Faith And Imagination: Essays on Evangelicals and Literature

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For sociologists, it is key that religion guides people to act and behave in particular ways. How does it do so? Regardless if one personally believes in the fundamental values, beliefs, and doctrines that certain religions present, one does not have to look very far to recognize the significance that religion has in a variety of different social aspects around the world. Religious activities and ideals are found in political platforms, business models, and constitutional laws, and have historically produced rationales for countless wars.

Some people adhere to the messages of a religious text to a tee, while others pick and choose aspects of a religion that best fit their personal needs. In other words, religion is present in a number of socially significant domains and can be expressed in a variety of different levels of commitment and fervour. Interestingly, each of them predicted that the processes of modern secularization would gradually erode the significance of religion in everyday life.

More recent theorists like Peter Berger, Rodney Stark feminist , and John Caputo take account of contemporary experiences of religion, including what appears to be a period of religious revivalism. Each of these theorists contribute uniquely important perspectives that describe the roles and functions that religion has served society over time. When taken altogether, sociologists recognize that religion is an entity that does not remain stagnant. It evolves and develops alongside new intellectual discoveries and expressions of societal, as well as individual, needs and desires.

A case in point would be the evolution of belief in the Catholic Church. However, in the 21st century, the Catholic Church appears to be adapting its attitudes towards modernization. Pope Francis has also addressed contemporary issues of climate change. At the U. We are at the limits. Throughout history, and in societies across the world, leaders have used religious narratives, symbols, and traditions in an attempt to give more meaning to life and to understand the universe. Some form of religion is found in every known culture, and it is usually practiced in a public way by a group.

The practice of religion can include feasts and festivals, God or gods, marriage and funeral services, music and art, meditation or initiation, sacrifice or service, and other aspects of culture. There are three different ways of defining religion in sociology — substantial definitions, functional definitions, and family resemblance definitions — each of which has consequences for what counts as a religion, and each of which has limitations and strengths in its explanatory power Dawson and Thiessen, The problem of defining religion is not without real consequences, not least for questions of whether specific groups can obtain legal recognition as religions.

Guarantees of religious freedom under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms stem from whether practices or groups are regarded as legitimately religious or not. What definitions of religion do we use to decide these questions? It has to be imported from the Amazon where its ingredients are found. Importing and distributing it constitute trafficking and are subject to criminal charges.

Other neo-Vegetalismo groups who use ayahuasca in traditional Amazonian healing ceremonies in Canada, but do not have affiliations with a formal church-like organization, are not recognized as official religions and, therefore, their use of ayahuasca remains criminalized and underground. Substantial definitions attempt to delineate the crucial characteristics that define what a religion is and is not. These definitions are strong in that they identify the key characteristic — belief in the supernatural — that distinguishes religion from other types of potentially similar social practice like politics or art.

They are also easily and simply applied across societies, no matter how exotic or different the societies are. However, the problem with substantial definitions is that they tend to be too narrow. On the other hand, functional definitions define religion by what it does or how it functions in society. Is religion for example the only means by which social groups struggle with the ultimate problems of human life?

The third type of definition is the family resemblance model in which religion is defined on the basis of a series of commonly shared attributes Dawson and Thiessen, The idea is that a family — even a real family — will hold a number of, say, physiological traits in common, which can be used to distinguish them from other families, even though each family member is unique and any particular family member might not have all them.

You can still tell that the member belongs to the family and not to another because of the traits he or she shares. It is also possible to define religion in terms of a cluster of attributes based on family resemblance. This cluster includes four attributes: particular types of belief, ritual, experience, and social form.

This type of definition has the capacity to capture aspects of both the substantive and functional definitions. It can be based on common sense notions of what religion is and is not, without the drawback of being overly exclusive. The incredible amount of variation between different religions makes it challenging to decide upon a concrete definition of religion that applies to all of them. The first dimension is one that comes to mind for most Canadians when they think of religion, some systematic form of beliefs.

Religious beliefs are a generalized system of ideas and values that shape how members of a religious group come to understand the world around them see Table They define the cognitive aspect of religion. These beliefs are taught to followers by religious authorities, such as priests, imams, or shamen, through formal creeds and doctrines as well as more informal lessons learned through stories, songs, and myths.

Belief systems provide people with certain ways of thinking and knowing that help them cope with ultimate questions that cannot be explained in any other way. Weber argues that the problem of theodicy explains the prevalence of religion in our society. In the absence of other plausible explanations of the contradictory nature of existence, religious theodicies construct the world as meaningful. The second dimension, ritual, functions to anchor religious beliefs.

Rituals are the repeated physical gestures or activities, such as prayers and mantras, used to reinforce religious teachings, elicit spiritual feelings, and connect worshippers with a higher power. They reinforce the division between the sacred and the profane by defining the intricate set of processes and attitudes with which the sacred dimension of life can be approached. Examples of rites of passage common in contemporary Canadian culture include baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings.

