Soc Notes Week 12 & 13 - Religon 1

Sociology Notes - Week 12 - Religion 1

COS: 9.) Identify the need for and purpose of social systems and institutions: i.e., schools, churches, voluntary associations, governments: Describing origins and beliefs of various religions




1.       What is religion

a.       Emile Durkheim (1915) in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life wrote:

                                                               i.      Religion is “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”

                                                             ii.      Beliefs are states of opinion

                                                            iii.      Practices are rites

                                                           iv.      Community or church is the social organizational component

                                                             v.      Church is not a building, but rather a collective of persons who share similar beliefs and practices

                                                           vi.      Sacred things consists of objects or ideas that are treated with reverence and awe: an altar, bible, rosary (anything can become sacred: a pebble, a scarf worn by Elvis Presley, a baseball bat used by Babe Ruth.

                                                          vii.      Profane things consists of objects or ideas that are generally considered mundane and unspiritual: food, clothes, work, play

                                                        viii.      Hypothesized that religion developed out of group experiences, as primitive tribes came to believe that feelings about sacredness were derived from some supernatural power. As people perform certain rituals, they develop feelings of awe, which reinforce the moral norms of society.

b.      Mr. Creel’s definition:

                                                               i.      Religion explains the unexplainable; creates a power structure to dictate laws, values, and morals; and acts as a social unification model.

                                                             ii.      Is accomplished through rituals

c.       Most societies and people agree that religion has the following elements

                                                               i.      Things considered sacred, such as gods, spirits, special persons, or any object or thought defined as being sacred

                                                             ii.      A group or community of believers who make religion a social, as well as a personal, experience, because members of a religion share goals, norms, and beliefs

                                                            iii.      A set of rituals, ceremonies, or behaviors that take on religious meaning when they express a relationship to the sacred – in Christian ceremonies, for example, bread and wine are sacred components of communion that symbolize the body and the blood of Christ

                                                           iv.      A set of beliefs, such as a creed, doctrine, or holy book, which may define what is to be emphasized, how people should related to society, or what happens to persons after their death

                                                             v.      A form of organization that reinforces the sacred, unites the community of believers, carries out the rituals, teaches the creeds and doctrines, initiates new members, and so on.

2.       The Organization of Religion (Sociological Definitions)

a.       Animism: the belief that spirits inhabit virtually everything in nature – rocks, trees, lakes, animals, and humans alike – and that these spirits influence all aspects of life and destiny.

b.      Shamanism: the belief that certain individuals revolves around the belief that certain individuals, called “shamans,” have special skill or knowledge in influencing the spirits that influence processes and events n their environment

c.       Totemism: the worship of plants, animals, or other natural objects, both as gods and ancestors. Totems usually represent something important to the community, such as food source or a dangerous predator, and the people often war costumes and perform dances to mimic the totem object.

d.      Polytheism: belief in and worship of more than one god.

e.      Monotheism: belief in only one god

3.       Major Religions

a.       Judaism

b.      Christianity: Catholic / Orthodox / Protestant

c.       Hinduism

d.      Buddhism

e.      Confucianism

f.        Shintoism

g.       Taoism

h.      Islam

4.       Chruches, Sects, and Cults

a.       Max Weber (1905) was one of the first sociologist to clarify the interrelationships between people’s beliefs and their surroundings.

                                                               i.      The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism he said that capitalism would not have been possible without Protestantism because Protestantism stressed the importance of work as an end in itself, of personal frugality, and of wordly success as a means of confirming one’s salvation and as evidence of God’s favor.

b.      Priest: has authority by power of the office

c.       Prophet: holds authority on the basis of charismatic qualities


b.      Mysticism: the belief that spiritual or divine truths come to us through intuition and mediation, not through the use of reason or the ordinary range of human experience and senses

c.       Mystics: persons who believe in mysticism; usually practice beliefs outside of organized religion

d.      Church: an institutionalized organization of people who share common religious beliefs


a.       Functionalist Approach: Durkeim

                                                               i.      Preserve and solidify society

                                                             ii.      Create a community of believers

                                                            iii.      Provide social control

1.       Reinforces social norms and values

                                                           iv.      Provide answers to ultimate questions

1.       Is there a supreme being

2.       Why are we here

3.       What happens after death

                                                             v.      Provides rites of passage, ceremonies, rituals

1.       Significance of birth

2.       Attainment of adulthood

3.       Marriage

4.       Death

                                                           vi.      Reconcile people to hardship

1.       Explains or justifies inequality, poverty, oppression

2.       Everyone experiences pain, crises, prejudice, sorrow

                                                          vii.      Cultivate social change

                                                        viii.      Manifest functions

1.       Latent functions: mate selection, experience in public speaking, psychic rewards for donating funds

b.      Functionalist Approach QUESTIONS:

