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1. Describe and discuss the sociological perspective on religion.
Ans. The Functions of Religion
Much of the work of Émile Durkheim stressed the functions that religion serves for society regardless of how it is practiced or of what specific religious beliefs a society favors. Durkheim’s insights continue to influence sociological thinking today on the functions of religion.
First, religion gives meaning and purpose to life. Many things in life are difficult to understand. That was certainly true, as we have seen, in prehistoric times, but even in today’s highly scientific age, much of life and death remains a mystery, and religious faith and belief help many people make sense of the things science cannot tell us.
Second, religion reinforces social unity and stability. This was one of Durkheim’s most important insights. Religion strengthens social stability in at least two ways. First, it gives people a common set of beliefs and thus is an important agent of socialization. Second, the communal practice of religion, as in houses of worship, brings people together physically, facilitates their communication and other social interaction, and thus strengthens their social bonds.
A third function of religion is related to the one just discussed. Religion is an agent of social control and thus strengthens social order. Religion teaches people moral behavior and thus helps them learn how to be good members of society. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Ten Commandments are perhaps the most famous set of rules for moral behavior.
A fourth function of religion is greater psychological and physical well-being. Religious faith and practice can enhance psychological well-being by being a source of comfort to people in times of distress and by enhancing their social interaction with others in places of worship. Many studies find that people of all ages, not just the elderly, are happier and more satisfied with their lives if they are religious. Religiosity also apparently promotes better physical health, and some studies even find that religious people tend to live longer than those who are not religious. We return to this function later.
A final function of religion is that it may motivate people to work for positive social change. Religion played a central role in the development of the Southern civil rights movement a few decades ago. Religious beliefs motivated Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists to risk their lives to desegregate the South. Black churches in the South also served as settings in which the civil rights movement held meetings, recruited new members, and raised money.
Religion, Inequality, and Conflict
Religion has all of these benefits, but, according to conflict theory, it can also reinforce and promote social inequality and social conflict. This view is partly inspired by the work of Karl Marx, who said that religion was the “opiate of the masses” (Marx, 1964). By this he meant that religion, like a drug, makes people happy with their existing conditions. Marx repeatedly stressed that workers needed to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie. To do so, he said, they needed first to recognize that their poverty stemmed from their oppression by the bourgeoisie. But people who are religious, he said, tend to view their poverty in religious terms. They think it is God’s will that they are poor, either because he is testing their faith in him or because they have violated his rules. Many people believe that if they endure their suffering, they will be rewarded in the afterlife. Their religious views lead them not to blame the capitalist class for their poverty and thus not to revolt. For these reasons, said Marx, religion leads the poor to accept their fate and helps maintain the existing system of social inequality.
As the Puritans’ persecution of non-Puritans illustrates, religion can also promote social conflict, and the history of the world shows that individual people and whole communities and nations are quite ready to persecute, kill, and go to war over religious differences. We see this today and in the recent past in central Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. Jews and other religious groups have been persecuted and killed since ancient times. Religion can be the source of social unity and cohesion, but over the centuries it also has led to persecution, torture, and wanton bloodshed.
News reports going back since the 1990s indicate a final problem that religion can cause, and that is sexual abuse, at least in the Catholic Church. As you undoubtedly have heard, an unknown number of children were sexually abused by Catholic priests and deacons in the United States, Canada, and many other nations going back at least to the 1960s. There is much evidence that the Church hierarchy did little or nothing to stop the abuse or to sanction the offenders who were committing it, and that they did not report it to law enforcement agencies. Various divisions of the Church have paid tens of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits. The numbers of priests, deacons, and children involved will almost certainly never be known, but it is estimated that at least 4,400 priests and deacons in the United States, or about 4% of all such officials, have been accused of sexual abuse, although fewer than 2,000 had the allegations against them proven. Given these estimates, the number of children who were abused probably runs into the thousands.