They sacralize the process of identity transformation. When these rites are religious in nature, they often also mark the spiritual dangers of transformation. The Sun Dance rituals of many Native American tribes are rites of renewal which can also act as initiation-into-manhood rites for young men. They confer great prestige onto the pledgers who go through the ordeal, but there is also the possibility of failure. The sun dances last for several days, during which young men fast and dance around a pole to which they are connected by rawhide strips passed through the skin of the chest Hoebel, During their weakened state, the pledgers are neither the person they were, nor yet the person they are becoming.

In particular, they can access powers that both relieve or induce anxieties within a group depending on the circumstances.

In relieving anxieties, religious rituals are often present at times when people face uncertainty or chance. In this sense they provide a basis of psychological stability. When fishing in the sheltered coves of the islands very little ritual was involved. It was not until fishermen decided to venture into the much more dangerous open ocean in search of bigger and riskier catches that a rigorous set of religious rituals were invoked, which worked to subdue the fears of not only the fisherman but the rest of the villagers. In contrast, rituals can also be used to create anxieties that keep people in line with established norms.

In the case of taboos , the designation of certain objects or acts as prohibited or sacred creates an aura of fear or anxiety around them. The observance of rituals is used to either prevent the transgression of taboos or to return society to normal after taboos have been transgressed. This failure could only be resolved through further specific rituals Smith, In this example, sociologists would note that the taboo acts as a form of ritualized social control that encourages people to act in ways that benefit the wider society, such as the prevention of overhunting.

A third common dimension of various religions is the promise of access to some form of unique spiritual experience or feeling of immediate connection with a higher power. The pursuit of these indescribable experiences explains one set of motives behind the continued prevalence of religion in Canada and around the world.

From this point of view, religion is not so much about thinking a certain way i. These experiences can come in several forms: the incredible visions or revelations of the religious founders or prophets e. While being exposed to a higher power can be awe inspiring, it can also be intensely overwhelming for those experiencing it. These experiences reveal a form of knowledge that is instantly transformative. The historical example of Saul of Tarsus later renamed St. Paul the Apostle in the Christian New Testament is an example. Saul was a Pharisee heavily involved in the persecution of Christians.

While on the road to Damascus Jesus appeared to him in a life-changing vision. The experience of divine revelation overwhelmed Saul, blinded him for three days, and prompted his immediate conversion to Christianity. As a result he lived out his life spreading Christianity through the Roman Empire. Are these types of experiences open to all members or just those spiritual elites like prophets, shamen, saints, monks, or nuns who hold a certain status? Are practitioners encouraged to seek these experiences or are the experiences suppressed? Is it a specific cultivated experience that is sought through disciplined practice, as in Zen Buddhism, or a more spontaneous experience of divine inspiration, like the experience of speaking in tongues in Evangelical congregations?

Each religion has their own answers to these questions. Finally, the forth common dimension of religion is the formation of specific forms of social organization or community. Dawson and Thiessen elaborate on this social dimension shared by all religions. First, the beliefs of a religion gain their credibility through being shared and agreed upon by a group. Second, religion provides an authority that deals specifically with social or moral issues such as determining the best way to live life. It provides a basis for ethics and proper behaviours, which establish the normative basis of the community.

Even as many Canadians move away from traditional forms of religion, many still draw their values and ideals from some form of shared beliefs that are religious in origin e. Third, religion also helps to shape different aspects of social life, by acting as a form of social control, and supporting the formation of self-control, that is vital to many aspects of a functional society. Fourth, although it may be on the decline in Canada, places of religious worship function as social hubs within communities, providing a source of entertainment, socialization, and support.

By looking at religions in terms of these four dimensions — belief, ritual, experience, and community — sociologists can identify the important characteristics they share while taking into consideration and allowing for the great diversity of the world religions. These schools were created with the purpose of assimilating Aboriginal children into North American culture Woods, In the government legally mandated that all Aboriginal children between the ages of seven and fifteen attend these schools Blackburn, They took the children away from their families and communities to remove them from all influence of their Aboriginal identities that could inhibit their assimilation.

Many families did not want their children to be taken away and would hide them, until it became illegal Neeganagwedgin, Under the Indian Act, they were also not allowed lawyers to fight government action, which added greatly to the systemic marginalization of these people. The churches were responsible for daily religious teachings and daily activities, and the government was in charge of the curriculum, funding, and monitoring the schools Blackburn, There were as many as 80 residential schools in Canada by Woods, It was known early on in this system that there were flaws, but they still persisted until the last residential school was abolished in As we now know, the experience of residential schools for Aboriginal children was traumatic and dreadful.

