Religion as a Social Group

A social group is a collection of people who interact with each other and share similar characteristics and a sense of unity. A social category is a collection of people who do not interact but who share similar characteristics. Religion, by this definition is also a social group.

Religion is human’s relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual or divine. Religion consists of a person’s relation to God or to gods or spirit. Religion involves various laws and prohibitions that guide people in their day to day life. These laws or commandments are to serve as guidance to avoid deviations from what is known as normal .

Sociologists study religion as both a belief system and a social institution. As a belief system, religion shapes what people think and how they see the world. As a social institution, religion is a pattern of social action organized around the beliefs and practices that people develop to answer questions about the meaning of existence. As an institution, religion persists over time and has an organizational structure into which members are socialized.

It’s Not About What You Believe

In studying religion from a sociological perspective, it is not important what one believes about religion. What is important is the ability to examine religion objectively in its social and cultural context. Sociologists are interested in several questions about religion:

  • How are religious beliefs and factors related to other social factors like race, age, gender, and education?
  • How are religious institutions organized?
  • How does religion affect social change?
  • What influence does religion have on other social institutions, such as political or educational institutions?

Sociological Theories of Religion

Each major sociological framework has its perspective on religion. For instance, from the functionalist perspective of sociological theory, religion is an integrative force in society because it has the power to shape collective beliefs. It provides cohesion in the social order by promoting a sense of belonging and collective consciousness. This view was supported by Emile Durkheim.

The second point of view, supported by Max Weber, views religion in terms of how it supports other social institutions. Weber thought that the religious belief systems provided a cultural framework that supported the development of other social institutions, such as the economy.

While Durkheim and Weber concentrated on how religion contributes to the cohesion of society, Karl Marx focused on the conflict and oppression that religion provided to societies. Marx saw religion as a tool for class oppression in which it promotes stratification because it supports a hierarchy of people on Earth and the subordination of humankind to divine authority.

Lastly, symbolic interaction theory focuses on the process by which people become religious. Different religious beliefs and practices emerge in different social and historical contexts because context frames the meaning of religious belief. Symbolic interaction theory helps explain how the same religion can be interpreted differently by different groups or at different times throughout history. From this perspective, religious texts are not truths but have been interpreted by people. Thus different people or groups may interpret the same Bible in different ways.

TYPES OF RELIGIONS

Based on the existence of the number of God or gods religions can be classified into

MONOTHEISM

Belief in the existence of one God.Monotheism is defined as the belief in the existence of only one god that created the world, is all-powerful and intervenes in the world.A broader definition of monotheism is the belief in one god.

Three main religions are known in this case, Christianity, Islam and Judhaism.

Polytheism:

The belief in the existence of many gods. These include hinduism, Budhaism and African traditional religions.Polytheism characterizes virtually all religions other than Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which share a common tradition of monotheism, the belief in one God.

Sometimes above the many gods a polytheistic religion will have a supreme creator and focus of devotion, as in certain phases of Hinduism (there is also the tendency to identify the many gods as so many aspects of the Supreme Being); sometimes the gods are considered as less important than some higher goal, state, or savior, as in Buddhism; sometimes one god will prove more dominant than the others without attaining overall supremacy, as Zeus in Greek religion. Typically, polytheistic cultures include belief in many demonic and ghostly forces in addition to the gods, and some supernatural beings will be malevolent; even in monotheistic religions there can be belief in many demons, as in New Testament in Christianity.

Atheism:

The belief in the existence of no God. In this case, the person doesn’t have belief in the existence of something supernatural or supreme.

Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist.In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism,[which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.

Pantheism

The doctrine that there is oneness of creation and creator. Meaning there is no difference between God and what he created. The universe is conceived as a whole in God. There is no God, the substance forces and laws put the universe in order God and nature are 2 names for the same thing(identical reality)otherwise,the totality of God and universe would be greater than God alone.

In pantheism, God is viewed as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, which at the same time “transcends” all things created.

While pantheism asserts that “all is God”, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe. Some versions of panentheism suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifestation of God. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God, like in the Kabbalah concept of tzimtzum. Also much Hindu thought – and consequently Buddhist philosophy – is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism.The basic tradition however, on which Krause’s concept was built, seems to have been Neoplatonic philosophy and its successors in Western philosophy and Orthodox theology

 EARLY FORMS OF RELIGION

ANIMISM

This is the belief in spiritual beings concerned with human affairs and are capable of intervening in them. Tylor made great contributions in this aspect.

The term animism denotes not a single creed or doctrine but a view of the world consistent with a certain range of religious beliefs and practices, many of which may survive in more complex and hierarchical religions. 

Totenism

This is concerned with the belief in kingship or a mystical relationship between man and natural object e.g plants and animals.

Totemism is belief in the kinship of a group of people with a common totem. The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe (Chippewa) word ‘odoodem’ meaning “his kinship group” signifying a blood relationship. Totemism was the practice of having a natural object or animate being, such as as a bird or animal, as the emblem of a family, clan, or tribe. Totemism encompassed a system of tribal organization according to totems. A totem was believed to be mystically related to the group and therefore not to be hunted.

The totem adopted by a clan or family, most often an animal, is an object of religious veneration for the tribal community that bears the name of the totem refer to Animal Totems. The group’s members are therefore forbidden to hunt, kill, or eat the totem. Because of the family connections to the same totem, they are also forbidden to marry one another.

Source(s):

Slideshare

CliffsNotes

Animism

Britannica

ThoughtCo

Wikipedia

About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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