Sociology helps people answer a lot of questions about the specifics of their interactions and the development of their community. Religion reflects the people’s visions typical for this or that social group. From this point, religion becomes the object of the sociologists’ study in order to explain the characteristics of the people’s interactions in relation to their religious beliefs and attitudes to the sacred.
That is why, religion should be discussed as the social phenomenon which is typical for the definite religious group because religious groups differ in their visions and beliefs, and this fact influences the development of society significantly.
Thus, the sociology of religion studies religion in its connection with the society and the people’s dependence on the definite religious beliefs and attitudes to form and develop their community. From this perspective, the sociology of religion is the specific sphere of knowledge in relation to which sociologists examine people’s religious beliefs, their sacred practices and attitudes in their connection with the social development.
Sociology of religion is studied with the help of the methodological framework used in sociology that is why researchers are interested in the empirical information associated with the religious issues, people’s religious visions and practices.
Thus, Johnstone determines the characteristic feature of this filed of knowledge which is in the fact that “the sociology of religion is conducted according to the scientific method” (Johnstone 6). The next important feature of sociology of religion is the discussion of religion as the social phenomenon in spite of the fact people are inclined to discuss the religious beliefs as the part of their personal life (Putnam and Campbell).
It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that both visions are relevant because according to Johnstone, “religion is a response to both individual and group needs” (Johnstone 38). Religion can be discussed as the reflection of the individual’s attitudes to the sacred, but the subject matter of studying sociology of religion as the sphere of knowledge is religion within the society.
Moreover, religion cannot exist without its connection with society because it emerges as the result of the people’s interactions with each other. The subject of the sociology of religion is important because it is impossible to discuss religion without its references to society and to study society without concentrating on the people’s religious beliefs.
To develop successfully, religion should be based on the patterns and principles which are typical for the evolution of the society, on the particular features of the social interactions. Thus, “society precedes religion. Before religion can develop, there must first exist general patterns of social interaction – that is, a society – that can serve as a model” (Johnstone 30).
This statement can be discussed as the reason to support the idea that this subject is really important. Furthermore, sociologists study religion as the key aspect of the people’s development because religion exists within the society during a long period of time, and there are few situations when societies could reject their religious views even when the necessity of such rejection was imposed on them with the help of the political strategies.
Sociologists began to focus on studying religion within the field of sociology not long ago. There were numerous attempts to examine religion in its connection with the social development and impact on the society.
Johnstone stresses that “the persistence of religion in its various forms has finally forced sociologists to renew the effort … of attempting to understand the nature and function of religion” (Johnstone 19). Today, the sociology of religion is discussed as the independent sphere of knowledge operating the techniques which are typical for sociology and examining the notions which are characteristic for the religious studies.
The moral presumptions, religious visions, attitudes to the sacred, religious practices and rituals followed by the representatives of the definite religious community can help make the necessary conclusions about the characteristic features of this social group. That is why, the studies in the context of the sociology of religion are important for sociologists.
The sociological knowledge depends on examination of the people’s beliefs and visions which are different in various religious groups or social communities. The religious rituals and practices which are followed by the representatives of these groups reflect not only their attitude to the sacred but also provide the people’s vision of the general world picture and the community’s goals.
To study the group dynamics, it is important to refer to those religious beliefs and attitudes which are promoted by the group representatives (Johnstone 2). Thus, the world can be perceived at different levels, and religion reflects the particular features of the people’s perception of the surroundings and of the sacred and magic at one of these levels. From this point, sociology of religion is important to provide the complex picture of the public’s vision of the world and the people’s role in it.
To understand the role of the religious visions in constructing the society, it is important to study the sources and nature of religion as a phenomenon. There are a lot of theories developed by sociologists to explain the emergence of religion as the complex of definite beliefs and practices.
However, there is the question about the reasons of choosing this or that religion. It is possible to discuss this choice with references to the rational choice theory. This theory is used in the economic sphere to explain choices which are beneficial for people. Following the scientific approach to discussing the concept of religion, the rational choice theory is effective to accentuate the aspects according to which the person is inclined to choose his or her religious path.
Johnstone presents the definition of the rational choice theory according to which this theory deals “seriously with not only the persistence of religion but also the observation that some form of religion appears to be ubiquitous among societies, even if some individuals deny the validity of the religions that surround them” (Johnstone 36).
From this point, the decision to follow or not the definite religion is in the sphere of the people’s free choices. This theory is effective to discuss the notion of religion from the sociological perspective. People choose something rationally, and the rational choice theory accentuates the fact that religion is also chosen rationally, with references to the persons’ vision of benefits and previous experiences.
Sociology of religion discusses a lot of controversial questions which are associated with the role of religion in the development of society, the connections between the public and religion, and the nature of religion as the social phenomenon which emerged as a result of the people’s interactions. The significant subject of study is the people’s religious beliefs, attitudes to the sacred and to the magic, religious rituals and practices as important spheres of the people’s personal and social life.
Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion. USA: Pearson, Prentice-Hall, 2007. Print.
Putnam, Robert, and David Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. USA: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print.