Within the walls of these schools, children were exposed to sexual and physical abuse, malnourishment, and disease. By , there were more than 8, lawsuits against the Churches and Canadian government for their role in the residential schools Woods, A lawsuit filed by former students of the Alberni Indian Residential School was one of the first to get to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the first to deem both the government and church equally responsible.

Apologies are still being made on behalf of the churches involved in the residential schools, but the effects it has had on the Indigenous peoples and their culture are perpetuating today.

Religion: Crash Course Sociology #39

The Christian churches and mission groups have done good things for societies, but their role in these residential schools was immoral and unjust to the Aboriginal people. In every society there are different organizational forms that develop for the practice of religion. Sociologists are interested in understanding how these different types of organization affect spiritual beliefs and practices. They can be categorized according to their size and influence into churches ecclesia or denomination , sects, and cults. This allows sociologists to examine the different types of relationships religious organization has with the dominant religions in their societies and with society itself.

A church is a large, bureaucratically organized religious organization that is closely integrated into the larger society. Two types of church organizations exist. The first is the ecclesia , a church that has formal ties with the state. As such, the ecclesia forms the national or state religion. People ordinarily do not join an ecclesia, instead they automatically become members when they are born. In an ecclesiastic society there may be little separation of church and state, because the ecclesia and the state are so intertwined. In some ecclesiastic societies, such as those in the Middle East, religious leaders rule the state as theocracies — systems of government in which ecclesiastical authorities rule on behalf of a divine authority — while in others, such as Sweden and England, they have little or no direct influence.

In general, the close ties that ecclesiae have to the state help ensure they will support state policies and practices. For this reason, ecclesiae often help the state solidify its control over the populace. The second type of church organization is the denomination, a religious organization that is closely integrated into the larger society but is not a formal part of the state. In modern religiously pluralistic nations, several denominations coexist.

So historically, in Canada, denominationalism developed formally as a result of the Treaty of Paris in , which granted Roman Catholics the freedom to practice their religion and informally as a result of the immigration of people with different faiths during the expansion of settlement of Canada in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

These are both denominational and non-denominational, meaning not officially aligned with any specific established religious denomination. About one-third are nondenominational, and one-fifth are Southern Baptist, with the remainder primarily of other Protestant denominations. Several dozen have at least 10, worshippers and the largest U. Some even conduct market surveys to determine these needs and how best to address them. As might be expected, their buildings are huge by any standard, and they often feature bookstores, food courts, and sports and recreation facilities.

They also provide day care, psychological counseling, and youth outreach programs. Their services often feature electronic music and light shows. Despite their popularity, they have been criticized for being so big that members are unable to develop close bonds with each other and with members of the clergy that are characteristic of smaller houses of worship.

On the other hand, supporters say that mega churches bring many people into religious worship who would otherwise not be involved. A sect is a small religious body that forms after a group breaks away from a larger religious group, like a church or denomination. Sects are relatively small religious organizations that are not closely integrated into the larger society. They often conflict with at least some of its norms and values. Their migration from Tyrol, Austria, due to persecution eventually lead to their immigration to the Dakotas in the 19th century and then to the Canadian prairies, as conscientious objectors following WWI.

Typically, a sect breaks away from a larger denomination in an effort to restore what members of the sect regard as the original views of the religion. Because sects are relatively small, they usually lack the bureaucracy of denominations and ecclesiae, and often also lack clergy who have received official training.

Their worship services can be intensely emotional experiences, often more so than those typical of many denominations, where worship tends to be more formal and restrained. Members of many sects typically proselytize and try to recruit new members into the sect. If a sect succeeds in attracting many new members, it gradually grows, becomes more bureaucratic, and, ironically, eventually evolves into a denomination.

A cult or New Religious Movement is a small religious organization that is at great odds with the norms and values of the larger society. Cults are similar to sects but differ in at least three respects. First, they generally have not broken away from a larger denomination and instead originate outside the mainstream religious tradition. Second, they are often secretive and do not proselytize as much. Cults, more than other religious organizations, have been subject to contemporary moral panics about brainwashing, sexual deviance, and strange esoteric beliefs.

However, research challenges several popular beliefs about cults, including the ideas that they brainwash people into joining them and that their members are mentally ill. In a study of the Unification Church Moonies , Eileen Barker found no more signs of mental illness among people who joined the Moonies than in those who did not. She also found no evidence that people who joined the Moonies had been brainwashed into doing so.

Another source of moral panic about cults is that they are violent. In fact, most are not violent. Nevertheless, some cults have committed violence in the recent past. Two years earlier, the Branch Davidian cult engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents in Waco, Texas. A few cults have also committed mass suicide. Similarly, in Canada, on the morning of October 4th, , a blaze engulfed a complex of luxury condominiums in the resort town of Morin-Heights, Quebec.

