The Sociology of
Chapter 14
 Throughout
every time
period and in every place
humankind has lived,
humans have searched for
the answers to two
questions; Why do we live
and why do we die?
Two Basic Questions
Societies have struggled with the need to
give meaning to human existence and to
provide people with the motivation for
According to Emile Durkheim, all societies
have attempted to satisfy these needs by
making sharp distinction between the
sacred and the profane.
 The
sacred is anything that is
considered to be part of the
supernatural world that inspires awe,
respect, and reverence.
 The
profane is anything considered
to be part of the ordinary world and,
thus, commonplace and familiar.
Sacred and Profane
 The
distinction between the sacred
and the profane is at the heart of all
 Religion
is defined as a system of
roles and norms that is organized
around the sacred realm and that
binds people together in social
Sacred and Profane
 Religion
is a universal phenomenon…
 However, the form that is takes may
vary from society to society and may
change within a single society over
 Religion exists in many forms
because different groups give sacred
meaning to a wide variety of objects,
events, and experiences.
 According
to sociologists,
religion is a social creation.
 Things take on sacred
meaning only when they are
socially defined as such by a
group of believers.
Religion- A Sociological Definition
 Things
that are sacred in one culture
may be profane in another.
 Ex. cows in India or church wafers
 Sociologists are not concerned with
the truth or falseness of any religion.
Rather, they focus on the social
characteristics of religion and the
consequences that religion has for
Religion- A Sociological Definition
 Social
◦ Religion strengthens the bonds
among people.
◦ Participating in religious
ceremonies and sharing beliefs
create a sense of belonging, which
can make people feel less alone.
The Functions of Religion
◦ Durkheim’s suicide study found
that rates of suicide were lower
among people with strong
attachments to religious groups.
◦ Conflict Theorists suggest that
cohesion based in religion is not
good in areas where more than one
religion is practiced.
◦ Ex. Arabs v. Israelis or Muslims v.
The Functions of Religion
 Social
Religion serves as an agent of
social control by encouraging
conformity to norms.
Religious followers believe in the
sacredness of the Bible, the Torah,
and the Qur’an as a means of
giving people social conformity.
The Functions of Religion
 Emotional
 Religion provides emotional support
for people during difficult times.
 Religion helps people endure
disappointment and suffering by
providing a comfort in believing that
harsh circumstances have a special
The Functions of Religion
 Religion
also attempts to provide
answers to the ultimate
questions concerning life and
 These answers lend strength and
calm to people as they approach
the unknown and the
The Functions of Religion
Conflict sociologists argue that emotional
support lent by religion may block social
and political change.
 Religion encourages people to accept their
social conditions because rewards await
them in the spiritual life.
 “to forget the hardships of their daily
lives, people turn to religion and its
promise of rewards in the afterlife” – Karl
The Functions of Religion
 Although
religion exists in varied
forms around the world, all
religions contain certain basic
 Among
these elements are rituals
and symbols, belief systems, and
organizational structures.
The Nature of Religion
In religious terms, a ritual is defined as an
established pattern of behavior through
which a group of believers experiences
the sacred.
 Ritualistic behavior is part of every
 Baptisms, weddings, funerals are usually
conducted in sacred places by persons
acknowledged as religious leaders.
Rituals and Symbols
 Some
rituals involve asking for
divine intervention in human affairs.
 Some rituals focus on giving thanks
to divine beings for benefits that
believers have received.
 Particular clothing, herbs, chalices,
crosses, books are often used only in
special places on special days.
Types of Rituals
 Belief
systems vary around the
world, but can be placed into
three basic types;
 Animism
 Theism
 Ethicalism
Belief Systems
 Animism-
The belief that spirits
actively influence human life.
 Animals, plants, rivers, mountains,
and wind are believed to contain
 These things are not worshipped,
but they are seen as supernatural
forces that can be used to human
Belief Systems
 One
form of animism is known as
shamanism, in which the spirits only
communicate with one member of a
group called a shaman.
 Another type of animism, called
totemism involves a belief in kinship
between humans and animals or
natural objects.
Belief Systems
 Theism-
The belief in god or gods.
 The god is considered a divine power
worthy of worship.
 Monotheism- Belief in one god
◦ Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
 Polytheism- Belief in a number of
◦ Hinduism
Belief Systems
 Ethicalism-
Based on the idea
that moral principles have a
sacred quality.
 Based on truth, honor, and
tolerance that serve as a guide
to a righteous life.
 Mostly in Asia…Confucianism,
Buddhism, Shintoism
Belief Systems
 Organizational
 Categorized into four types;
 Ecclesia
 Denominations
 Sects
 Cults
Belief Systems
 Ecclesia-
Religious organization in
which most people in the society are
members by virtue of their birth.
 A state church, closely allied with the
 Does not tolerate religious
differences and membership is often
◦ Fundamentalist Islam in Iran
Organizational Structures
 Denomination-
A well-established
religious organization where a
substantial number of the population
are members.
 Presbyterian and Baptist churches.
 Trained officials and bureaucratic
 Tolerant to differing beliefs and
welcome converts.
Organizational Structures
 Sect-
A relatively small religious
organization that typically has split
from a denomination due to
differences in belief.
 Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hassidic
 Often intolerant of other faiths.
 Opposed to the existing power
structure of their faith.
Organizational Structures
 Sects
often encourage clapping,
dancing, singing, and shouting
during services.
 Actively recruit new members.
 Many sects are short-lived, but
one sect, the Methodist Church,
has become a denomination.
Organizational Structure
 Cult-
A new religion whose
beliefs and practices differ
markedly from those of the
society’s major religions.
Organizational Structures
U.S. has been a haven for religious
 Because of that, the U.S. is home to 100’s
of different denominations, sects, and
 Changing immigration patterns have
added to the variety.
 Separation of church and state in the
U.S., the government lacks the power to
support or deny any religious beliefs.
Religion in American Society
Americans hold religion in high regard.
 According to a public opinion survey,
between 86% and 94% of Americans
believe in God.
 A 2001 survey found that 60% of
Americans feel religion is very important
to their lives.
 61% of people believe that religion can
answer all or most of today’s problems.
Religion in American Society
Even though 90% say they believe in
God, only 66% say they are affiliated
with a religious organization.
 Most people with affiliations are
members of the Christian, Judaic, or
Islamic faiths.
 The largest religious organization in the
U.S. is the Roman Catholic Church.
Religious Affiliation
Jewish people and Episcopalians tend to
have higher educations and higher
 Baptists and Methodists reside mainly in
the South and Midwest.
 The largest number of Jewish people and
Catholics are found in large cities.
 Republicans have traditionally been
backed by Protestants whereas Democrats
have been backed by Jewish people and
Religious Affiliation