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Chapter 11

Sociology 1020 Chapter Notes - Chapter 11: John Calvin, Collective Effervescence, Mainline Protestant

Course Code
SOC 1020
Kim Luton

of 7
- Christianity exercised a profound influence “on the character of the nation and the Canadian
- Tiny minorities belonged to Catholic Church, United Church of Canada, Anglican Church, or
Presbyterian Church (middle-class values, norms, and goals favoured by the majority of
- Churches helped to temper the disruptive effects of industrialization and urbanization and played
an important role in creating the culture of concern for the social welfare that distinguishes
Canadian public life from the politics of free-enterprise individualism in the US
- Canadians learned to accommodate religious distinctions and to not discriminate between
Protestants and Catholics
- The “new world” gave opportunity to lay the foundation for a truly Christian society
- Baby boomers rebelled against the “establishment” and half of the huge demographic group
chose to follow the ethic of the counterculture to “turn on, tune in, and drop out”
- Attendance levels at churches are nowhere near what they were in the past
- Canada has become an increasingly secular society; influence of religious symbols, ideas, and
organizations has dramatically diminished
- 68% of Canadians felt that “religion as a whole is becoming a greater influence in Canadian life”
- Canadians continue to hold tenaciously to their traditional religious affiliations; when questioned
they display a strong interest in religious and spiritual issues
- Most Canadians report that they engage in private religious activities at least once a month
(prayer, meditation, reading sacred texts)
- We tend to believe in such things as “near-death experiences”, contact with spiritual beings, and
- 85% of people in Canada say they believe in God; Western Europe is 69%; United States 94%
- Most sociologists anticipated that religion would decline into insignificance as societies
modernized; they believe religion will continue to be an important element in these societies for
the foreseeable future; complete secularization seems unlikely
- Religion continues to be a primary marker of social identity; increases threats to cultural
autonomy posed by the processes of globalization
Studying Religious Life Socially
- Founding figures of sociology – Marx, Durkheim, Weber – paid extensive and careful attention to
religion; their insights continue to inform contemporary sociological discussions of religion
- Interested mainly in the transition from modern to postmodern society (religiously)
The challenges of research on religion
-Supernatural: things/experiences that appear to be inexplicable in terms of the laws of nature or
the material universe; lies beyond day-to-day experience
- Sociology’s task is to detect and gauge the nature and significance of the human consequences of
claims and experiences
Defining religion
- No consensus on a definition has ever been reached due to a split between substantive and
functional definitions
-Substantive definitions of religion emphasize what religion “is” by focusing on some crucial
and presumably universal feature of religious activity
- Tylor suggested religion be defined as “belief in Spiritual Beings”
- Many argue that belief is only one aspect of religion and in many religions belief is secondary to
various forms of action and practice (old and new)
- Participation in rituals takes precedence over beliefs; a stress on beliefs in studying religion may
reflect an ethnocentric bias and a bias that derives from the European Protestant tradition
- Many reject the reality of supernatural beings
- Tylors definition suffers from another problem: relies on a term that is in need of further
definition: what constitutes a spiritual being?
-Functionalist definitions of religion focus on what religion “does” and tend to suffer from the
reverse limitation: they can be too broad and inclusive
- The definition of a functionalist: “religion is a system of beliefs and practices by means of which
a group struggles with the ultimate problems of human life”
- It’s difficult to differentiate between religion and various other “functional equivalents” to
religion in society
- Sociologists have appreciation of intrinsic limitations of any one definition of religion; suggest
that a religion is a system of beliefs and practices about transcendent things, their nature, and
their consequences for humanity
Measuring religiosity
- Problematic to measure how religious people are (their religiosity)
- Some people attend religious services with great regularity but do not put their religion into
practice in their daily lives; others are very pious or spiritual but rarely attend organized religious
- An adequate measure of religiosity should access information about all aspects and ways of being
religious (Glock & Stark recommended 8 inquiries)
- 1. The experiential (whether people think they have had contact with the supernatural)
- 2. The ritualistic (their level of participation in public rites)
- 3. The devotional (their level of participation in activities like praying/saying grace)
- 4. Belief (the degree to which they agree with doctrines of their faith)
- 5. Knowledge (their degree of recognition and understanding of the beliefs of their religion)
- 6. The consequential (the effects of their religion on their everyday life)
- 7. The communal (the extent to which they associate with other members of the same religion)
