Discussing the aspects of sociology of religion, it is necessary to refer to the religion as the social phenomenon when the religious groups can be determined and analyzed as any other social groups according to their specifics and goals. The sociology of religion as the sphere of knowledge is developed by sociologists in relation to their discussion of the issues of religion in its connection with the society.
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There are a lot of problematic questions studied by sociologists in this field of knowledge which are associated with the nature of the people’s religious beliefs and realization of their religious practices in the social life. It is important to pay attention to the fact that religion as the concept within the sociology of religion is discussed and examined with the help of the scientific methods used in the field of sociology.
However, the subject matter of such an examination is the people’s religious beliefs and practices. Thus, following Johnstone’s discussion, it is possible to state that sociology of religion can be defined as the study which focuses on determining and analyzing the people’s attitudes to the sacred notions, their beliefs and practices, and their visions of the definite sacred beings and events.
There are questions about the relevance of discussing religion not as the individual choice or practice but as the social phenomenon studied by sociology of religion. Nevertheless, sociologists provide many arguments to support the idea that religion should be also examined in the context of sociology and that this subject is really important (Furseth).
To support the vision, Johnstone analyzes Simmel’s considerations in relation to the issue and states that “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).
Thus, it is possible to conclude that any religion cannot exist without society because it emerges within it. From this perspective, the subject is important because it refers to both the society as studied by sociology and people’s religious visions. It is important to concentrate on studying sociology of religion because religion develops according to the definite patterns of interactions used within the definite social group (Furseth).
Furthermore, in his statement, Turner provides the answers to the questions about the nature of the sociology of religion and its importance. According to Turner, “religion refers to those processes and institutions that render the social world intelligible, and which bind individuals authoritatively into the social order.
Religion is therefore a matter of central importance to sociology” (Turner 284). Religion is important for the sociological studies because it is one of the major spheres of the people’s life, and it can influence the development of the social group in relation to determining the definite religious practices and rituals along with following the certain moral presumptions.
The religious visions of different groups are also different. That is why, the study of the religious practices can provide researchers with the important information about this or that group of people as a kind of the social community.
According to Turner, the examination of the religious phenomena among which it is possible to determine magic and myth can be effective for developing the sociological knowledge (Turner 284). In his turn, Johnstone states that religion is closely connected with studying the group dynamics as well the social impact that is why religion can be discussed as the subject matter of sociology (Johnstone 2).
Moreover, the study of the members of the group and their interactions is significant to explain their religious beliefs, practices, and rituals. To understand the particular features of the social development, it is necessary to pay attention to the ideas and beliefs which are interesting for the representatives of the social groups at the spiritual level of their perception of the world.
Sociologists are inclined to determine a lot of theories according to which the religious visions were developed and perceived by the public. It is necessary to accentuate the rational choice theory as the most appropriate one to explain the origins of religion from the sociological perspective.
According to Johnstone, the rational choice theory is a theory that tries “to deal 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).
In spite of the fact there are many opinions that the rational choice theory cannot be discussed as relevant to explain the origins of religion because of its rationality and appropriateness to refer to the economic processes rather than to the moral and spiritual choices, this theory is effective to discuss the people’s choice of religion as the conscious act to receive some benefits from this choice (Bruce).
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The rational choice theory can be used to explain how people make the necessary choice in relation to their religious vision. People are inclined to act rationally in almost all the spheres of their life, basing on the definite personal or public’s experience (Corcoran). To make the choice, it is important to examine the situation and its implications with references to the positive and negative perspectives. Johnstone accentuates the fact that people make the similar rational choices also in relation to choosing the religion (Johnstone 36).
This choice is based on the experience and on the proper examination of the information about different religions, their rituals, practices, and moral presumptions. Johnstone stresses that “people have a set of mental images stored in their brains with which they make decisions as rationally and sensibly as they know how” (Johnstone 36). From this point, it is necessary to concentrate on making the right choice because of the variety of the possible religious visions which exist in the contemporary world.
Sociology of religion began to develop in the 19th century, and a lot of its aspects require their further discussion by researchers because of the significant controversy in vision of the main theories used in sociology of religion to explain its main ideas or the nature of the religion as a phenomenon.
The characteristic feature of sociology of religion as the study discussing the people’s religious beliefs and attitudes to the sacred points is the dependence on the empirical information used to examine the main aspects of this sphere of knowledge. Thus, the religious concepts and the people’s beliefs and practices are examined with the help of the sociological methods which are rather scientific, and they allow speaking about religion as the social phenomenon which can be observed and studied with references to the definite social group.
Bruce, Steve. “Religion and Rational Choice: A Critique of Economic Explanations of Religious Behavior”. Sociology of Religion 54.2 (1993): 193-205. Print.
Corcoran, Katie. “Religious Human Capital Revisited: Testing the Effect of Religious Human Capital on Religious Participation”. Rationality and Society 24.3 (2012): 343-379. Print.
Furseth, Inger. An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives. USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006. Print.
Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion. USA: Pearson, Prentice-Hall, 2007. Print.
Turner, Bryan. “The Sociology of Religion”. The SAGE Handbook of Sociology. Ed. Craig Calhoun. USA: SAGE, 2006. 284-300. Print.