Firefighters found the bodies of a Swiss couple, Gerry and Collette Genoud, in its ruins. At first it was thought that the fire was accidental, but then news arrived from Switzerland of another odd set of fires at homes owed by the same men who owned the Quebec condominiums. All the fires had been set with improvised incendiary devices, which made the police realize they were dealing with a rare incidence of mass murder suicide involving members of an esoteric religious group known as the Solar Temple.

From the recorded and written messages left behind by the group, it is clear that the leaders felt it was time to effect what they called a transit to another reality associated with Sirius. It is important to note that cults or new religious movements are very diverse. They offer spiritual options for people seeking purpose in the modern context of state secularism and religious pluralism. Members of new religions run the risk of being stigmatized and even prosecuted Dawson, Modern societies highly value freedom and individual choice, but not when exercised in a manner that defies expectations of what is normal.

Even at a young age he claimed to be in touch with supernatural beings Gorman, At its height it had over followers around the world, many of whom sent over large sums of money. The Aquarian Foundation was based on the teachings on the Theosophical Society, which was an organization formed in New York City in Theosophy had much in common with the beliefs of Buddhism and Hinduism, such as the belief in reincarnation.

It was radically different than the dominant Christian belief of the time. Theosophy also promoted the idea that there was a spiritual world beyond death inhabited by evolved spiritual beings, whose wisdom could be accessed through the occult reading of esoteric signs and the intervention of spiritual mediums Scott, These isolated areas provided a place to get away from the social pressures of the outside world.

However, an insurrection took place when Brother XII announced to his followers that he was the reincarnation of the Egyptian God Osiris. Between and , a series of trials involving Brother XII occurred, which included allegations of misusing foundation funds and having extramarital affairs. News reports claimed that he used black magic to cause witnesses and several members of the audience to faint Rutten, Wilson himself became increasingly authoritarian and used social pressure to convince members into performing gruelling physical labour that was virtually on the same level as slavery.

He did this by telling them these activities were tests of fitness to advance their spirituality. In , the group was finally dissolved and Wilson disappeared from the Nanaimo area along with hundreds of thousands of dollars of Foundation money and Mabel Skottowe one of the women with whom he was accused of having an extramarital affair. They reportedly left by tugboat and eventually made their way to Switzerland.

The majority of reports say that he died in Switzerland in , though some that say he was seen in San Francisco with his lawyer after his alleged death. According to Cowan , because most people have little direct knowledge of cults and mainly get their information through sensationalist media reports, cults are easily presented as targets of moral panic for being immoral, extreme or dangerous.

The three main accusations that cults face are that they engage in brainwashing, acts of sexual deviance and social isolationism. Each of these accusations applied to the media reports on the Aquarian Foundation although their dominant theme centered on the claim that Brother XII was a fraud. While some people think of religion as something individual because religious beliefs can be highly personal , for sociologists religion is also a social institution. Social scientists recognize that religion exists as an organized and integrated set of beliefs, behaviours, and norms centred on basic social needs and values.

Moreover, religion is a cultural universal found in all social groups. For instance, in every culture, funeral rites are practiced in some way, although these customs vary between cultures and within religious affiliations. These universals, and the differences in how societies and individuals experience religion, provide rich material for sociological study. But why does religion exist in the first place?

Despite the conflict that has accompanied religion over the centuries, it still continues to exist, and in some cases thrive. How do we explain the origins and continued existence of religion? We will examine sociological theories below, but first we turn to evolutionary and psychological explanations. Many psychologists explain the rise and persistence of religion in terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Psychologist Roger Cloninger defines this core religious experience as the disposition towards self-transcendence. It has three measurable components: self-forgetfulness absorption in tasks and the ability to lose oneself in concentration , transpersonal identification perception of spiritual union with the cosmos and the ability to reduce boundaries of self vs. The argument is that because this is a universal phenomenon, it must have a common physiological or genetic basis that is passed on between generations that enhances human survival.

According to Charles Darwin all species are involved in a constant battle for survival, using adaptions as their primary weapon against an ever-changing, and hostile environment. Adaptions are genetic, or behavioral traits that are shaped by environmental pressures, and genetic variation. By dissecting religion to a core set of purposes, it can be categorized as an adaption that increases the chances of human survival. All adaptions successfully passed on to future generations aided at one point either in reproduction or survival because the genes that selected for them were passed on.

This is the rule of natural selection Darwin, Much of evolutionary psychology aims at explaining the possible environments in which certain adaptions were selected. Although religion has the potential to cause unwanted side effects, such as wars, it still provides much greater benefits, by responding to numerous survival problems through collective religious processes. A very specific benefit, for example, is disease prevention. Many historic religions placed an emphasis on cleanliness, comparing it to spiritual purity.

