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Sociology and religion have significant relationships, as sociology is the study of human behaviors and interactions at the individual level or group level. On the other hand, religion is composed of a group of individuals having the same beliefs, values, and principles, and thus they influence one another and society in the development of social systems that hold people together.
Usually, sociology has two important aspects in the study of groups or individuals. First, sociology enhances understanding of group dynamics in terms of their functioning, nature, interaction, and individual differences. Secondly, sociology provides a way of understanding how a social group influences individuals and humanity in the society.
The process of socialization has enduring impact on one’s life because from birth to old age, social forces shape human behavior and societal beliefs, values, and principles. Fundamentally, religion comprises a group of people that share the same social dynamics and have the same influence on individuals and society, thus it is of great interest to sociologists. In exploring religion in society, this essay examines sociological assumptions and features with a view of observing the sociology of religion.
The first sociological assumption is that an individual is a biological organism. As a biological organism, an individual has physiological needs, drives, potentials, and limitations that are subject to biological factors.
Essentially, biological factors can either limit or enhance the socializing influence of groups on individuals and society. In this case, religion is a group that has the capacity to socialize and influence biological factors of an individual. As religious beliefs, values, and principles differ from one religion to another, they have varied influence on individuals.
While some religions are liberals, others are very restrictive, thus they have a differential influence on the development of human behavior and social interactions. For example, a religion can have beliefs, values, and principles that encourage its members to segregate from the rest of society. The influence of causing segregation is central in sociology because it changes biological factors that determine human behavior in the society.
The second sociological assumption is that human beings have the ability to attach meanings and symbols to certain things that they associate with within their environments.
Through the process of socialization, human beings build consensus on how to label or attach meanings and enhance communication. In religious circles, people can attach meanings to abstract concepts such as love, righteousness, wickedness, and happiness. Symbolization enables people to communicate effectively among group members without involving other people.
Moreover, symbolization enables people to communicate intricate meanings regarding religion given that different religions have different beliefs in which people can best present them symbolically. The use of symbols in religious activities allows people to internalize religious beliefs and gain a deep understanding on religious mysteries. Thus, the interpretation of religious symbols indicates maturity of religious growth for symbols have intricate meanings that enable believers to comprehend the essence of religion in their lives.
The third sociological assumption is that groups play a central role in human development because, through socialization, people can gain their human nature. If social groups do not exist in the society, people will not gain their human nature. As babies grow into adulthood, the experiences of socialization influence their development into humans, who have internalized societal values, principles, and beliefs that people hold in the society.
Normally, when children grow up, they acquire their behaviors from the immediate environment, which has significant influence in their lives, thus shaping their behaviors in society. In the aspect of religion, children grow up while internalizing religious beliefs, values, and principles, which shape them to behave as dominant members of the religions. Therefore, a religious group has considerable impact in humanization of people through the process of socialization.
The fourth sociological assumption is that human actions exist because they are important in problem-solving. Every action that human beings carry out in society has the ultimate function of solving a given problem. For instance, one can struggle to get biological needs, such as food to avoid hunger or strive in school to improve literacy and gain new knowledge and skills.
This aspect implies that hunger and illiteracy are problems that human beings struggle to overcome, for without their resolution people would perish. In this case, religion enables human beings to solve problems because by adhering to religious laws, beliefs, values, and principles, they avoid evil behaviors that have detrimental effects on their lives. Hence, religion is important in the society because it promotes peaceful coexistence in the diverse society by pushing for good moral behaviors.
Since sociology examines interactive behaviors of people, the fifth sociological assumption is that various social phenomena that exist in a given group interrelate. Different social phenomena interrelate either in an indirect or direct manner. In religious groups, religion influences humans and humans in turn influence religion.
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From a sociological perspective, religion is both an independent and dependent variable having the ability to influence or be under influence respectively. The interrelationship of sociology with other social phenomena in a cause-effect manner is central in understanding the sociology of religion.
Sociological features of Religion
The first sociological feature of a religion is that it is a group phenomenon. The group phenomenon is an evident feature of sociology because people gather in hundreds or thousands in worship places. People gather as they have common beliefs and expectations in a given gathering.
For example, Christians gather during Easter to celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, while Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca to celebrate the life of Prophet Mohammed. For a gathering of people to become a group, sociologists state that a group must have two or more people who share common goals, norms, responsibilities, assigned functions, and should profess as a member of the group. Based of these characteristics, a religion qualifies as a sociological group.
