Society and religion

Civilizations and world
2. Lecture.
The formal and sociological theory of the
religions and civilizations
The elements of evolutionary theory
of religion
1. The interpretation of the origins of religion by the help of
basic catherogies of evolution, (such as: inheritance, mutation,
selection, adaptation, etc.)
2a. The interpretation of religion as a social, „gadgeteered”
construction, as an adaptation, (a function that helps the
2b. The presentation of such functions, which helps the
individuals and the group to solve certain problems in the actual
situation, or in the actual level of evolution. (So, due to which
function it is an adaptation, and not a by-product or a „bug”).
3. The understanding of „why” is the unfolding of evolutionary
story that lead to the present, („just so story”). In evolution the
answer to a question is always a story.
What is religion?
In the prespective of evolutionary theory
1. Religion is a „cultural universal” – it could
be found in every known present and past (after
its material mementos known) societies.
Concerning sociologists (Durkheim, Murdock, LéviStrauss, Donald Brown, etc.) a „cultural universal” is
an element, pattern, trait, or institution that is
common to all human cultures worldwide.
Concept of religion
„Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and
worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to
spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have
narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are
intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life
or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious
laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos
and human nature”, (Wikipedia, Religion).
Religion always implies a certain idea or conception of
transcendence. Religion, as a cultural system, contains rites,
rituals, festivals, which express in a peculiar manner the
particular conception of transcendence of the religion in
question. Religion implies the norms of both collective and
individual praxis of living through the transcendence.
In the sociological context of religion, a religious person – in the
first instance – is a member of a religious community or society.
Further definitions of religion
„The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or
belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a
public aspect”, (Wikipedia, Religion). That is to say: in sociological
respect religion is not exclusively about personal or individual
faith, but it implies also institutions, prescriptions and norms of how
to practice your belief in a religious community, systematic order of
religious doctrines and texts, which are kept sacred, and considered
to have a peculiar relationship with transcendence.
Anthropologists John Monoghan and Peter Just: „It seems
apparent that one thing religion or belief helps us do is deal with
problems of human life that are significant, persistent, and
intolerable. One important way in which religious beliefs
accomplish this is by providing a set of ideas about how and why
the world is put together that allows people to accommodate
anxieties and deal with misfortune ”
Religion, culture, society
„The development of religion has taken different forms in
different cultures”, (Source: Wikipedia).
„The development of religion describes the stages in the
evolution of any particular religious system from the perspective
of social sciences. It includes such considerations as the
evolutionary origins of religions and the evolutionary psychology
of religions; the history of religions, including Prehistoric and
Paleolithic religion; and the development of new religions and
world religions.” (Source: Wikipedia).
The particular form of a concrete religion depends strongly on
the particular sociological, historical and also geographical and
other circumstances of the religion in question. The historical
development of a religion is strongly determined by these
factors, and also by more important events of the particular
society, and by events of intercultural communication.
Social and cultural functions of religion
„Some religions place an emphasis on belief, while others emphasize
practice. Some religions focus on the subjective experience of the
religious individual, while others consider the activities of the religious
community to be most important. Some religions claim to be universal,
believing their laws and cosmology to be binding for everyone, while
others are intended to be practiced only by a closely defined or
localized group. In many places religion has been associated with
public institutions such as education, hospitals, the family,
government, and political hierarchies”, (Source: Wikipedia).
These particular functions, as mentioned above, chiefly determined
and grounded by the particular development and evolution of the
concrete society.
Religion as such has a provable evolutionary function: it increases
the sociological cohesion of a society, it means a source of cultural
identity, by virtue of which it improves the chances of survival for
the particular society. It is an advantage in regard of group-selection.
Current issues concerning religions
Understanding the relationship between religion and society
helps you a lot to conceive social trends and tendencies today.
Spread of religious tolerance in contemporary western societies.
Example No.1. During the presidential campaign (1961) of John
Fitzgerald Kennedy there was a definite reluctance about his
being a catholic in the protestant-dominated USA. But now
(2012) a few has any aversion about the fact, that the republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a committed Mormon.
Example No.2. A few days ago the Al-Kaida propagandist,
extremist Islam leader, Abu Katada was set free in London –
though he continuously makes preaches against the tolerant
Western World and England in particular. Human rights
protectors told that one has the right to follow the extremist
ways of a religion too. What do you think about this question?
The guideline of the course:
Religious studies
During the course we will try to analyze and
discuss several current and relevant issues
concerning the relationship of religion and
modern society.
But the main theoretical discipline we will keep
in view is religious studies in general and
comparative religions in particular.
Theology and comparative religions
„Religious studies is the academic field of multidisciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors,
and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and
explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically
based, and cross-cultural perspectives.”
„While theology attempts to understand the nature and
intentions of supernatural forces (such as deities),
religious studies tries to study religious behavior and
belief from outside any particular religious viewpoint.
Religious studies draws upon multiple disciplines and
their methodologies including anthropology, sociology,
psychology, philosophy, and history of religions.”
„Methodological atheism”
Methodological atheism is a key-concept to understand the
difference between religious studies and theology.
The concept was introduced by the contemporary sociologist of
religions, Peter Ludwig Berger (1929-).
The term refers to a necessarily methodological operation.
Working as a scientist, the researcher must „bracket” her/his
religious beliefs, she or he must abstract from her/his religious
„Whereas the sociology of religion broadly differs from theology
in assuming the invalidity of the supernatural, theorists tend to
acknowledge socio-cultural reification of religious practise”. That
means: religious ideas do have a sort of sociological effectivity.