Consequently there is also an evolutionary benefit to this religious virtue. During a time period where disease was a constant threat to survival, idealizing cleanliness helped minimize communicable diseases from food, animals, and even humans. Although disease prevention has been an important byproduct of religious practices around the world, evolutionary psychologists argue that the main benefit religion has provided to human survival is the mutual support provided by fellow members.

More specifically, religion creates a framework for social cohesion and solidarity, even during times of loss, and grief, which has been a crucial competitive strategy of the human species. Dean Hamer for example describes a specific gene that correlates with the capacity for self-transcendence. After his research team isolated an association between the VMAT2 gene sequence and populations who scored high on psychological scales for self-transcendence, Hamer noted these genes were connected to the production of neurotransmitters known as monoamines. The effects of monoamines on the meso-limbic systems in the human body were similar to many stimulant drugs: feelings of euphoria and positive well-being.

What is striking about this evidence is the implication that evolution has favoured genes that are often displayed in religious populations. Hamer extends the evolutionary argument to suggest that religion, grounded genetically in a neuro-chemical capacity for self-transcendence, provides competitive advantages for the human species in the forms of community well-being higher rates of reciprocity and social welfare and longevity reduction of maladaptive behaviours and increased cleanliness. Many similar effects can be observed in the present environment.

Strawbridge, Sherna, Cohen, and Kaplan, conducted a year longitudinal study on religious attendance and survival. Although they found that weekly religious attendance more often assisted in targeting and reducing maladaptive behaviors such as smoking, it also aided in maintaining social relations, and marriage Strawbridge et al. Evolutionary psychology argues that these modern tendencies to feel happiness during a church congregation to reduce maladaptive behaviours are innate, sculpted by centuries of exposure to religion.

Evolutionist Richard Dawkins hypothesized a similar reason why religion has created such a lasting impact on society. Comparable to genes, memes are bits of information that can be imitated and transferred across cultures and generations Dawkins, As a vocal proponent of atheism, Dawkins believes the idea of God is a meme, working in the human mind the same way as a placebo effect. The God meme contains tangible benefits to human society such as answers to questions about human transcendence and superficial comfort for daily difficulties, but the idea of God itself is a product of the human imagination Dawkins, Although a human creation, the God meme is incredibly appealing, and as a result, has continually been passed on through cultural transfusion.

The logic of evolutionary psychology suggests that it is possible for religion to be replaced by another mechanism that is more beneficial to human survival. Just as Dawkins hypothesized that religious memes colonized societies around the world, this process could also be applied to secular memes. The secularization thesis predicts that as societies become modern, religious authority will be replaced with public institutions.

As Canada, and other countries develop, perhaps evolution will continue to favour secularization, demoting religion from its central place in social life, and religious conflicts to history textbooks and motel night tables. Where psychological theories of religion focus on the aspects of religion that can be described as products of individual subjective experience — the disposition towards self-transcendence, for example — sociological theories focus on the underlying social mechanisms religion sustains or serves.

They tend to suspend questions about whether religious world views are true or not — e. Is enlightenment achievable through meditation? Marx, Durkheim, Weber and other early sociologists lived in a time when the validity of religion had been put into question. Traditional societies had been thoroughly religious societies, whereas modern society corresponded to the declining presence and influence of religious symbols and institutions.

Nationalism and class replaced religion as a source of identity. Religion became increasingly a private, personal matter with the separation of church and state. However, modern societies seemed inevitably to be on the path towards secularization in which people would no longer define religion as real. The question these sociologist grappled with was whether societies could work without the presence of a common religion. Instead religion was the product of a projection. Humans projected an image of themselves onto a supernatural reality, which they then turned around and submitted to in the form of a superhuman God.

Religious belief was a kind of narcotic fantasy or illusion that prevented people from perceiving their true conditions of existence, firstly as the creators of God, and secondly as beings whose lives were defined by historical, economic and class relations. Their suffering was real, but their explanation of it was false.

However, Marx was not under the illusion that the mystifications of religion belief would simply disappear, vanquished by the superior knowledge of science and political-economic analysis. The problem of religion was in fact the central problem facing all critical analysis: the attachment to explanations that compensate for real social problems but do not allow them to be addressed. They would continue to live under conditions of social inequality and grasp at the illusions of religion in order to cope.

The critical sociological approach he proposed would be to thoroughly disillusion people about the rewards of the afterlife and bring them back to earth where real rewards could be obtained through collective action. Emile Durkheim explained the existence of religion in terms of the functions it performs in society. Unlike Marx, however, he argued that religion fulfills real needs in each society, namely to reinforce certain mental states, sustain social solidarity, establish basic rules or norms, and concentrate collective energies.