Additionally, in religion, one becomes a member of a given religion voluntarily without undue coercion, which means that religions cater for individual interests. Hence, religion exists as a group of people with common beliefs and interests, which hold them together since individuals are independent agents who have the freedom to interact and associate with other people irrespective of their religious backgrounds.
Religion comprises a body or a system of beliefs, which is its second feature. The major difference amongst religions rests in the body of beliefs that a religion professes. The differences that exist among religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism emanate from differences in religious beliefs and principles. People choose to belong to a certain religion based on the religious beliefs that it holds.
The diverse religious beliefs originate from teachings passed from one generation to another and scared books. Sacred books such as the Quran, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Book of Mormon form the basis of religious beliefs that have caused the existence of diverse religions in the modern society. Although the diverse religions started from a given geographical location, the spread of beliefs across the world has led to the growth of religions, thus having considerable impact on society.
The third feature of a religion is that it comprises a set of practices that people perform. Different religions have their own religious practices that they perform according to their ritual beliefs. Some of the prevalent religious practices include foot washing, baptism, Last Supper, Mass, dancing, fasting, and offerings. Although these practices are common amongst Christians, other religions have theirs.
For example, Muslims perform their prayers four times a day, while Buddhists perform their prayers as many times as they can. Actions that religions perform when they gather constitute religious practices because they have their basis on religious teachings, which are present in holy books. The religious practices are important because they define how people should conduct their worship in holy places. Worship usually entails rituals that guide worshipers to adhere to religious beliefs and principles.
An important feature about religion is its role in prescribing morals in the society. In different societies, people agree that religions have a noble role of determining moral principles that are prevalent in society. Without religions, it could have been hard for the society to be the custodian of morals since it is very diverse and does not qualify to be a group with significant influences on societal members or other groups.
Therefore, religions are not only custodians of moral values and principles, but also define them so that societal members can acquire moral behaviors. Through religion, supernatural powers influence society by causing transformation of human behavior. Since religious followers subscribe to given moral principles, they also advocate for these moral principles in the society, thus transforming societal perceptions on certain moral issues like abortion and drug abuse.
The last feature of religion is that it entails sacred elements and teachings. The basis of any religion is sacredness. Religious leaders and followers alike believe that their religious beliefs are sacred because God has blessed and ordained them for humanity.
Presumably, if human beings follow all sacred teachings and adhere to religious laws, one day they will link up with their God, who provides spiritual nourishment and healthy life to people. The sacredness of a religion is evident in the use of scared symbols like cross, manner of worship, offering of sacrifices, belief in blessings or curses, and respect for holy places of worship. Therefore, religion is a social group that values sacredness of their beliefs and practices in society.
Sociology of Religion
Based on sociological assumptions and features, it is evident that religion is a social phenomenon, which interacts with other social phenomena in the society. Since religion interacts with other social phenomena, empirical studies can determine how interactions occur and establish their extent in causing social changes that shape the society.
Through the scientific method of study, sociologists can conduct systematic research to disapprove myths and verify theories associated with sociology. Although religion entails spiritual powers and supernatural forces, it is hard for sociologists to measure its impacts in shaping the society. However, given that religion is a social phenomenon, examination of its interactions with other social phenomena provides a means of empirically studying the sociology of religion.
Sociologists have examined religion from two different perspectives. The first perspective is substantive approach, which views religion from the perspective of its core principles.
Examination of the core principles that underpin religion is central in the sociological study because they provide the foundation of the religion in question. The “substance” or “essence” of religion in society forms the basic understanding of the impact of religion on society because beliefs, values, and principles that it advocates are important in shaping human behavior in society.
Owing to the complexity of substantive approach in studying religion, the second approach, viz. functional approach, is effective in studying the impact of religion on society. From the functional approach, sociologists examine what religions do to the society and how they influence human behavior. This perspective is important to sociologists because it facilitates the examination of how religion, as a social phenomenon, interacts with other social groups that exist in a given society.
As religion comprises a group of people sharing the same beliefs, values, and principles about life, it qualifies as a sociological group. Based on sociological assumptions and features, religion meets the requirements of a social group in terms of being a group with common beliefs, practices, morals, and sacred teachings.
Religion is a powerful social agent that aids in shaping human behaviors at the individual level or societal level. Therefore, sociology of religion is imperative in enhancing understanding on how religion interacts with other social phenomena, thus causing significant influence on human behavior in society.