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Chapter 13

SOC103 Starting Points Chapter 13

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Lorne Tepperman

Chapter 13 – Churches and Religion - Most religions lay claim to an almost unassailable significance and validity - Sociologists are concerned with o How people act out their religious beliefs in everyday life o How religious beliefs affect their interactions with others and with society o How certain beliefs (and not others) are legitimized o The rise and fall of religions o The persistence of certain religions over centuries o The effects of long-lived belief systems on other belief systems - Religion is a social phenomenon o Marx viewed religion as a form of socially organized self-deception and disguised exploitation o Durkheim viewed religion as an opportunity for group celebration the means for social solidarity o Weber viewed religion as a set of beliefs that give life meaning and purpose  “We are able to fully disenchant the world” - Religion plays a central role in social life around the world despite the secularization of industrial and post-industrial societies o Many people still turn to religion for comfort and guidance o Some people create new religions and new religious movements o Religion creates conflict, but also integrates people - Religion is any system of beliefs about the supernatural, and the social groups that gather around these beliefs o Secularization is the separation between religion and politics o Economic growth accompanied the rationalization of society and accumulation of scientific knowledge o Religion lost much of its social relevance in the West o Many denied the claims of traditional sacred texts and gave up attending religious ceremonies o Most people in the West are more autonomous because they no longer need the emotional support and communal solidarity that religion offers - According to Statistics Canada, 60% of the Canadian population consider themselves moderately or highly religious o Although attendance at religious services has decreased, many people report worshipping in their own homes o An increasing number of Canadians are turning to new religious movements (NRMs)  Groups and institutions comprising people who share similar religious or spiritual views about the world but who are not part of mainstream religious institutions  Given up on the traditional religions and traditional ways of practicing - According to Statistics Canada, 80% of all Canadians identify themselves as belonging to a Christian denomination o Many Christians don’t want to share the public space with emblems derived from other religions Ways of looking at RELIGION - Functionalism o Emile Durkheim  The role of religion in promoting social solidarity  Brings people together  Perpetuates social solidarity by continually reaffirming people’s shared values  The influence of religion would decline as scientific and technological thinking replaces religious thinking - Critical theory o Karl Marx  Religion as a form of social control and cause of conflict  Part of the dominant ideology of society o A set of values that benefit the groups with the most power in society  Promotes the interests of society’s elites and subdues the masses  “Opiate of the masses” o Makes the masses submissive, uncritical, and easily manipulated  Religion would lose its importance in the future  Workers in a communist society would mobilize around class concerns alone  Religion would have no place and cease to be a defining force in society  Marx’s prediction has proven incorrect o Religion continues to be a relevant social phenomenon, cause conflicts between people and societies, and exerts power over them - Symbolic interactionism o Max Weber  The subjective meaning and personal experience of religion  Allows people to understand both happiness and suffering in the world  Provides a measure of hope, relief, and motivation  The way religion shapes people’s view of the world  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1958)  The connections between the rise of capitalism and the rise of Protestantism  Protestantism, especially strict Calvinism, supported the rise of capitalism in northwestern Europe Classic studies: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1968) - Emile Durkheim o To understand the universality of religion by understanding the rise of religion o Totemism is the use of natural objects and animals to symbolize spirituality  Emblem (flag, cross, plant, cockroach) is a object that denotes and evokes a sense of collective loyalty  Serves as a symbol  Unites all the members of society with a common belief  Contributes to social solidarity o Ritual activities or ceremonies (harvests, wars, marriages, births, deaths) are performed around the totemic objects  Reinforce group solidarity and shared group beliefs in the society  Provides an opportunity to escape profane life (everyday life) into a sacred plane of experience o Religion expresses collective consciousness (the sum of people’s individual consciousnesses and a shared way of understanding the world)  Many people still look for opportunities to share beliefs and celebrate this sharing  Many people still revere ritual objects and treat them with a degree of seriousness o A diverse industrial society would need a form of humanism (a world view that lets people connect with one another around their common humanity, and not around specific religious beliefs) o Conclusions  Influence of traditional religion would decline as society modernized  Scientific thinking would replace religious thinking  Canadian society remains religious due to the continued immigration of traditionally religious people - Definitional problems o Religion is a difficult concept to define  Substantive definition (what religion is)  Examines the core elements of religion  Functional definition (what religion does)  Describes how religion provides a sense of connectedness between people o Sociological theories of religion can contain both types of definition  Durkheim  Social life can be divided into sacred (religion) and profane (secular) parts  We lead most of our lives in a profane world of routine social objects  We try to shift to another way of life marked by special social objects on special occasions o Substantive definition of religion  Drugs and alcohol have an ambiguous role in social life  Many religions use drugs (peyote, magic mushrooms) and alcohol to help people shift their consciousness  Catholic priests sip wine to represent Christ’s holy blood  Cranberry juice would not have the same meaning because it does not have the same sacred effect o Religions vary widely in their enactment of the scared and the profane  E.g., Religions that see God as residing in all natural objects cannot easily split the sacred from the profane o Consider the distinction between organized religion and spirituality  Organized religion is a set of social institutions (groups, buildings, resources)  Spirituality is a set of beliefs that may not be enacted with other people  E.g., People gathering together in churches is a characteristic of Christianity, but not Buddhism  Implications  Suggest that organized religion is more important than private, spiritual devotion  Suggest that professional religious hierarchies (priests, bishops) deserve special importance o Seekers are people and groups who draw on the teachings of several religions and philosophies to fulfill their needs for