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31 Cards in this Set

  • Front
  • Back

PEOPLE study religion for two reasons:

1. Religion is very important to many people and their religious practices may play a significant role in their lives

- Spectrum of significance of beliefs/ practices in their lives

-Canadian Stats (Christian- 67%, roman catholic 38%)

- Global (Christianity- 33%, islam-20%)

2. Society Influences religion and religion influences society

- religious values influence behaviours

- religious meanings influence interpretation of experiences

Society <--> religion - influences foundational to classical sociology (eg. George Bush)

Does God exist? Sociologically, does it matter?

- Sociologists NOT interested in proving whether god exists or NOT

- in some ways NO, but also yes- because sociologists are studying people who either DO or don't believe

- the fact that other people believe or not is important, not the question of if something is there or not

Humans search for origins/ meanings..


- Religion


(Hadron collider- anti-matter project, Higgs boson)

"God particle"- origins of the universe from a scientific perspective

Diff ways to Study religion

1. Religious Social Scientists

- beliefs influence their work

-may use their faith to determine research topics

Eg. Fr. Andrew Greely-- priest and sociologist quite critical on own religion

- may use data collection and interpretations that support their faith or raise questions within it

2. Liberal Social Scientists

- do not comment on the existence of God- usually respectful to all faiths the same

- careful in their discussions of different faiths

- variety of approaches

3. Secular Social Scientists

- no religious beliefs

-God- is a social construction- GOD/DIETIES are socially but not objectively real

- no religion is superior to others- all can be criticized in different ways

Secular Nation

- does not wed religion and politics

-no one religion dominates over others

- protects religions from being oppressed


Defining Religion

- Definitions are strategies rather than objective truths

-no single definitions

-strategies for thinking about religion

1. Substantive Definitions

-What religion IS (intuitive approach, common sense approach)

- Reference to supernatural realm

- reference to power - is central

- supernatural agent has a great deal of power

- may use power in benevolent or punitive matter

Strengths and Limitations


- very specific--> appeals to common sense. Specifically western notions of religion

- easily adapted to research questions (can ask people if they adhere to religions and they will understand)



- reliance on the supernatural

- narrowness- difficulty accounting for non-wester and alternative religions (cults)

2. Functional Definitions

- what religion does

EG. Religion provides meaning

- daily basis

-during individual/ collective tragedy

- meaning in communities

eg. Religion provides order

- both in positive and negative ways

- can integrate society and foster social control

-social arrangements can be justified (eg. caste system)

Strengths and Limitations


BREADTH: includes cross cultural, trans-historical, and changing aspects of religion

- provides meaning today and meaning in 2000 years from now- functions in the same way



TOO BROAD: potentially includes those things that we do not usually consider to be religious

- assumes religion is necessary (eg. religious morality, equates to being "good")

- assumes religion is ALWAYS beneficial

Religion as an Ideology

Ideological Definitions

- comprehensive world view based on sets of assumptions and arguments

- beliefs and behaviour system whose adherents collectively refuse to question its fundamental assumptions

- in groups if people have doubts they tend NOT to express them

EG Failed prophecy- heavens Gate

- Religious leader determines if something happens and it doesn't happen

- Marshall Applewhite

- when the comet comes into night sky Bonnie will be in the tail,

mass murder of heavens gate

Classical Sociologists & Religion

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

Goals to establish religion as:

1. NOT divinely or supernatural inspired

2. rather a product of society

3. having origins in communal emotion

4. to identify common things that religions place emphasis on (common characteristics of religions eg. rituals

5. to examine the effects of religious beliefs on society

6. to define an adequate definition of religion (unified system of beliefs, practices, sacred realm, single moral community)

Sacred and Profane Realm (Dichotomy)

1. Sacred Realm

- objects and behaviours set apart as superior, powerful and deserving of respect

EG. rites, objects of reverence


2. Profane realm

- ordinary, uneventful, practical aspects of life

-eg. of individual importance- not significant to the religious collective

-going to work, daily living,

separate from sacred

** Good and evil can emerge in BOTH sacred and profane realms of any religious community

- Sacred is not only good


(Spencer& Gillens ethnographic studies on Australian Aboriginal communities)

- original form of religion

- feelings of reverence derive from the sharing of groups experience (socially created) around a particular object

-animal, plant, natural elements ( regionally important)


- emblem for the social group/clan- it bonds members

- totems function to put interests of society (group/clan) above individual desired

- focused on influence of Totem's in the Aboriginal community

- the TOTEM is not worshipped/ idolized but is held sacred- critically important part of the community

Totemism cont'd

- part of self identity

-totemic markings imbue sacredness on objects eg. stones, wood, bark

- images/ representations of totems are more sacred than totem itself

Social control within the CLAN

1. Negative Cult

- prohibitions/ taboos (fasting, sexual abstinence)

2. Positive CULT

- communal ceremonies (Around totem)

- relaxation of taboos

- dancing, altered states- sexual relationships

-w/o moral entire can engage in behaviours



-often used to describe contemporary religious joyous period of time (EG. Christmas, Sporting events,)

- when group is united with no taboos, heightened emotions and excited behavioural states via ritual gatherings



- collective state leads to intensification of reverence for the sacred

-ceremonies inspire and renew allegiance to the group/totem

- reinforcement of morals/social norms

-belief in supernatural powers/entities is borne out of "inexplicable" events/ states and sense of awe

- greater understanding of the social world reveal social origins of religion

Durkheim believes

- that CE is one of the most powerful reminders to individuals that this is what your faith is about

Criticisms of Durkheim

- simplistic explanations of Aboriginal ritual

(single case limitation in AUS, many expressions in/across cultures)

- anthropological critiques of his understanding with totems (contrasting approaches to totems- not singular)

- problems with spencer and Gillens ethnography

-overly psychological (c.eff) at times, BUT many sociologists have turned attention to emotions

- ignores role of religious leaders