                                                               i.      Can we understand Israel without understanding Judaism

                                                             ii.      Can we understand Saudi Arabia without understanding Islam

                                                            iii.      Can we understand U.S without understanding Christianity

c.       A Conflict Approach (Karl Marx)

                                                               i.      Religion can only be understood in context of the economic system

                                                             ii.      Allows for exploitation of the poor

                                                            iii.      Counsels the masses to be humble and accept their condition

                                                           iv.      “is the opiate of the masses”

                                                             v.      Powerless find an illusion of happiness through religion and look forward to future life after death

                                                           vi.      Churches are segregated along racial and economic lines


a.       Christianity

                                                               i.      Jesus

                                                             ii.      Paul

                                                            iii.      Constantine

                                                           iv.      Empire split in 1054

b.      Judaism


                                                               i.      YHWH


                                                             ii.      Tanahk: Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim


                                                            iii.      Deut 6:4:

                                                          iv.      Calendar: 354 days

                                                             v.      Bar / Bat

                                                           vi.      613 Mitzvot

                                                          vii.      Kosher

                                                        viii.      Angel at birth

c.       Islam

                                                               i.      Muslim

                                                             ii.      Muhammed (570-630)

                                                            iii.      Allah

                                                           iv.      Qur’an (Koran)

                                                             v.      Polygyny (4 wives)

d.      Hinduism

                                                               i.      Caste: Brahmans (priests); Kshatriyas (warriors & rulers); Vaisyas (farmers & merchants); Sudras (peasant & laborers); Untouchables

                                                             ii.      Polytheism???

                                                            iii.      Dharma: the cosmos; the social order

                                                           iv.      Reincarnation: transmigration of souls

                                                             v.      Ahimsa

                                                           vi.      Maya

e.      Buddhism

                                                               i.      Brahmanic tradition of Hinduism

                                                             ii.      5th century BCE

                                                            iii.      Siddhartha Gautama

                                                           iv.      Four Noble Truths

1.       This life is suffering and pain

2.       The source of suffering is desire and craving

3.       Suffering can cease

4.       Practice of eightfold path

a.       Right views

b.      Right intentions

c.       Right speech

d.      Right conduct

e.      Right livelihood

f.        Right effort

g.       Right mindfulness

h.      Right concentration

                                                             v.      Nirvana

f.        Confucianism

                                                               i.      Religion or philosophy???

                                                             ii.      551 BCE Con Fucius born in Shantung Province

                                                            iii.      “all people are brothers”

                                                           iv.      There was a righteous force in the universe

                                                             v.      Not founded on supernaturalism, but on humanity

                                                           vi.      “Sincerity and reciprocity should be one’s guiding principles”

                                                          vii.      “The truly virtuous person, desiring to be established personally, seeks to establish others; desiring success for oneself can help others to succeed”

                                                        viii.      The superior person stands in awe of three things: the ordinances of heaven, great persons, and the words of sages”

                                                           ix.      The Book of Changes / I Ching


a.       Pietist sects: rejected worldliness in favor of pacifism, communal living, and aspiration toward perfection

                                                               i.      Amish

                                                             ii.      Quakers (Religious Society of Friends)

b.      Millennialism: belief that a dramatic transformation of the earth will occur and that Christ will rule the world for a 1000 years of prosperity and happiness

                                                               i.      William Miller

                                                             ii.      Millerites: 1830s

                                                            iii.      Seventh Day Adventist

c.       Joseph Smith: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)

                                                               i.      1830

d.      Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Science

                                                               i.      Illness could be controlled by the mind

e.      Pentecostal Christianity

                                                               i.      Glossolalia: speaking in tongues

                                                             ii.      Faith healing

f.        Secularization: to focus on the world and on worldly things such as science, reason, and technology, as distinguished from the church, religious affairs, and faith

g.       Religiosity: intensity of religious feeling

h.      Ecumenism (ecumenical movement): a trend toward worldwide church / religious unity

                                                               i.      National Council of Churches



Most of the notes taken from: Eshleman, Cashion, and Basirico. Sociology: an introduction. 4th Edition. HarperCollins College Publishers Inc. 1993.