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What is the Sociology of Religion?
Sociology of religion entails the study of cultural beliefs, practices, and forms of organizations. The study is undertaken using the established tools and methods in the field of sociology. Scholars may employ quantitative or qualitative designs to understand how religion affects human behavior.
In particular, polling system, surveying, the use of demography, and census are some of the methods employed under quantitative designs. On the other hand, observation, the use of interviews, comparative analysis, and the application of historical methods are some of the techniques employed in qualitative designs. Emile Durkheim was the first sociologist to utilize religion in understanding human behavior.
He undertook a study among Catholics and Protestants to establish the rates of suicide. The study was a landmark in the academic circles because it distinguished sociology from other disciplines such as psychology. Durkheim undertook a scientific study of religion in society by employing a positivist approach. His main concern was survival in the modern society. In other words, he was interested in identifying the forces that holds individuals together in the modern society.
Durkheim found out that religion was the main unifying factor in society. In one of his works, he established that religion is not imaginary, as many thought. In his study, he noted that religion is real because it affects human behavior in a number of ways. Religion brings out the realities of society. This would imply that each society has its own form of religion. A supernatural power exists in society, which controls human life. The supernatural power is too strong, forcing individuals to come together in order to define it.
In this case, Durkheim noted that religion is the expression of collective consciousness, which is the synthesis of individual awareness. This consciousness translates to a certain form of reality. To Durkheim, simple societies, such as the Australian Aborigines, have simple religious structures, which are simply associated with particular clans and families. However, complex societies have advanced religious structures that tend to embrace universalism.
In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber offered an alternative explanation of religion. To Weber, religion was a perfect answer to human necessity for theodicy (Weber 39). He noted that human beings are troubled by the fact that some forces cannot be controlled through human efforts.
In this case, human beings try to resolve issues affecting them through the worship of the supernatural. In particular, individuals are troubled with the idea that some people might suffer for long before they succeed in life. Religion is the only consolation for individuals facing various problems in the world.
Through religion, individuals have an opportunity to escape from trouble meaning that they can be relieved from untold sufferings if they worship a supernatural being. In society, people pursue salvation in the same way they pursue wealth. To Weber, religion played a critical role in the rise of capitalism in Europe. In Europe, Protestants believed in predestination implying that the position of each individual in society was already determined.
Why is this subject important?
The relationship between religion and society is very important to sociologists because it helps in explaining the behavior of individuals in a number of ways. Religion shapes human behavior in a number of ways because an individual would definitely behave in a way that his or her religion permits. Religion is understood as a belief system, as well as a social institution.
It is considered a belief system because it configures people’s viewpoints. In other words, it influences an individual’s understanding of the world. Given the fact that the world is full of tribulations and intricacies, religion is construed as a social institution since it sets the patterns of social actions, which are structured based on the values and practices. Individuals evaluate their actions using the values and practices generated by religion.
Since it is considered an institution, it has an organizational structure that influences the behavior of individuals in any given society. Therefore, religion is very important in examining the social and cultural context of any given human action. In other words, it is observed that understanding individual religious beliefs is not of concern to sociologists. Sociologists are interested in examining the collective behavior of individuals in society, as well as how religious beliefs influence behavior.
One of the most important reasons forcing sociologists to study religion is that it is related to other social factors, such as race, age, gender, and education. In complex societies, studies show that some religious beliefs are associated with certain races.
In this regard, religion would define social stratification of a certain society. Members of society with similar religious beliefs would tend to identify themselves with certain behaviors. They would then tend to conduct themselves in a certain way, which would be different from the conduct of other races.
For instance, a majority of members of the Arab society are identified with Islam. Through Islam, they have formed strong cultures that define their behavior in society. In particular, members from the Arabic race are not allowed to intermarry with other races without undergoing certain processes. In this regard, it would demand that a member from another race be converted to Islam for him or her to be accepted as a marriage partner.
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Regarding age, religion influences people differently. Furthermore, age groups are affected differently by religion. Durkheim found out that the youths are affected more by religion as compared to the old. This is why the suicide rates are high among the youth and the middle-aged individuals as compared to the old. Equally, religion affects men differently as compared to women (Settimba 230).
Religion is important to sociologists because it determines change in society. A religious society is reluctant to embrace new ways of doing things because change interferes with their established customs and beliefs.
For instance, many people find it hard to utilize family planning methods and the use of protection during sex because their religions do not permit them. Some religious values observe that people were created to multiply. This problem is common in the third world whereby people are still practicing beliefs associated with traditional religion.
What is the Rational Choice Theory?
Rational Choice theory is a theory in sociology that is utilized in understanding social and economic actions. The theory states that human beings should always strive to do things perfectly. In other words, the individual should always choose the most cost-effective method when accomplishing certain aims and objectives.
In society, people try to achieve their objectives using the available means and techniques. However, the most effective technique is usually chosen because of the constraints in life. In this regard, an individual compares a number of methods before arriving at the most cost-effective method (Allingham 17).
Allingham, Michael. Choice Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
Settimba, Henry (2009). Testing times: globalization and investing theology in East Africa. Milton Keynes: Author House, 2009. Print.
Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Los Angeles: Roxbury Company, 2002. Print.