spirituality - Religion in Canada today o The Globe and Mail  The role of religion in social altruism  Canadians rank highly among people of the world in terms of giving to charity  People who give more to charity tend to be happier  Charity is widespread in Canada and makes Canadians happy  Does not explain why some societies are more charitable than others  Does not explain why charitable people are more happy with life than others  Highly religious people tend to be happier  Does not connect charitable giving to religion  Most religions include charity as an important component of religious adherence  Science is concerned only with finding the laws of nature o Science has no interest in charity or social justice  Religion is concerned with promoting ethical and charitable behaviour o Statistics Canada  80% of Canadians identify themselves as belonging to a Christian denomination  Christianity remains the most common religion in Canada because Canadians tend to remain affiliated with the religious background of their family  People are less likely to practice their religion with the same commitment and passion as their grandparents or parents  Measure of religiosity in Canada  Church attendance o Only one measure of religious participation o Not an accurate measure of religiosity in Canada  33% go to church at least once a month  50% conduct their own private religious activities every month  21% carry out private religious practices, yet never attend religious services  Religiosity index (affiliation, attendance, personal activities, importance of religion) o Recognizes the limitations of just using church attendance to measure religiosity o More accurate measure of religiosity in Canada  40% have a low degree of religiosity  31% have a moderate degree of religiosity  29% have a high degree of religiosity o Religiosity varies demographically  High degree of religiosity (older people, women, people with religious families) o Religiosity becomes more harder to measure and generalize as religious diversity increases  Non-Christian religious groups are rising as more immigration occurs  41% of immigrants have a high degree of religiosity  26% of people born in Canada have a high degree of religiosity  Immigrants are more likely to engage in both private religious practices and public religious services  Proportion of highly religious immigrants varies by the country they come from  High degree of religiosity (South Asia)  Low degree of religiosity (East Asia, western and northern Europe)  Canada’s religiosity increases as the number of immigrants from religious countries increases - Religion vs. science: The debate of the modern era o Our society is often called a secular society (people are less religiously inclined)  People are less inclined to attend churches or think about the supernatural  We have no state religion  We believe in the value of religious multiculturalism  We try to practice inclusion across a wide range of belief systems o Our society is characterized as being a rational-legal society (people are disenchanted about the natural world)  Disinclined to explain natural phenomena by invoking supernatural causes  Rely on scientific observation, reasoning, and evidence o The science-religion rebate goes back to the Enlightenment centuries and continues into the 20 century  Darwin’s theory of evolution posed a significant challenge to the credibility of Christian belief o Science is a cultural and social orientation toward the search for knowledge  Scientific revolutions that began in Europe about 500 years ago allowed for advances in technology  Based on empirical research  Robert Merton identified the norms of science  CUDO: communalism, universalism, disinterest, organized skepticism o (1) Science advances by peer review, independent and unbiased research, public debate of findings, and application of universal criteria of judgement  Science demands organized skepticism  All scientific claims are critically evaluated  All conclusions are considered tentative, which awaits disproof o (2) Religion is not expected to advance because it is based on timeless revealed truths  Religion does not encourage organized skepticism  Religious commentators who step too far risk ridicule, exclusion, expulsion, excommunication, or death o (3) Religious debates are rarely public, unlike science  Lack of public interest  Carried out internally o (4) Religion has procedures for adapting their values, beliefs, and holy documents when it becomes necessary  Vary in flexibility and adaptability under pressure (Plan B)  E.g., The use of hadiths in Islam is an example of adaptability o Hadiths are sayings and beliefs attributed to Mohammed that weren’t written in the Koran o Islam is based on a literal interpretation of the Koran o Islamic societies differ widely in social, political, and economic sophistication o Islam uses hadiths to allow flexibility in the interpretation of the Koran  Institutional flexibility poses a huge problem to the survival of traditional religions  E.g., Catholics have rejected Catholic teachings on views about birth control, abortion, premarital sex  E.g., Religions are more likely to loosen their grip under pressure, especially uncomfortable situations  E.g., Roman Catholic Church did not admit that it was mistaken in prosecuting Galileo  E.g., Roman Catholic Church was reluctant to come to terms with repeated sexual abuse of children by ordained priests o (5) Religion can never be as flexible and adaptable as a science  Science demands no commitment to traditional beliefs  In religious books, you will read about people who lived hundreds of years ago  In science books, you will not read anything about people who lived hundreds of years ago  E.g., J.J. Becher and G.E. Stahl  Phlogiston theory postulates that in all flammable material there is present phlogiston (a substance without colour, odour, taste, or weight) that is given off in burning o Phlogisticated substances contain phlogiston and are dephlogisticated on being burned o Only the ash of the burned material is the true material  Widespread support until disproved by the scientific work of A.L. Lavoisier o There is no phlogiston involved in the true nature of combustion o (6) Science is forward-looking, but religion is backward-looking  Religion  Rigid and unyielding  Exclusionary views  Convinced that they have found the eternal and everlasting truth  Convinced that other religions are misguided, and infidels or pagans doomed to eternal darkness o (7) Science has no role in creating social solidarity, unlike religion o (8) Religion can sometimes create benign solidarity  Churches and religions exert a powerful influence over political life in many parts of the world  Religions are committed to creating and preserving order  Sciences are committed to creating and fomenting skepticism and disorder o (9) Many people are still religions, given the enormous and persuasive importance of science in our lives  Religions give people a sense of meaning and purpose o Science studies study scientific and technological human practices through the methods of sociology  Thomas Kuhn  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) is about paradigm shifts in knowledge  Science is rigid and hidebound o Scientific research goes through periods of conventional, unchallenging research o Paradigm shifts challenge the most basic assumptions o Afterward, return to normal science
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