Specific religions can seem so different from one another, but religion is fascinating to sociologists because almost all religions have the same tenets – for example, all religions have a creation myth, or a story about where people come from. All religions have an explanation about what happens to people when they die. All religions have guidelines for people to follow to ensure that they are rewarded for dedication. The differences are in the details. Despite these differences, all religion has a huge impact on individual and group behavior and personal identity.
Theism includes monotheism (worshipping a single god) and polytheism (worshipping many gods).
The separation of church and state is a secular idea, which suggests that the government and religion should not be mixed or that they should stay separate from one another. Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gerty_Theresa_Radnitz_Cori_%281896-1957%29_and_Carl_Ferdinand_Cori_%281896-1984%29.jpg
Figure 16.1 World Religions
Figure 16.2 Percentages o f Religious Adherents Worldwide
Figure 16.3 Percentage of National Populations that Rated the Importance of God in Their Lives as “10”
Figure 16.4 One Nation, Many Faiths
Figure 16.6 Religious Activity by Gender
Remember, Marx was a conflict theorist: he was interested in the conflicts in society and how those conflicts influence the way that people interact with each other. Marx found religion to be an oppressor of people, and oppression generally leads to conflict within a society.
Again, if we look at this from a functionalist perspective, we could argue, as Durkheim did, that religion helps bring people together. It can create social cohesion and collective consciousness. Also, Durkheim believed that symbols themselves weren ’t powerful, but that they become powerful when many people invest in them. This happens collectively, as in religion.
Weber also believed that religion played a significant role in how people interact with one another. Protestants were known for their strong work ethic. They believed that the way to a wealthy afterlife was to work hard and to be thrifty, not to indulge in pleasures of the flesh or in material commodities. Therefore, Protestants were the ideal individuals in the making of a capitalist society because they were already earning a surplus – more money than they needed to buy their basic necessities. Weber felt that the Protestant work ethic had a huge impact of capitalism. In other words, from a functionalist perspective, the Protestant work ethic served a function to a capitalism system.
There are many examples of different religious groups coming together to work for a common cause. This is commonly seen for political reasons (groups may come together to have more strength in numbers), or after a natural disaster (groups may come together for a common cause). Of course, there are also examples of rivalries within communities, where organizations can ’t find enough common ground to get along. Either coming together or conflict can be the outcome when pluralism is present.
People tend to confess more spirituality at times of great challenge, so in the event of a disaster, an act of terror, or even a declining economy, people are more likely to classify themselves as religious. It is also the case that our leisure time has been steadily decreasing in recent years. Thus, there could be a combination of reasons why we are seeing these trends.
Religious institutions were the communities that were charged with “getting the word out” about important events. Churches propelled the civil rights movement forward by disseminating information. These territorial communities are still significant, but their role isn’t as strong as it once was. Politicians, for example, no longer campaign through any religious institution; now they campaign online, through social networking sites. This demonstrates how much the flow of information has changed in our society in the past couple of decades.
In other words, religion can play an important role in many other aspects of an individual ’s life.
Use this video to further the discussion on racial realities. It can also foster a discussion about how race and religion are perceived in contemporary U.S. society.
This interests sociologists for many reasons, but it is fascinating to consider the consumption of religion. In many ways, religion has become commodified (something that can be bought and sold), and it is interesting to think about some of the ways that religion has transformed from a public, shared resource to a consumer item.
For an interesting discussion, ask your students if they have any familiarity with this trend. Do they attend a church that they can “follow on Facebook” or do they have an online support group of friends whose common tie is religion? Today churches are using popular culture and new media to reach out to people, which helps to attract new members.
There are more than 1,000 churches like this in the United States. Some of these churches have attendance between 10,000 and almost 50,000 members! In 2007, the largest megachurch in the world was Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea. At that time, it had 830,000 members. These churches are sometimes criticized for taking members away from smaller churches, yet most people in the United States attend small congregations (generally with less than 200 members).
Why are there so many Christian churches in the United States?
In other words, the kinds of people who would seek a stricter place of worship are also the kinds of people who would attend every service, follow the demands of the institution more closely, and dedicate more time (and possibly resources) to the mission of the organization. Members at these kinds of religious institutions value the high demands of a stricter organization and are willing to spend more time and effort supporting it.