Symbolic Interactionism and Religion
While functional and conflict theories look at the macro aspects of religion and society, symbolic interactionism looks at the micro aspects. It examines the role that religion plays in our daily lives and the ways in which we interpret religious experiences. For example, it emphasizes that beliefs and practices are not sacred unless people regard them as such. Once we regard them as sacred, they take on special significance and give meaning to our lives. Symbolic interactionists study the ways in which people practice their faith and interact in houses of worship and other religious settings, and they study how and why religious faith and practice have positive consequences for individual psychological and physical well-being.
2. Discuss the elements of soul and sacrifice in religious beliefs.
Ans. Sacrifice, a religious rite in which an object is offered to a divinity in order to establish, maintain, or restore a right relationship of a human being to the sacred order. It is a complex phenomenon that has been found in the earliest known forms of worship and in all parts of the world. The present article treats the nature of sacrifice and surveys the theories about its origin. It then analyzes sacrifice in terms of its constituent elements, such as the material of the offering, the time and place of the sacrifice, and the motive or intention of the rite. Finally, it briefly considers sacrifice in the religions of the world.
Nature of sacrifice
The term sacrifice derives from the Latin sacrificium, which is a combination of the words sacer, meaning something set apart from the secular or profane for the use of supernatural powers, and facere, meaning “to make.” The term has acquired a popular and frequently secular use to describe some sort of renunciation or giving up of something valuable in order that something more valuable might be obtained; e.g., parents make sacrifices for their children, one sacrifices a limb for one’s country. But the original use of the term was peculiarly religious, referring to a cultic act in which objects were set apart or consecrated and offered to a god or some other supernatural power; thus, sacrifice should be understood within a religious, cultic context.
Religion is man’s relation to that which he regards as sacred or holy. This relationship may be conceived in a variety of forms. Although moral conduct, right belief, and participation in religious institutions are commonly constituent elements of the religious life, cult or worship is generally accepted as the most basic and universal element. Worship is man’s reaction to his experience of the sacred power; it is a response in action, a giving of self, especially by devotion and service, to the transcendent reality upon which man feels himself dependent. Sacrifice and prayer—man’s personal attempt to communicate with the transcendent reality in word or in thought—are the fundamental acts of worship.
In a sense, what is always offered in sacrifice is, in one form or another, life itself. Sacrifice is a celebration of life, a recognition of its divine and imperishable nature. In the sacrifice the consecrated life of an offering is liberated as a sacred potency that establishes a bond between the sacrificer and the sacred power. Through sacrifice, life is returned to its divine source, regenerating the power or life of that source; life is fed by life. Thus the word of the Roman sacrificer to his god: “Be thou increased (macte) by this offering.” It is, however, an increase of sacred power that is ultimately beneficial to the sacrificer. In a sense, sacrifice is the impetus and guarantee of the reciprocal flow of the divine life-force between its source and its manifestations.
Often the act of sacrifice involves the destruction of the offering, but this destruction—whether by burning, slaughter, or whatever means—is not in itself the sacrifice. The killing of an animal is the means by which its consecrated life is “liberated” and thus made available to the deity, and the destruction of a food offering in an altar’s fire is the means by which the deity receives the offering. Sacrifice as such, however, is the total act of offering and not merely the method in which it is performed.
Although the fundamental meaning of sacrificial rites is that of effecting a necessary and efficacious relationship with the sacred power and of establishing man and his world in the sacred order, the rites have assumed a multitude of forms and intentions. The basic forms of sacrifice, however, seem to be some type of either sacrificial gift or sacramental meal. Sacrifice as a gift may refer either to a gift that should be followed by a return gift (because of the intimate relationship that gift giving establishes) or to a gift that is offered in homage to a god without expectation of a return. Sacrifice as a sacramental communal meal may involve the idea of the god as a participant in the meal or as identical with the food consumed; it may also involve the idea of a ritual meal at which either some primordial event such as creation is repeated or the sanctification of the world is symbolically renewed.
