Starting Points Chapter 13 Notes
* Define religion as a social phenomenon
* Recognise the role of religion today and the characteristics that define a
* Identify the trends of religions participation in Canada today
* Evaluate the contributions of religion to social well-being
* Understand how religion can both include and exclude others in civic
* religion consist of revealed truth - truth as solid and real as trees, but definitely
* sociologists of religion are not interested in whether god exists, or in other
questions that scientific method can not answer > interested in how people act out their religious beliefs in everyday life and how
these beliefs affect their interactions with others and with society.
* Sociologists are concerned with how certain beliefs are legitimised, and who in
society controls this process.
> From a macro sociological perspective, they are interested in the rise and fall
of religions, and the persistence of certain religions over centuries and even
> interested in the effects of these long-lived belief systems on the other belief
* As a social science, the stance of sociology is that religion is a social
phenomenon, one of many products of social life that play an important role in
*Marx viewed it as a form of socially organised self deception and a way that
people - especially, the ruling classes - disguise their exploitation of the
*Durkheim, on the other hand, viewed religion as an opportunity for group
> content of religion is less important that the opportunity it presents to express
social solidarity in ritualised forms.
* Weber, viewed religion as a set of beliefs that give life meaning and purpose. * We will see various definition of religion, and role of religion.
* economic growth accompanied the rationalisation of society and accumulation
of scientific knowledge.
> religion lost its social relevance in the West
> many came to deny the claims of traditional sacred texts and gave up
attending religious ceremonies.
> most people in the west are no more autonomous than in past centuries
* Increase number of Canadians are turning to new religious movements
> they see a better serving = spiritual needs
* Sociologically, we understand that need for different religious faiths to coexist
in a multicultural society
* If we view religions as little more than organised recreational activities, then
they should all be treated equally in the public sphere, but never treated
> people who take religion seriously will fight over the amount of public attention
their favourite religion gets to enjoy
* 80% of all Canadians identify themselves as belonging to a Christian
denomination. * Sociologists ask how religion has managed to survive despite to many
developments - economic, scientific, social and cultural, - that have undermined
the blind faith that religions typically require
Ways of looking at…. religion
* Emile Durkheim worked within the functional model, meaning that he was
concerned with religion’s role in promoting social solidarity.
> wanted to know why religions are universal
> what functions they perform in these societies.
> concluded that religion has power to bring people together.
> religion perpetuates social solidarity by continually reaffirming people’s shared
* Yet, he understood the influence of religion would decline as scientific and
technological thinking gradually replaced religious thinking ( Thompson, 1982)
* Karl Marx, viewed religion largely as a form of social control and therefore as a
cause of conflict (Calhoun et al 2007) > believed that religion is part of the dominant ideology of society - a set of
values that benefit the groups that exercise the most power in society.
> Therefore, he saw religion as promoting the interests of a society’s ruling
elites and subduing the masses.
> also believed that religion would lose its importance in the future
> religion continues to cause conflicts between people and societies, and to
exert power over them ; so Marxism and critical theory continue to play an
important role in the sociology of religion
* Max Weber focused on the subjective meaning and personal experience of
>people have an inner need to understand the world as ‘meaningful’
> concluded that religion must originate as a way of making sense of a
seemingly indifferent universe, where the only human certainty is death
* In Weber’s book “ The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1958)
> Weber discussed the connections between the rise of capitalism and the rise
> Protestantism especially calvinism provided a value structure that supported
the rise of capitalism in northwestern Europe Classic Studies… The elementary forms of religious life
* Durkheim’s key work, “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” (1968)
focused on the role of religion in social life
> goal was to understand the universality of religion, and to do so, he needed to
understand its emergence in the very earliest, smallest, most ‘primitive’
> studied the phenomenon of totemism, the use of natural objects and animals
to symbolise spirituality
* Durkheim’s analysis, neither the ritual or totemic objects, nor the ritual
activities are important or meaningful in themselves.
* The reason people get excited by religion, is because it brings them together
with other people in out of the ordinary, emotionally moving rituals.
* For Durkheim, religion expresses a collective consciousness, the sum of
people’s individual consciousness and a shared way of understanding the
> For Durkheim, the key words are ‘shared’ and ‘symbol’ * In the Durkheim’s book “ The division of labor in society”, he recognised that in
industrial societies, people would have a harder times subscribing to the same
single set of beliefs and rituals.
> A diverse organic society, like an urban industrial society, would need a form
of humanism ; a worldview that lets people connect with one another around
their common humanity, and not around specific religious beliefs, as was the
case with mechanical solidarity
* Durkheim concluded that the influence of traditional religion would decline as
society modernised, and scientific thinking would replace religious thinking.
> The concept of god would become less powerful; perhaps society would
celebrate itself instead, through nationalistic parades and events.
* Difficulty defining ‘religion’
> it is difficult concept to define, since it encompasses many concepts
connected to spirituality and faith, and may mean different things to different
people * McGuire (2005) suggests we can usefully distinguish between substantive
definitions and functional definitions of religion.
> Substantive definition focus on what religion is, and what does and does not
count as religion
> Functional definition describe what religion does for an individual or a social
> Substantive definition examine a religion’s core elements, including the belief
in a higher being and supernatural forces
> Functional definitions describe how religion provides a sense of
connectedness between people, while often also creating strife between
* Durkheim pointed out that we lead most of our lives in a profane world of
routine social objects.
> This line of argument defines religion substantively, interns of its core
features, such as the distinction between sacred and profane activities
* According to this definition, we associate specific locations with sacred,
special activities, and accept certain behaviours as suitable for these locations.
> People act differently according to the place
* Religions vary widely in their enactment of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ and
in some religions the distinction is far from easy * Spirituality refers to a set of beliefs that, through shared, may not be enacted
with other people
> such a division ma be characteristic of Christianity, where typically people
gather together in churches to celebrate their religion ; but this is not
characteristic of many other religions like Buddhism.
* Sociologists, increasingly aware of this bias, have tried to bridge the gap
between the sacred and the profane
> Goldenberg states that to many sociologists ‘religions look remarkably like
what Christians think of an religion’.
Religion in Canada Today
* Canadians rank highly among people of the world in terms of their charitable
giving, and research reveals, people who give more to charity tend to be
happier than people who do not
* The correlation between charity and happiness is similar to the correlation
between religion and happiness ; highly religious people tend to report being
happier than less religious people > some believe the happiness attributed to