Download PDF What is Religion?: Introducing the Study of Religion

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The Star of David in Judaism, the cross in Christianity, and the crescent and star in Islam are examples of sacred symbols. Interactionists are interested in what these symbols communicate. Additionally, because interactionists study one-on-one everyday interactions between individuals, a scholar using this approach might ask questions focused on this dynamic. The interaction between religious leaders and practitioners, the role of religion in the banal components of everyday life, and the ways people express religious values in social interactions—all might be topics of study to an interactionist.

It is important to understand that the above theoretical paradigms each provide only a partial explanation of religious beliefs and behaviours. Religions organize themselves—their institutions, practitioners, and structures—in a variety of fashions. For instance, when the Roman Catholic Church emerged, it borrowed many of its organizational principles from the ancient Roman military, turning senators into cardinals, for example. Sociologists use different terms, like ecclesia, denomination, and sect, to define these types of organizations.

Scholars are also aware that these definitions are not static. Most religions transition through different organizational phases. For example, Christianity began as a cult, transformed into a sect, and today exists as an ecclesia.


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Cults , like sects, are new religious groups. In popular usage, this term often carries pejorative connotations. However, almost all religions began as NRMs and gradually progressed to levels of greater size and organization. Controversy exists over whether some groups are cults, perhaps due in part to media sensationalism over groups like polygamous Mormons or the Peoples Temple followers who died at Jonestown, Guyana. Some groups that are controversially labelled as cults today include the Church of Scientology and the Hare Krishna movement.

A sect is a small and relatively new group. Most of the well-known Christian denominations in North America today began as sects. Occasionally, a sect is breakaway group that may be in tension with larger society. When membership in a sect increases over time, it may grow into a denomination. Often a sect begins as an offshoot of a denomination, when a group of members believes they should separate from the larger group. Some sects evolve without growing into denominations.

Sociologists call these established sects. A denomination is a large, mainstream religious organization, but it does not claim to be official or state sponsored. It is one religion among many. The term ecclesia , originally referring to a political assembly of citizens in ancient Athens, Greece, now refers to a congregation. In sociology, the term is used to refer to a religious group that most members of a society belong to. It is considered a nationally recognized, or official, religion that holds a religious monopoly and is closely allied with state and secular powers.

Canada does not have an ecclesia by this standard.

One way to remember these religious organizational terms is to think of cults NRMs , sects, denominations, and ecclesia representing a continuum, with increasing influence on society, where cults are least influential and ecclesia are most influential. Scholars from a variety of disciplines have strived to classify religions. One widely accepted categorization that helps people understand different belief systems considers what or who people worship if anything.

Finding Religion in Everyday Life | Sociology of Religion | Oxford Academic

Using this method of classification, religions might fall into one of these basic categories, as shown in Table Note that some religions may be practised—or understood—in various categories. It is also important to note that every society also has nonbelievers, such as atheists, who do not believe in a divine being or entity, and agnostics, who hold that ultimate reality such as God is unknowable. While typically not an organized group, atheists and agnostics represent a significant portion of the population.

It is important to recognize that being a nonbeliever in a divine entity does not mean the individual subscribes to no morality. Indeed, many Nobel Peace Prize winners and other great humanitarians over the centuries would have classified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Religion has historically been a major impetus to social change. In early Europe, the translation of sacred texts into everyday, non-scholarly language empowered people to shape their religions.

Disagreements between religious groups and instances of religious persecution have led to mass resettlement, war, and even genocide. To some degree, the modern sovereign state system and international law might be seen as products of the conflict between religious beliefs as these were founded in Europe by the Treaty of Westphalia , which ended the Thirty Years War. As outlined below, Canada is no stranger to religion as an agent of social change.

At the same time that religion is still a major force in Western society, it is within a backdrop of societies becoming more and more secularized. Weber believed membership in distinguished clubs would outpace membership in Protestant sects as a way for people to gain authority or respect. Conversely, some people contend that secularization is a root cause of many social problems, such as divorce, drug use, and educational downturn.