- 8. The particularistic (the degree to which they think their religion is the only true path to
- Scoring high on one/a cluster of these dimensions means you are very religious
- Glock & Stark use conventional criteria to measure each dimension in their work on American
piety with 2 undesirable consequences
- unconventional religious practices, such as the belief in astrology, were excluded from society
- a bias toward a more conservative style of Christianity was implicitly built into their measures
- Several authors have found discrepancies between level of church attendance Americans
commonly report to pollsters and the actual number of people in the pews of a sample of churches
- It is socially desirable to be thought of as at least somewhat religious in the US
The Insights and Issues of Classical Theory
- Founding figures were interested in understanding the changes occurring in their own European
society as it was jolted from traditional order into the modern world; all had diverse responses to
these changes
Marx: Religion and ideology
- Karl Marx believed that religion served to justify the rule of one class over another
- He proposed that humanity had not been created in the image of God as the Bible said; the gods
or god had been created in the image of humanity
- Characterized religion as “the opium of the people”
- The quest for religious virtue subdues the mind and distorts thinking like a powerful narcotic,
distracting people from developing a critical appreciation of the real source of their deprivation:
their economic and political exploitation at the hands of a dominant class
- Christianity was a clear example of how religion served the interests of the ruling class to the
detriment of the working class
- Important to Christians: to do what needs to be done in order to get to heaven and spend eternity
with God
- Far less important than what happens in a supposed next world and so discourages people from
thinking about their lot in the world
- Reincarnation: people are born, live, die, and are then re-born to live another life, and the process
continues; social position in a Hindu society: if a Hindu is poor in this life it is because of what
was done in the preceding life
- the dominant elites in society whose decisions affect the distribution of wealth are not blamed
Durkheim: Religion and social solidarity
- Durkheim saw a greater purpose for religion; he wanted to understand the processes that held
societies together during a state of adversity and change (helping France during social and
political disruptions)
- Religious beliefs and practices protected the moral integrity of social relations, held
individualistic impulses down while creating the selfless desire to serve the needs of the group
above individuals
- He was worried about what might happen to the social solidarity of society if religion should
wane in the modern society; argued that the origins of religion are to be found in the experience
of society itself
- Durkheim defined religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred
things… which unite into one single moral community… all those who adhere to them”
- Concern with the sacred is the substantive element that differentiates religion from other
activities; functionally religion is to be identified with the social processes that create a sense of
- Most distinctive trait of traditional religious life is the division of all things into two opposed
categories: the sacred and the profane
-Sacred is that which is set apart and treated with special awe and respect; highly variable; almost
every kind of thing has been sacred for someone at some time; thought to possess a tremendous
and unique power that requires people to take special care in its presence
- The sacred provides a kind of fixed point in reality around which the ordinary or everyday
circulates (the profane)
- Religion is always a group activity; a social phenomenon deeply concerned with the regulation of
the internal and external relations of the group
- 2 features of being in the presence of things deemed sacred:
- devotees are moved by feelings and heightened strength
- believers feel that this strength comes from sharing in a power that is both outside of themselves
and greater than themselves, and capable of acting on them with or without their consent
- Two powerful aspects of social life itself: the collective conscience and collective effervescence
-Collective conscience: participants are lifted out of the limited horizon of their own personal
preoccupations and exposed through highly condensed symbols, gestures, and stories to an
intuitive grasp of the collective wisdom of their society
-Collective effervescence is when participants are caught up in the emotional and almost
contagious energy of a crowd, often experiencing levels of enthusiasm, ecstasy, pride, and fear
quite out of keeping with their solitary experience; can inspire a sense of quite superhuman
strength in each individual ex) soldiers entering battle, participants in large political rallies or
sporting events
- Members of a group are bonded together through the practice of religion and the uplifting effect
of this bond serves to perpetuate their feelings of empowerment and their continued belief in the
things deemed sacred and their social solidarity
Weber: Protestantism and the rise of capitalism
- Most profound and comprehensive sociologies of religion
- A by-product of his initial and chief concern: the origins and nature of modernity