What is Sociology of Religion?
Sociology is concerned with people’s interaction in groups and interactions of different groups of people. Admittedly, religion can be regarded as a social phenomenon, a set of beliefs and doctrines that unite people in certain groups. Notably, in the majority of countries religion and state are divided, though in some countries these two entities are combined into one.
Therefore, it is possible to state that religion plays crucial role in people’s lives in some countries. More so, there are lots of people who claim they do not relate themselves to any religious groups. Nonetheless, every individual is affected by certain religious beliefs. For instance, the western world is based on principles of Christianity which shape behavior of many nations. Furthermore, there are a lot of religious groups which interact with each other.
These religious groups also influence (or try to influence) other people, e.g. those who are not members of the group. There have been many examples when religious groups tried to make other people adopt their principles. For instance, indigenous people of Americas, Africa, Australia, etc. were turned into Christianity. Therefore, religion is also concerned with people’s interaction in groups. It is but natural that Sociology of Religion is a very important branch of sociology.
In the first place, it is necessary to define this branch of Sociology of Religion. It is a non-evaluative and empirical study of interactions between people in different religious groups and interactions between different religious groups. Importantly, sociology of religion is based on empirical data.
This means that it operates specific data and draws conclusions based on facts rather than assumptions. Any theory is carefully checked by anthropologists and sociologists. It is also important to add that sociology of religion is not concerned with assessment and evaluation of religions. This study does not answer the questions concerning the best religion or best religious practices.
Moreover, sociologists try to remain as unbiased as possible. Though, everyone understands that researchers can hardly be totally unbiased as they are raised in terms of specific cultural conventions. However, scientific approach helps sociologists be quite unbiased. This branch of sociology explores origins of religions, peculiarities of beliefs and rituals and it also determines the extent to which these beliefs and rituals affect people.
Why Is This Subject Important?
As has been mentioned above, religion is still an important part of people’s life. It has shaped people’s behavioral patterns within certain communities. Thus, the study exploring peculiarities of this phenomenon is very important as it helps understand to what extent religion shapes people’s behavior.
Sociologists can also help understand the reasons why religion is so important for people. This study can help foresee the future of religion as well as humanity. In other words, researchers will be able to understand what makes people develop certain beliefs and rituals and how (why) these practices help people live. It is quite important to see which components of religious practices are essential and why they differ in different groups.
Understanding the nature of religion will help sociologists understand the nature of humanity. The majority of religions have much in common. However, religions are also characterized by considerable diversity. Sociologists may come up with certain explanations of this diversity. These differences may help understand what is important for different groups of people and how certain principles and codes of conduct affect their lives.
This can also help determine the way environment affects people’s behavior and choices. Sociologists are also preoccupied with the origins of religion. It is quite important to understand how and why religions originated, in the first place. This will help people understand the exact role religions have played in the history of humanity. Anthropologists and sociologists will also define similarities and differences in people’s behavior in different situations and/or conditions. Basically, people will be able to understand their own nature.
What is the Rational Choice Theory
The rational choice theory is rooted in the field of economics. According to this theory, people tend to make a variety of rational choices throughout their lifetime. These choices are shaped by people’s goals. In other words, people tend to try to reach certain goals and make choices in order to achieve their aims. This theory is applicable to a variety of disciplines. The rational choice theory also provides interesting insights into the field of sociology of religion.
According to the rational choice theory, people adopt some religious beliefs and are involved in certain religious practices to achieve their goals. It is also possible to trace the aims of people throughout centuries. For instance, people longed for eternal lives or better lives in other worlds or in other reincarnations. Therefore, people of the Middle Ages and Renaissance sought for better life. Now many people also strive for such a goal.
Many people seek for being a part of a group. They feel care of other people and they do not feel lonely or neglected. Being social creature, the vast majority of people need some sort of community and religious groups give the feeling of being connected with others. Some people need certain status which religious groups can provide. Many people seek for financial gains.
All these goals make people enter some religious groups. Notably, the rational choice theory provides specific answers to questions concerning people’s motivation.
It also explains the spread of certain religions, at least, at some periods. The spread of Christianity among poor people and slaves in the first centuries A.D. can be explained with the help of the theory. Poor people got the hope to live a better life, even after their death. They accepted their social position and were ready to endure lots of hardships as they had been promised to get something more important.
Nowadays people also adopt different religious beliefs. Remarkably, many of people change their religious views throughout their lifetime. These different choices can also be explained (to certain extent) with the help of the theory mentioned above. For instance, children are baptized according to their parent’s religious choices.
However, when children grow up, they start making their choices. People often change their religious beliefs as they fail to get the answers or reach their aims. Popularity of numerous religious groups within Christianity can also be explained with the help of rational choice theory.
Nonetheless, it is also necessary to note that this theory cannot provide all the answers as people often make irrational choices, i.e. they cannot even explain their deeds. Moreover, religion is often associated with spirituality which can hardly be measured or explained. Therefore, it is necessary to be cautious when using the rational choice theory in sociology of religion.