Origins of Religious Studies
Religious studies originated in the nineteenth century,
when scholarly and historical analysis of the Bible had
flourished, and Hindu and Buddhist texts were first
being translated into European languages.
Early influential scholars included Friedrich Max Müller
(German philologist and orientalist), in England, and
Comelius P. Tiele (theologian), in the Netherlands.
Religious studies also owes a lot to the historicalphilological analyses of Bible (David Strauß, „The life
of Jesus”), and classical-philological investigations
concerning the origins of Greek mythology, (Johann
Jakob Bachofen, Walter F. Otto).
Born of modern religious studies and
comparative religions. Eliade
„Today religious studies is practiced by scholars worldwide. In its early
years, it was known as Comparative Religions or the Science of
Religion and, in the USA, there are those who today also know the
field as the History of religion (associated with methodological
traditions traced to the University of Chicago in general, and in
particular Mircea Eliade, from the late 1950s through to the late
1980s).” (Source: Wikipedia).
Eliade is maybe the most important figure in founding the basics of
modern religious studies and comparative religions. Eliade compared
in both synchronic and diachronic manner over several dozens of
different religious forms in order to find the most essential features of
religion as such. He investigated primitive, small, tribal cults, modern
and old sects, occultist and esoteric movements, major world-religions
and minor, local religions, as well as embranchments of these major
and minor religions, that is to say: heretic movements also.
Most important subdisciplines of
religious studies
Science of Religion or Religious Studies is an interdisciplinary study of religious phenomena. It contains several
subdisciplines, that could be pursued on their own right.
Literary approaches (religion in literature) are also valuable and
important sources to understand religious phenomena.
Texts and documents of theological and historical selfunderstanding and self-interpretation of religious communities
and people are also necessary sources.
Major subdisciplines are: 1. cultural anthropology of religion, 2.
economics of religion, 3. sociology of religion, 4. psychology of
religion, 6. geography of religion, 7. philology of religious texts,
8. comparative religions, 9. philosphy of religions.
Anthropology and cultural
anthropology of religion
Anthropology of religion is principally concerned
with the common basic needs of man that religion
fulfills. Modern anthropology assumes that every
religion is created by the human community that
worships it, a methodological approach that is called
the projection idea. (Cf. Stewart Eliott Guthrie, 2000:
225, ff.).
Cultural anthropology of religion is principally
concerned with the cultural aspects of religion. Of
primary concern to the cultural anthropologist of
religions are rituals, beliefs, religious art, and practices
of piety. Main figures: Fraser, Tylor, Claude LéviStrauss, Clifford Geertz.
Economics of religion
Economics of religion researches the economic attitudes
and behaviour of religious groups. It has been observed that
there is a strong relationship between economics and
Max Weber (1864-1920) was the first who devoted closer
investigations to the interrelation of religion and economics.
One of his main concerns was the economic behaviour of
religious people and religious communities.
Weber had the idea in mind that the protestant ethics
served as an ideological engine to the evolvement and
spread of modern Western capitalism, (The Protestant Ethics
and the Spirit of Capitalism, Economic Ethics of the World
Sociology of religion
„The sociology of religion concerns the dialectical
relationship between religion and society; the practices,
historical backgrounds, developments, universal themes
and roles of religion in society. There is particular
emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies
and throughout recorded history.”
Sociology of religion began with the investigations of
Émile Durkheim about the suicide rates in protestant
and catholic communities (1897), and Max Weber’s
comparative analyses concerning economic behavior in
different religious communities.
Psychology of religion
„The psychology of religion is concerned with what psychological principles are operative in religious communities and
practitioners. William James was one of the first academics to
bridge the gap between the emerging science of psychology and
the study of religion. A few issues of concern to the psychologist
of religions are the psychological nature of religious conversion,
the making of religious decisions, religion and happiness, and the
psychological factors in evaluating religious claims”.
The founding fathers of modern psychological approaches of
religion were Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Freud put
an emphasis on the instinctive, biological roots of religions, he
highlighted the role of drives in religious behavior. Jung
emphasized the cultural character of religions, he interpreted the
origin and functioning of religions with his conception of
collective unconsciousness.
The birth of comparative religions.
Mircea Eliade
Comparative religions was founded by Mircea Eliade. It
investigates on the one hand the particular history of a religion, and
also it’s cultural, historical, social, etc. embedment, and on the other
hand tries to fix the common and different features of religions.
It is a central discipline for the whole of religious studies.
According to Eliade there were some basic structures in
religious experience which could be found in every known
forms of religion.
Such structures are for example.: 1. the differentiation of sacred
and profane; 2. the experience of „Eternal Return” (that
religious man during religious fests re-lives mythical events again
and again), 3. „Coincidentia oppositorum”, the inner
connection of fundamental oppositions. „Yahweh is both kind
and wrathful; the God of the Christian mystics and theologians is
terrible and gentle at once ”
Neurological approaches
Neurological approaches: „Recently there has been an
interesting meeting between neurology and religion,
especially Buddhism. Also of interest has been the temporal
lobe, the "God center" of the brain. (Ramachandran, ch. 9)
Although not a widely accepted discipline within religious
studies, neurological findings in regard to religious
experience may very well become of more widespread
interest to scholars of religion. Scientific investigators have
used a SPECT-scanner to analyze the brain activity of both
Christian contemplatives and Buddhist meditators, finding
them to be quite similar”, (Source: Wikipedia).