While some scholars see the Western world, including Canada, becoming increasingly secular, others observe that religion is still all around us. For example, recent statistics show that about 75 percent of Canadian marriages still involve a religious ceremony. But this varies from a a high of 90 percent in Ontario to less than 40 percent in British Columbia Black , B. Vital Statistics At the time of this writing, religion impacted post-secondary education in Canada. This is not a new battle for Trinity Western University.

In , the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the B. College of Teachers in its bid to uphold the original decision not to accept Trinity Western graduates into the teaching profession. This action would have effectively blocked Trinity graduates from teaching in British Columbia Wikipedia N. Religious independent schools teaching from kindergarten to grade 12 receive varying degrees of public funding across Canada. In British Columbia, these schools are countering the student population declines found in the public schools and have generally increased enrolments annually B.

Ministry of Education Compared to other democratic, industrialized countries, Canada is generally perceived to be a fairly religious nation. Whereas 42 percent of Canadians in a Gallup survey said religion was an important part of their daily lives, 65 percent make this claim in the United States.

The numbers were also higher in Spain 49 percent , but lower in France 30 percent , the United Kingdom 27 percent , and Sweden 17 percent Crabtree and Pelham Secularization interests social observers because it entails a pattern of change in a fundamental social institution. The above data on the importance of religion in daily lives tell us much about our views on other issues.

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For example, countries such as Canada that have a lesser level of impact from faith on our day-to-day routine are more tolerant, even accepting of, homosexuality Trinity Western University notwithstanding. A recent study shows that countries where religious influence is low are generally also the richest countries Pew Research They are more accepting of homosexuality than poor countries where religious influence is high. The fact that Canada has become more secular is evidenced in the 10 percent increase in acceptance of homosexuality over the last decade.

While less than half of Canadians state that religion is important, 80 percent of Canadians claim a religious affiliation Statistics Canada Canada is known for its religious diversity, yet it is predominantly Christian, with 72 percent declaring membership in one of its denominations or sects. Catholicism stands out as the most popular choice with almost 50 percent of Christian Canadians. Religious affiliations among recent immigrants to Canada are similar for Christians and those claiming no religion, according to statistics gathered between and Statistics Canada Other common affiliations for new immigrant are Muslim 18 percent , Hindu 8 percent , and Sikh 5 percent.

The power of the sociological study of religion goes well beyond how we think and behave over religion. These views and behaviours spill over in fundamental ways into other important arenas within our lives. The Sociological Approach to Religion Religion describes the beliefs, values, and practices related to sacred or spiritual concerns. Max Weber believed religion could be a force for social change.

Karl Marx viewed religion as a tool used by capitalist societies to perpetuate inequality.

The five major world religions - John Bellaimey

Religion is a social institution because it includes beliefs and practices that serve the needs of society. Religion is also an example of a cultural universal because it is found in all societies in one form or another. Functionalism, conflict theory, and interactionism all provide valuable ways for sociologists to understand religion. Types of Religious Organizations Sociological terms for different kinds of religious organizations are, in order of decreasing influence in society, ecclesia, denomination, sect, and cult.

Religions can be categorized according to what or whom its followers worship. Some of the major types of religion include polytheism, monotheism, atheism, animism, and totemism.

The Cognitive Science of Religion

Religion and Social Change Many of the classical sociological theories predicted that levels of religiosity in Western societies would decline due to the process of secularization. However, while society has certainly become more secular, a large majority of people in Canada still claim religious affiliation.

The clash of secular and religious values in modern society produces issues that are difficult to resolve.

Introduction to Religion

The Sociological Approach to Religion 1. In what ways does religion serve the role of a social institution? Which perspective most emphasizes the ways in which religion helps to keep the social system running smoothly? Which socialist perspective most emphasizes the ways in which religion helps to maintain social inequalities within a society?

Types of Religious Organizations 8. What are some denominations of the Christian Protestant church?


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Religion and Social Change Secularization refers to a number of interrelated trends including:. The Immanent Frame is a forum for the exchange of ideas about religion, secularism, and society by leading thinkers in the social sciences and humanities. Some would argue that the Protestant work ethic is still alive and well in North America. Sorting through the different Christian denominations can be a daunting task. It is an entheogen that induces visions.