Religion Basic Concepts Theoretical Types of Religion Types of Religious Organizations World Religions Religious Fundamentalism
Basic Concepts • The French sociologist Emile Durkheim stated that religion involves “things that surpass the limits of our knowledge”. • Profane- that which people define as an ordinary element of everyday life. • Sacred- that which people set apart as extraordinary, inspiring a sense of awe and reverence. • Religion- is a social institution involving beliefs and practices based on a conception of the sacred. • ritual-formal, ceremonial behavior. Example Holy communion is the central ritual of Christianity
Religion and Sociology • Sociologist study religion as they study family: to understand religious experiences around the world and how religion is tied to other social institutions. Not using judgement in the process.
Theoretical Analysis of Religion • Functions of Religion- • According to Durkheim, society has an existence and power of its own beyond the life of any individual. • Totem- an object in the natural world collectively defined as sacred. • The totem—perhaps an animal or an elaborate work of art—becomes the centerpiece of ritual, symbolizing the power of collective life over any individual.
1. Social cohesion- Religion unites people through shared symbolism, values, and norms. • 2. Every society uses religious ideas to promote conformity. • 3. Providing meaning and purpose-Religious belief offers the comforting sense that our brief lives serve some greater purpose.
Constructing the Sacred • Through various rituals such as daily prayers to annual religious observances such as Easter and Passover. • As Peter Berger explains, placing our fallible brief lives within some “cosmic frame of reference” gives us “the semblance of ultimate security and permanence.”
Inequality and Religion • Social-Conflict Analysis • The social-conflict paradigm highlights religion’s support of social hierarchy. Religion serves ruling elites by legitimizing the status quo and diverting people’s attention from social inequalities, Karl Marx proclaimed. • In a well-known statement, Marx dismissed religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Religion and Social Change • Max Weber: Protestantism and Capitalism • Max Weber contended that new ideas often are engines of change. It was the religious doctrine of Calvinism that sparked the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe
Types of Religious Organizations • Church- a type of religious organization that is well integrated into the larger society. • State church- a church formally allied with the state. • Denomination- a church independent of the state, that accepts religious pluralism.
Sect • The second general religious form is the sect, a type of religious organization that stands apart from the larger society. Sect members have rigid religious convictions and deny the beliefs of others. In some cases members of a sect may withdraw from society in order to practice their religion without interference. • Charisma- extraordinary personal qualities that can turn an audience into followers.
Cult • Cult a religious organization that is largely outside a society’s cultural traditions. • Many long-standing religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—began as cults.
Religion in Pre-Industrial Societies • Animism- the belief that elements of the natural world are conscious life forms that affect humans. • Animistic people view forests, oceans, mountains, and even wind as spiritual forces. Many Native American Societies are animistic. • Hunters and gathers might have singled out someone to be the Shaman with special religious skills, but they have no full time religious leader.
Among pastoral and horticultural people, there arose a belief in a single divine power responsible for creating the world. • In agrarian societies, religion becomes more important, with a specialized priesthood in charge of religious organizations.
Religion in Industrial Societies • Learning how the world works is a matter for scientists, but why we and the rest of the universe exist at all is a question for religion to answer.
World Religions • Christianity • Christianity is one example of monotheism-belief in a single divine power, • Polytheism- belief in many gods.
Islam • Islam has some 1.2 billion followers (about 20 % of humanity); followers of Islam are called Muslims. • Islam is the word of God as revealed to Muhammad, who was born in the city of Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia) about the year 570. • The Qur’an, sacred to Muslims is the word of God (Allah) as transmitted through Muhammad, Gods messenger.
The Five Pillars of Islam: • (1) recognizing Allah as the one, true God and Muhammad as God’s messenger; • (2) ritual prayer; • (3) giving almost the poor; • (4) fasting during the month of Ramadan; and • (5) making a pilgrimage at least once to the Sacred “House of Allah in Mecca. Followers of Islam believe they will be held accountable for their deeds on earth. • To Many Westerners, Muslim women are the most socially oppressed people on Earth.
Judaism • Judaism has deep historical roots that extend some 4,000 years before the birth of Christ to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia. • A distinct concept of Judaism is the covenant, a special relationship with God by which Jews became the “chosen people.” The covenant also implies a duty to observe God’s law, especially the Ten Commandments as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Jews share a history of prejudice and discrimination. A collective memory of centuries of slavery in Egypt, conquest by Rome, and persecution in Europe has shaped Jewish identity. • On average Jews have prospered, with social standing well above average.
Religion in the United States • Religiosity- the importance of religion in a person’s life.
Religion and Social Stratification • Social Class • By and large, Protestants with high social standing are people of northern European background whose families came to the United States at least a century ago.
Race and Ethnicity • Throughout the world, religion is tied to ethnicity. Many religions predominate in a single nation or geographic region. Islam predominates in the Arab society of the Middle East, Hinduism is fused with the culture of India, and Confucianism runs deep in Chinese society.
Religious Fundamentals • Fundamentalism- a conservative religious doctrine that opposes intellectualism and worldly accommodation in favor of restoring traditional otherworldly religion.
1. Fundamentalists interpret sacred texts literally. Fundamentalists insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible and other sacred texts. • 2. Fundamentalists reject religious pluralism. They maintain that their religious beliefs are true and other beliefs are not. • 3. Fundamentalists pursue the personal experience of God’s presence. • 4. Fundamentalism opposes “secular humanism.” Secular humanism is a general term that refers to our society’s tendency to look to scientific experts rather than God for guidance about how to live. • 5. Many political fundamentalists endorse conservative political goals. Fundamentalists oppose the “liberal agenda”
Looking Ahead: Religion in the 21st Century • The world is becoming more complex, and rapid change seems to outstrip our ability to make sense of it all. But rather than undermine religion, it fires the religious imagination.