Why do Sociologists Study Religions

Why do sociologists study religions?

Sociologists study human social life; their methods are by observation then theory. To study a society with any clarity, the background or history of the social order must be learned first. Religions, of one form or another have been found in all human societies so far, as archaeological remains have shown by revealing religious symbols, ceremonial burials and rites. Therefore, to answer the question what are the conditions that write societies? The sociologist must at some point study the beliefs and rituals of human culture. Religion has influenced how humans perceive and react to the environments in which they live. Religion has often been the origin of social struggles, conflicts and wars. Gender issues have often been raised concerning religion, for example; God is a man, all the apostles were men, and until 1992 women were only allowed to be deacons in the church, only men were allowed to be priests.

Religion is one of the most difficult areas to study, due to sociologists having to make sense of beliefs and rituals, while remaining sensitive to ideals that inspire believers. In addition to keeping a balanced view, while confronting the ideas that seek the eternal. Nevertheless, what is religion? According to Emile Durkheim [1858-1917] it is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things. He believed that religion was an expression of social cohesion. That religion was the cement of society by which men had been led to turn from the everyday concerns in which they were trapped, to a common devotion to sacred things. That religion was a source of trust, sociability and solidarity, and that it was an individual’s way of becoming recognizable within an established society. Durkheim sought to identify the social origins of religion and identify links between certain religions in different cultures, finding a common denominator. He concluded that there were four major functions to religion in society 1) disciplinary forcing discipline, 2) cohesive a strong bond between people, 3) vitalizing to boost the spirit, 4) euphoric well being.

Max Weber [1864-1920] addressed the questions How did religion contribute to the maintenance of social order? And – What was the relationship between religion and the capitalist society? In his work ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ he stressed particular characteristics of ascetic Protestantism influenced the development of capitalism, bureaucracy and the rational legal state in the west. He wanted primarily to explain distinctive elements of western civilisation. Weber went on to explain the effects Protestantism had on the beginning of capitalism and that it was not purely materialistic, but originated from religious ideals and ideas. He also studied the religions of China, India and that of ancient Judaism to find reasons for different paths of development of the cultures of the Occident and the Orient, without valuing or judging them. Weber, in his findings maintained that religious ideas had had a major impact on the social innovation and development of the economic system of Europe and the USA, but noted that they were only factors in their development.

Karl Marx [1818-1883] however, never studied religion in detail, but he did read other social studies by other major social scientists, he then wrote that religion represents human addiction. That religion will and should disappear and that it was the opium of the people. Marx believed religion diverted attention away from equalities and injustices in this life, by promising happiness and reward in the afterlife.

Religion is still studied by sociologists, and it must continue to be studied as religions and cultures change. Religion still has a huge effect on cultures. Howard Becker [born 1928] added two more types of religious organisations to the already lengthy list. Moreover, more and more groups and cults have arisen in the twentieth century alone. Therefore to continue studying the human race and its various cultures and beliefs, the sociologist must continue to do as Weber, Durkheim and Marx did and start at the beginning. Religions. END