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The Sociology of Religion. 1 - Introduction. Concepts: religion, religiosity and faith. Diversity in World Religions. 85 percent of the world’s population adheres to some religion Christianity is the largest faith 34 percent of the population Roman Catholic Church,

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The sociology of religion

The Sociology of Religion

1 - Introduction

Diversity in world religions
Diversity in World Religions

  • 85 percent of the world’s population adheres to some religion

  • Christianity is the largest faith

    • 34 percent of the population

      • Roman Catholic Church,

      • numerous Protestant denominations, and

      • Eastern Orthodox Church with over 1.9 billion faithful

  • The second largest is Islam with about 19 percent

    • the fastest growing of the major religions.

  • Both religions

    • are monotheistic and

    • impose moral code

  • Differences among religions exceeded by variations within faiths

World religions
World religions

World religions1
World religions


  • How religious a society is


  • Belief in something without evidence


  • What do religions have in common?

  • Try to produce a “typology” of religions.

Religious behavior
Religious Behavior

  • Religiousbeliefs: statements to which members of a particular religion adhere

  • Fundamentalism: rigid adherence to fundamental religious doctrines

  • Fundamentalism found worldwide among most major religious groups

Which practices are religions religious and which are not
Which Practices are Religions/Religious and Which Are Not?

  • Atheism

  • Attending a funeral service

  • Baptism

  • Being a born-again Christian

  • Being a teetotaller

  • Believing in evolution

  • Believing in ghosts

  • Believing in telepathy

  • Believing in UFOs

  • Bonfire night

  • Buddhism

  • Capitalism

  • Communism

  • Confucianism

  • Cremation

  • Daoism

  • Decorating a Christmas tree

  • Dowsing

  • Eating only kosher/halal meat

  • Fasting during Lent/Ramadan

  • Giving Christmas presents

  • Karate

  • Making pancakes at Easter

  • Marriage

  • Meditation

  • Mummification

  • Naming children John, Peter, David, Mary, Sarah, …

  • Naming children Muhammad, Fatima, Ibrahim, …

  • Paganism

  • Palmistry

  • Playing Ouija

  • Positivism

  • Praying

  • Reading tea leaves

  • Sacrificing goats

  • Saying “My God”

  • Science

  • Scientology

  • Shintoism

  • Socialism

  • Supporting a football club

  • T’ai Chi

  • Taking Communion

  • Texting “OMG”

  • Transcendental meditation

  • Veganism

  • Vegetarianism

  • Visiting mediums

  • Voodoo

  • Wearing a hijab

  • Witchcraft

  • “Worshipping” Elvis; having surgery to look like him

  • Yoga

Inclusive and exclusive definitions of religion
Inclusive and Exclusive Definitions of Religion

  • Inclusive definitions of religion are broad

    • e.g., no reference to supernatural

  • Example: Geertz (1966) defined religion as

    • a system of symbols that

    • establishes moods and motivations

    • by formulating conceptions about existence and

    • giving them an aura of truth

    • so they seem real

  • What activities could Geertz’s definition of religion include?

Exclusive definitions of religion
Exclusive definitions of religion

  • More prescriptive – specify what it is, not just its function

    • i.e. they are “substantive”

    • Typically refer to particular beliefs, practices and institutions

      • e.g., the supernatural

  • Example:

    “beliefs, actions and institutions that assume the existence of supernatural entities with powers of action, or processes possessed of moral purpose”

    Prof. Steve BruceUniversity of Aberdeen (2002)

Inclusive vs exclusive pros and cons
Inclusive vs Exclusive:Pros and Cons

Uk trends
UK trends

  • 59% of respondents to 2011 UK census identify as Christian

    • Down from 72% in 2001

    • Debate about whether this signals a decline(Bruce 2002)or just a retreat (Davie 1994)

      • “believing without belonging” (privatisation of religion)

Watch the video:

Religious commitment
Religious Commitment

  • Commitment ≠ Belief

    • In Census, many Christians say they are unsure God exists!

    • So what does it mean to be “religious”?

  • Abby Day (Goldsmiths/University of Kent) investigated this question (2007)

    • She did qualitative research with semistructured interviews

    • Classified respondents according to “level” of belief

      • Aspirational Christians (just trying to be good/respectable)

      • Ethnic Christians (religion as membership of “English” ethnic group)

      • Natal Christians (born/baptised Christian)

      • Adherent Christians (attend church)

Children religious belief
Children & Religious Belief

  • Researchers interviewed school children of different religions and ethnic backgrounds, focusing on

    • Religious identity

    • Social practice

    • Belief and spirituality

  • Found that the children aware of group identities around religion

    • Highly observant/observant/occasionally participating/implicit individual faith/not religious

    • So some children were excluded

  • Children used religion and ethnicity interchangeably

See Children’s perspectives on believing and belonging, Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2005

Problems with statistics
Problems with Statistics

  • Statistics are a social construction

    • So the process of compilation needs to be taken into account

  • Reliability

    • Historical data gathering differs to today’s methods

  • Validity

    • Different religions use different criteria to record membership (need to know who compiled the statistics and why?)

  • Interpretation

    • What does the number mean?e.g., people may attend church for community/friendships rather than because they are believers

Religious commitment exercise
Religious CommitmentExercise

  • How do individuals show their religious commitment?

  • Give 3 examples of religious commitment illustrated through dress

  • Give 3 examples of religious commitment shown through following a religious code of conduct