The Concept of Religion in Sociology


The term religion encompasses beliefs and behaviors that people hold in common and that are held by some to be a source of meaning in life. Religious practices include prayer, meditation, and the performance of specific rituals, such as weddings and funerals. Religious beliefs include a belief in a supreme deity or gods and an afterlife. Religion is also the source of morality, which entails codes of conduct and a view of the nature of good and evil. Religious institutions include churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and monasteries. Religious beliefs and behaviors vary across time and place, and the number of adherents can be counted from census reports or population surveys (though results can vary depending on how the questions are asked). Religion is a fundamental part of our lives, and sociological perspectives attempt to understand how it functions in society, the problems it can create or reinforce, and how it shapes knowledge and the arts.

Social scientists use the concept of religion as a taxon for sets of social practices. The most obvious paradigmatic examples are the world religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. However, the taxon is also used to refer to practices that have not been given a name or that have not yet been labeled, such as shamanism, Confucianism, and Daoism. The development of a social taxon such as religion requires that there be a way to sort the various forms into categories. Several approaches to this task have been advanced, including the formal definitions of Ernst Herbert and Emile Durkheim. The latter sought to establish a set of secondary traits that distinguish between religion and non-religion. However, his approach neglected the role of rituals and group membership in religion, and he failed to take into account that people in some cultures worship things other than a supreme deity.

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