These can be seen as the universal social functions of religion that underlie the unique natures of different religious systems all around the world, past and present Sachs, He was particularly concerned about the capacity of religion to continue to perform these functions as societies entered the modern era in the 19th and 20th centuries. The key defining feature of religion for Durkheim was its ability to distinguish sacred things from profane things. Sacred objects are things said to have been touched by divine presence. They are set apart through ritual practices and viewed as forbidden to ordinary, everyday contact and use.

Profane objects on the other hand are items integrated into ordinary everyday living. They have no religious significance. This basic dichotomy creates two distinct aspects of life, that of the ordinary and that of the sacred, that exist in mutual exclusion and in opposition to each other. This is the basis of numerous codes of behavior and spiritual practices. Durkheim argues that all religions, in any form and of any culture, share this trait. Therefore, a belief system, whether or not it encourages faith in a supernatural power, is identified as a religion of it outlines this divide and creates ritual actions and a code of conduct of how to interact with and around these sacred objects.

Durkheim examined the social functions of the division of the world into sacrd and profane by studying a group of Australian Aboriginals that practiced totemism. Totemic societies are divided into clans based on the different totemic creatures each clan revered. In line with his argument that religious practice needs to be understood in sociological terms rather than supernatural terms, he noted that totemism existed to serve some very specific social functions.

For example, the sanctity of the objects venerated as totems infuse the clan with a sense of social solidarity because they bring people together and focus their attention on the shared practice of ritual worship. They function to divide the sacred from the profane thereby establishing a ritually reinforced structure of social rules and norms, they enforce the social cohesion of the clans through the shared belief in a transcendent power, and they protect members of the society from each other since they all become sacred as participants in the religion.

They create a collective consciousness and a focus for collective effervescence in society. In a religious context, this feeling is interpreted as a connection with divine presence, as being filled with the spirit of supernatural forces, but Durkheim argues that in reality it is the material force of society itself, which emerges whenever people come together and focus on a single object.

As individuals actively engage in communal activities, their belief system gains plausibility and the cycle intensifies. The fundamental principles that explain the most basic and ancient religions like totemism, also explain the persistence of religion in society as societies grow in scale and complexity. However, in modern societies where other institutions often provide the basic for social solidarity, social norms, collective representations, and collective effervescence, will religious belief and ritual persist?

In his structural-functional analysis of religion, Durkheim outlined three functions that religion still serves in society, which help to explain its ongoing existence in modern societies. First, religion ensures social cohesion through the creation of a shared consciousness form participation in rituals and belief systems. Second, it formally enforces social norms and expectations of behavior, which serve to ensure predictability and control of human action.

As long as the needs remain unsatisfied by other institutions in modern social systems, religion will exist to fill that void. He abandoned the idea of a religious or rabbinical career, however, and became very secular in his outlook. Religion performs the key function of providing social solidarity in a society. This type of analysis became the basis of the functionalist perspective in sociology. He explained the existence and persistence of religion on the basis of the necessary function it performed in unifying society.

His approach was to determine the meaning of religion in the conduct of life for members of society. Three key themes concerning religion emerge from his work: the concept of theodicy, the disenchantment of the world, and the Protestant Ethic. They give meaning to why good or innocent people experience misfortune and suffering. Therefore believers must accept that there is a higher divine reason for their suffering and continue to strive to be good. Individuals must struggle in this life to rectify the evils accumulated from previous lives.

In particular, he was interested in the development of the modern worldview which he equated with the widespread processes of rationalization : the general tendency of modern institutions and most areas of life to be transformed by the application of technical reason, precise calculation, and rational organization. Again, central to his interpretivist framework, how people interpreted and saw the world provided the basis for an explanation of the types of social organization they created. In this regard, one of his central questions was to determine why rationalization emerged in the West and not the East.

Eastern societies in China, India, and Persia had been in many respects more advanced culturally, scientifically and organizationally than Europe for most of world history, but had not taken the next step towards developing thoroughly modern, rationalized forms of organization and knowledge. The relationship to religion formed a key part of his answer.

One component of rationalization was the process Weber described as the disenchantment of the world , which refers to the elimination of a superstitious or magical relationship to nature and life.

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Weber noted that many societies prevented processes of rationalization from occurring because of religious interdictions and restrictions against certain types of development. A contemporary example might be the beliefs concerning the sacredness of human life, which serve to restrict experimenting with human stem cells or genetic manipulation of the human genome. For Weber, disenchantment was one source for the rapid development and power of Western society, but also a source of irretrievable loss.

A second component of rationalization, particularly as it applies to the rise of capitalism as a highly rationalized economic system, was the formation of the Protestant Ethic. This will be discussed more fully below. The key point to note here is that Weber makes the argument that a specific ethic or way of life that developed among a few Protestant sects on the basis of religious doctrine or belief, i. The restrictions that religions had imposed on economic activities and that had prevented them from being pursued in a purely rational, calculative manner, were challenged or subverted by the emergence and spread of new, equally religious, forms of belief and practice.

