and athletic
feats that people will remember for generations to come.
Durkheim said that when people live together, they come to share common
sentiments and values that form a collective conscience that is larger than any
We experience the collective conscience directly, which causes us to distinguish the
secular, every day world of the profane from the religious, transcendent world of the
We designate certain objects as symbolizing the saved, known as totems.
We invent certain public practices to connect us with the sacred, known as rituals.
The effect of rituals and of religion as a whole is reinforcing social solidarity.
These groups, institutions, and ideas all transcend us.
Marx, Conflict, and Religion as a Prop for Inequality
Durkheim’s theory of religion is a functionalist account that offers useful insights
into the role of religion in society
Conflict theorists have lodged two main criticisms:
oIt overemphasized religion’s role in maintain social cohesion; in reality,
religion often incites social conflict
oWhen religion does increase social cohesion, it often reinforces social conflict
Marx first stressed how religion often tranquilizes the underprivileged into
accepting their lot in life.