Religions and Religious Institutions

Religious Institutions
Religion and Society
• A system of beliefs, rituals, and
• Focus is on sacred matters
• Promotes community among followers
• Provides a personal spiritual experience
for its members
The Great Transformation
• In communal societies, religion permeated all
aspects of society.
• In contemporary industrial society, the institution
of religion has become separated from many
social and economic activities
• Max Weber
– The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Function: What Religions Do
• Durkheim emphasized believers’ attitudes
toward sacred objects, not the objects
– What people believe is less important than
that they have those beliefs in common
• Durkheim viewed religion as an
integrative force in human society
– Gives meaning and purpose to people’s lives
– Offers ultimate values and ends to hold in
– Serves to bind people together in times of
crisis and confusion
Social Change
• Max Weber sought to understand how
religion might also contribute to social
– The Weberian Thesis
• Protestant work ethic: disciplined
commitment to worldly labor driven by a desire
to bring glory to God, shared by followers of
Martin Luther and John Calvin
• Argued this provided capitalism with approach
toward labor essential to its development
Social Control
• Marx on Religion
– Argued religion inhibited social change
– People focus on otherworldly concerns
– Religion drugged masses into submission by
offering a consolation for their harsh lives on
– Religion’s promotion of social stability helps to
perpetuate patterns of social inequality
Social Control
• Gender and Religion
– Women have played fundamental role in
religious socialization, but generally take
subordinate role in religious leadership
– Most religions are patriarchal, and reinforce
men’s dominance in secular and spiritual
– Women compose 12.8 percent of U.S. clergy,
but account for 51 percent of theology
Characteristics of Religion
• Beliefs
– Ideas, based upon faith, that people consider true
• The sacred and profane
– Sacred: that which has supernatural qualities
– Profane: that which is the ordinary
• Rituals
– Routines that reinforce the faith
• Moral communities
– People who share a religious belief
• Personal experience
– Grants meaning to life
Americans Believe in
Components of Religion
• Religious rituals: practices required or
expected of members of a faith
• Religious experience: feeling or
perception of being in direct contact with
ultimate reality or of being overcome with
religious emotion
Components of Religion
• Community
– Ecclesia: religious organization claiming to
include most or all of the members of a
society; is recognized as the national or
official religion
– Denomination: large, organized religion
not officially linked to the state or
Components of Religion
• Community
– Sect: relatively small religious group that
has broken away from some other religious
organization to renew what it considers the
original vision of the faith
• Sects are at odds with society and do not
seek to become established national
• Established sect: religious group that is
the outgrowth of a sect, yet remains
isolated from society
Components of Religion
• Community
– Cult or new religious movement (NRM):
small, alternative faith community that
represents either a new religion or a major
innovation in an existing faith
• Similar to sects since they tend to be
small and are often viewed as less
respectable than more established faiths
• Unlike sects, may be totally unrelated to
existing faiths
Components of Religion
• Comparing Forms of Religious
– Ecclesiae, denominations, sects, and new
religious movements have different
relationships to society
– Best viewed as types along a continuum
Religious Organization
• Church
– A formal religious group well established and
integrated into society
• Ecclesia
– a system by which a religion becomes the official
religion of a state
• Denomination
– A religion that maintains friendly relations with the
government but does not claim to be the only
legitimate religion
Sects and Cults
• Sects:
– Loosely organized
religious group
– Non professional
– Actively rejects social
– Breaks away from a
larger religious group
• Cults
– Non-conventional
religious group
– Social conditions
demand separation
– Members required to
withdraw from normal
– Full-time communal
obligation for members
• World’s largest religion
• Three main branches
– Roman Catholic
– Protestant
• Luther breaks away from Roman Catholic Church
in 16th century
– Orthodox Christian
• Division of Christianity in 10th century
• Serves eastern Europe
• Second largest religion in world
• Significant beliefs and practices
– Only one god that all must recognize
– Daily prayer, share wealth, pilgrimage
• No centralized authority
– Local clerics rule often with close state ties
– Two major sects
• Sunni
• Shiite
• Numerically smallest of world religions
• Important beliefs:
– God’s chosen people
– Torah: first 5 books of the Bible; oldest truths from
• Major divisions
– Orthodox: strictly traditional
– Reform: liberal and worldly
– Conservative: middle ground between Orthodox and
• Largest of the Eastern religions
– Concentrated largely in India
• Important beliefs
– Dharma: special force makes daily demands and
sacred obligations
– Karma: spirit remains through life, death, rebirth
• Organization
– Caste membership
• Large religion throughout Asia
– Includes southeast Asian countries and China
• Based upon teachings of the Buddha, the
enlightened one
– Monks and lay people spread his teachings
• Important beliefs
– To relieve human suffering one must follow a path that
ultimately leads to enlightenment
– “Right” thoughts and actions must be daily performed
and evaluated through meditation
• Originated with Confucius attempting to solve practical
problems of daily living
– Wisdom summarized guides management of society
• Jen: human sympathy that binds people in 5 basic relationships
– Sovereign and subject
– Parent and child
– Older brother and younger brother
– Husband and wife
– Friend and friend
• Proper etiquette and ritual help these relationships
American’s Religious Preferences
Religion and Functionalism
• Religion, as a major social institution, provides
many important functions
– Cohesion
• Reduce social isolation
• Increase social solidarity
– Social control
• Authority over significant events
• Social violations become moral offenses
– Purpose
• Reduction of anxiety regarding the unknown
Conflict Perspective
and Religion
• Religion is a tool of the ruling class
– Focus on “otherworldly matters” detracts from this
world concerns
• Passive acceptance of misery
• True rewards will come in afterlife
– Inequality and domination is legitimate
• A false consciousness is created
• Liberation theologist critique
– Religion can be a powerful agent of social change
• Counter ruling class power
Symbolic Interaction and
• The creation of a social identity
– A religious identity is a main element is certain social
– Others who keep religion private still find it creates an
important part of their personal identity
– Radical religious changes may lead to a fundamental
shift in identity
• Important agents of religious socialization
– Family: earliest religious learning
– Schools: separation of church and state issues
Sociological Perspectives
on Religion
• Early sociologists sought to provide a
science of society that would tap the ways
of knowing built into the scientific method
and apply them to society
• They recognized significant role religion
had played in maintaining social order, and
believed it essential to understand how it
had accomplished this
• The declining influence of religion in daily
– Combines with increasing influence of science
• Religious groups see social decline
– Problems can be solved through renewed
religious influences
Civil Religion
• The quasi-religious beliefs that link people
to society and country
– Countries confer sacredness upon nonreligious aspects of life
• Patriotism ceremonies
– Crimes and moral violations are equated
• “blue laws”
• Civil religion reinforces core values and
strengthens communal bonds
Religion Today
• The Megachurch
– All-inclusive church draws large audiences
– Several hundred exist in U.S.
– Largest concentration found in Southwest
– Approximately half are nondenominational
• Church becomes daily-life center
Social Change
• Liberation theology: use of a church in
political efforts to eliminate poverty,
discrimination, and other forms of
injustice from a secular society
– Adherents contend that organized religion
has a moral responsibility to take strong
public stand against oppression of the poor,
racial and ethnic minorities, and women