He noted that in modern industrial societies, business leaders and owners of capital, the higher grades of skilled labour, and the most technically and commercially trained personnel were overwhelmingly Protestant. He also noted the uneven development of capitalism in Europe, and in particular how capitalism developed first in those areas dominated by Protestant sects.

As opposed to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church in which poverty was a virtue and labour simply a means for maintaining the individual and community, the Protestant sects began to see hard, continuous labour as a spiritual end in itself. Hard labour was firstly an ascetic technique of worldly renunciation and a defense against temptations and distractions: the unclean life, sexual temptations, and religious doubts. Weber argued that the ethic , or way of life, that developed around these beliefs was a key factor in creating the conditions for both the accumulation of capital, as the goal of economic activity, and for the creation of an industrious and disciplined labour force.

It is an element of cultural belief that leads to social change rather than the concrete organization and class struggles of the economic structure. As the impediments toward rationalization were removed, organizations and institutions were restructured on the principle of maximum efficiency and specialization, while older, traditional i. The irony of the Protestant Ethic as one stage in this process is that the rationalization of capitalist business practices and organization of labour eventually dispensed with the religious goals of the ethic.

Phenomenology seeks to describe the way in which all phenomena, including religion, arise as perceptions within the immediate sensorial experience and awareness of individual subjects. Phenomenologists study the ways in which the world, and ourselves within it, first come to presence in experience and only later become separate objects, social structures or selves. Religion is only secondarily a structure, institution, practice, or set of beliefs. How do humans go from the flux of immediate perception to a religious worldview? For Berger, religion is a particular type of culture Berger In order for humans to survive, the world must be culturally prepared as a world in which things and people have stable meanings.

Culture, Berger argues, exists therefore as an artifice that mediates between humans and nature and provides needed stability and predictability in human life. From the phenomenological point of view, culture enables both the ongoing creation of the world as a stable, objective social reality outside the subject and the simultaneous creation, or interiorization, of social roles and social expectations within the subject. Religion develops because the stability of culture is inherently fragile.

Just as the immediate experience of the individual is subject to flux and change, so is the foundation of the ordered, meaningful world of culture. Cultural meanings tend to be fixed and rigid through time, whereas the underlying reality they describe is not. Events occur that are not explainable.

They fall outside the categories and threaten to put the whole cultural framework or nomos into question. Religion comes into existence as a solution to this problem. Religion is able to resolve the threat of instability and terror of anomie by postulating a supernatural agency or cosmological view of the world, which are unaffected by everyday inconstancy and uncertainty. In a religious cosmology the order described by culture is the natural order, that is, it is the way the gods have decided things must be. Things that occur that cannot be explained in human terms are explained as the products of divine will.

Religion is therefore a source of ultimate legitimation because it provides the social order with an unquestionable foundation of legitimacy: the way things are is the will of the gods. From a phenomenological point of view however, the price of this religious solution is a mode of forgetfulness and alienation. For the legitimation effect of religion to work and be plausible, humans must forget that they themselves have created religion.

They must forget that religion is a human accomplishment. In The Sacred Canopy, Berger argued that the processes of secularization will eventually erode the plausibility of religious belief. For religion to function as a sacred canopy and ultimate legitimation, it must provide the foundation for a shared belief system. In modern societies however, other types of knowledge and expert systems like science assume greater authority to describe the nature of the world and our role within it.

As we will see below in Section Despite the dominant expectation that modern societies were becoming ever more secular, Stark believed that religion was, and would continue to be, an important and influential factor for individuals and society. Stark notes that church membership and new religious movements have actually increased in the United States as the country modernized.

In Europe, where religious participation is relatively low, levels of individual belief nevertheless remain high and participation has not undergone a long-term decline Stark, b.

Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt

What explanation can be provided for the persistence of religion? Stark begins with the stipulation that the importance of the supernatural must be recognized when studying religion. Belief in a higher force or power is the feature that distinguishes religions from non-religious beliefs and organizations. Any theory of religion must take this into account. Stark attempts to answer this question by proposing a number of basic, general rules about humans and their behavior.

Rational choice theory states that the most basic human motive is individual self-interest, and that all social activities are a product of rational decision making in which individuals continuously weigh the benefits of choices against their costs Scott, A person who has a choice between two jobs, for example, would weigh the rewards of each one such as higher pay or better benefits against the possible costs of longer work hours or further commutes.

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Individuals will on balance choose the course of action that maximizes their rewards and minimizes their costs. In this sense, even seemingly irrational decisions or beliefs can be understood as rational choices from the point of view of the individual decision maker Stark, a. Religious belief in the supernatural may seem irrational from an outside perspective because it involves an orientation to invisible, supernatural powers that affect the everyday material world through unobservable mechanisms.

