Lecture 18: Religion

Disclaimer: Religion may be viewed differently by each person


Sociology of Religion: Study of the beliefs, symbols, practices and organizational forms of religions Not question of faith or the veracity of truth claims or religion

  • Role of religion in stability
  • Shaping the world we're in
  • Change of beliefs

Classical Approaches to Sociology of Religion

Durkheim's Functionalist Approach

  • Religion reinforces social solidarity, heightening our sense of belonging to a group and strengthening our belief in certain ideas

Concept Map

  • Collective Conscience
  • Profane (values and sentiments that are in our world; shared)
  • Sacred (religious values and interests)
  • Totems - Seed our faith
  • Rituals

Religion helps us bring the community together. Produces a type of social cohesion.


  • Religion and inequality
  • Religion and conflict/change

Counterevidence to Durkheim

Charismatic Leaders: "Religious leaders who claim to be inspired by supernatural powers and whose followers believe them to be so inspired" (Brym & Lie 2015: 226)

Routinization of Charisma: Weber's term for the transformation of the unique gift of divine enlightenment into a permanent feature of everyday life. It involves turning religious inspiration into a stable institution with defined roles (interpreters of the divine message, teachers, dues paying laypeople etc.) (Brym and Lie 2015: 215)

  • In most of our religion, we move away from our charismatic leadership and is now rooted by bureaucracies
  • Not addressing how religions are organized over hierarchy; everyone is together and cohesive

Organizations with roles, including subordinate roles.

  • What about inequality?
  • Marx: "opium of the people"
  • Religions dissect parts of their modern world and critique it

Example: women in subordinate position in major world religions; class inequality and afterlife in Hindu scripture.

What About the Role of Religion in Conflict and Change?

  • Churches may play a role in disrupting status quo, provoking change
  • Ex. Social justice and health care in Canada
  • Ex. Abolishment of slavery
  • Emphasize religion can create social change

Contemporary Understandings of the Role of Religion

Secularization (Theory)

  • Theory that religious institutions, actions, and consciousness are on the decline worldwide
  • As our world become more technology advanced, individualism etc., we will start to move away from religion.

What does the Evidence Suggest?

  • Look at whether if we have seen a decline in decisions and consciousness (individual beliefs)

Religiosity: "The degree to which religion is important to people." (Brym and Lie 2015:228)

"Religiosity and Atheism Index" (2012 Gallup Poll)

Question: Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?

Results: 59% Religious; 23% Not Religious; 13% Convinced Atheist

Religiosity and Income Level

  • Lower income levels tend to be more religious
  • Wealthier nations tend to have less who say they are religious

"Religiosity and Atheism Index" Conclusion

  • "Despite the immense impact of technology and an emphasis on worldly affairs, the 21st century overwhelmingly espouses a religious faith and atheism is a minority"

Fundamentalist: "People who interpret their scriptures literally; seek to establish a direct, personal relationship with the higher being(s) they worship; and are relative intolerant of non-fundamentalists" (Brym and Lie 2015:223)

Religiosity in Canada

Prediction: By the year 2015, religion would be dead or near dead (WRONG)

  • 26% of Canadians reject religions
  • 44% say somewhere in between
  • 30% embrace religion

Among those who say they are religions:

  • 9 out of 10 pray privately on a "regular basis"
  • 50%+ attend a religious service at least once/month

Revised Secularization Thesis: "Theory that worldly institutions break off from the institutions of religion over time. As a result, religion governs an ever-smaller part of the most people's lives and has become largely a matter of personal choice" (Brym and Lie 2015:225)

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