However, for the religious believer whose worldview is shaped by this assumption, it is completely rational that they would choose to worship and make offerings to these supernatural powers in the hopes of gaining rewards and avoiding wrath or misfortune. Moreover, by participating in religious practice, people also surround themselves with other believers who make the rationality of supernatural choices even more plausible.

According to Stark, the rewards people desire most intensely are often scarce or not available at all, such as an end to suffering or eternal life. Consequently, when such rewards cannot be attained through direct means, humans will create and exchange compensators.

These are promises or IOUs of a reward at an unspecified future date, along with an explanation of how they can be acquired. Stark argues that rewards such as these are so monumental and scarce that they can only be provided through a supernatural source. This is why religious belief persists. In other words, a person must believe that a supernatural power exists which is capable of providing this reward in order to rationally believe that it is attainable.

In this sense, religious belief and practice are rational choices humans make to get the most coveted rewards regarding human existence. Religious organizations function to provide compensators for these rewards by claiming to provide access to supernatural powers or deities. For Stark, this is the root of why religion continues to exist in the modern world, and why it will continue to persist. By using a positivist approach, Stark creates a theory where every proposition, including this one, can in principle be tested.


  • Categories.
  • Christianity and Literature.
  • Wicked Loyalties.
  • Pins and Needles (Musical Program)?
  • T.S. Eliot’s "Christianity and Culture" ~ The Imaginative Conservative.
  • Drink This (Bello).

The proposition above could be verified by examining the number of gods and their powers in the religions of small, traditional societies and comparing that to the number of gods worshipped in more established, modern ones. In reality however, many of the propositions are difficult to test because the concepts he uses are hard to measure or compare between religions. How does one empirically quantify the scope of a certain god and compare it to that of an unrelated god from a different religion?

His theory has also been critiqued for having an inherent bias towards monotheistic and particularly Protestant Christian measures of religion Carroll, In other words, he places higher value on measures of religiosity that fit the Protestant model, such as belief and adherence to doctrine, over those that better describe other religions, such as the ritual aspects of Hinduism or Catholicism. His work may then implicitly suggest that Protestants are more religious than the others based on these skewed measures of religiousness.

Rosenthal, Peggy. NY: Oxford UP, Reflections on the Poetic Vocation. Clark, Suzanne. Moscow, Idaho: Canon P, Dudley-Smith, Timothy. Leland Ryken. Grand Rapids: Harold Shaw, Jellema, Rod. Leax, John. Wheaton: Baker: Siegel, Robert. Philip Yancy. Dallas: Word, Walker, Jeanne Murray.

e·van·gel·i·cal·ism

Countryman, Louis William. NY: Orbis, Farley, Edward. Hays, Richard. Poetry As Prayer Series. NY: Pauline P. Murray Bodo, Ambrogio Bondone Giotto. Francis of Asissi. St Anthony Messenger Press, Poetry Resources on the Web. Eliot, Little Gidding. Modern and Contemporary Poets of Christian Faith The following is a partial list of twentieth-century poets who write in some way about their Christian faith.

Topical Scholarship Daiches, David. Reflections on the Poetic Vocation Clark, Suzanne. Bodo, Murray. Denise Levertov. Carpini, John Delli. Emily Dickinson. Morneau, Robert. Jessica Powers. Pennington, M. The Psalms. Waldron, Robert. The Hound of Heaven. Thomas Merton.

For a more robust Catholic literary culture

Vito Aiuto. Self-Portrait as Jerry Quarry. Anna Akhmatova. Ladder of the World's Joy. Collected Poems 3 vols. This Country of Mothers. When Prayer is Far From our Lips. And the Risen Bread : Selected Poems, Collected Poems The Dream Songs. The Throats of Narcissus Radiography. The Muscled Truce Places in the Mind. Selected Poems, Apocalypse, and Other Poems Cosmic Canticle. Mind the Underworld Weights and Measures. Stake: Poems, Present Contradictions. Songs of Time and Season. Four Testimonies The Niobe Poems. Breathing Room The Breaking of the Day. Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems, Michael E dwards.

Collected Poems and Plays. Jacklight Baptism of Desire. William Everson Brother Antoninus. The Complete Poems 3 vols. An Animal of the Sixth Day. The Tongues of Men and of Angels. Mind and Blood: The Collected Poems. Spring Shade: Poems Blue Dusk Spectral Waves. New and Selected Poems.

The Orchards of Syon Without Title. Medea in Taos and Other Poems. The Penitent Magdalene Blood Race. Josephine J acobsen. Country Fair A Slender Grace. Collected Poems, Musica Humana Dancing in Odessa. Sleeping Preacher Eve's Striptease. Country Labors Tabloid News. Dangerous Light Storm Service. Marjorie M addox. Turning Sixty Listeners at the Breathing Place.