3. Explain Weber’s perspective on the origins of the spirit of capitalism.
Ans. Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a study of the relationship between the ethics of ascetic Protestantism and the emergence of the spirit of modern capitalism. Weber argues that the religious ideas of groups such as the Calvinists played a role in creating the capitalistic spirit. Weber first observes a correlation between being Protestant and being involved in business, and declares his intent to explore religion as a potential cause of the modern economic conditions. He argues that the modern spirit of capitalism sees profit as an end in itself, and pursuing profit as virtuous. Weber’s goal is to understand the source of this spirit. He turns to Protestantism for a potential explanation. Protestantism offers a concept of the worldly “calling,” and gives worldly activity a religious character. While important, this alone cannot explain the need to pursue profit. One branch of Protestantism, Calvinism, does provide this explanation. Calvinists believe in predestination–that God has already determined who is saved and damned. As Calvinism developed, a deep psychological need for clues about whether one was actually saved arose, and Calvinists looked to their success in worldly activity for those clues. Thus, they came to value profit and material success as signs of God’s favor. Other religious groups, such as the Pietists, Methodists, and the Baptist sects had similar attitudes to a lesser degree. Weber argues that this new attitude broke down the traditional economic system, paving the way for modern capitalism. However, once capitalism emerged, the Protestant values were no longer necessary, and their ethic took on a life of its own. We are now locked into the spirit of capitalism because it is so useful for modern economic activity.
Throughout his book, Weber emphasizes that his account is incomplete. He is not arguing that Protestantism caused the capitalistic spirit, but rather that it was one contributing factor. He also acknowledges that capitalism itself had an impact on the development of the religious ideas. The full story is much more complex than Weber’s partial account, and Weber himself constantly reminds his readers about his own limitations. The book itself has an introduction and five chapters. The first three chapters make up what Weber calls “The Problem.” The first chapter addresses “Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification,” the second “The Spirit of Capitalism,” and the third “Luther’s Conception of the Calling and the Task of the Investigation.” The fourth and fifth chapters make up “The Practical Ethics of the Ascetic Branches of Protestantism.” The fourth chapter is about “The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism,” and the fifth chapter is about “Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
4. Explain phenomenology of religion with special reference to Peter Bergers’ view.
Ans. Peter Berger, a sociologist and theologian born in 1929, founder of the Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs at Boston University, made important contributions to the field of sociology of knowledge and of religion. With his recent death on June 27, he has left behind as his legacy a concept of society in which the individual is understood as a social product defined by his or her own biography and environment. How does he analyze religion? From this same perspective? These 10 points summarize his most important theories in this regard.
- Religion is born as a collective response to the threat of disorder and chaos: for Berger, the search for meaning is an anthropological necessity.
- Religions are the compass that provides an explanation for everything that surrounds the world of humanity, leaving few loose ends. Historically, religions have been the sacred framework that humanity has built and turned into a protective barrier against the vulnerability of the human condition.
- Religion is perennial, but individual religions are the children of their time. The need for religion has a universal character and biological origins, but the concrete form through which different societies have resolved this need is social and context-dependent. Berger places special emphasis on this aspect.
- In order to investigate religion from a sociological perspective, one must approach it as an atheist. This atheism is methodological, due to the desire to understand religions as phenomena in the framework of human experience, but it is never a belligerent or indifferent posture regarding religion.
- Religious experience would be very fleeting without an institution to preserve it and pass it on from generation to generation.
- Religions are characterized by the construction of a sacred cosmos that mediates relations with the transcendent. Furthermore, he states, they establish the boundaries between the sacred and the profane.
- The sacred, in Berger’s understanding, is a kind of mysterious and imposing power that can be attributed to certain objects, places, or even periods of time. It is something extraordinary, which takes individuals outside of their ordinary daily reality.
- Religious rituals help us remember the experience of this sacred world, in order to recreate the original mystical experience.
- Secularization is the topic that made him revise his views. His initial position was that secularization begins during the Enlightenment, and his approach was based principally on the belief that the modernization of society leads to a loss of meaning for religion. After proposing this idea and debating it—following the theories and reflections of other sociologists—Berger took a step back and declared that there is no direct causal relationship between modernization and secularization, and that in some areas, religion is more alive than ever.
- Pluralism: Berger realized that modernity doesn’t cause secularization; rather, it leads to pluralization, because various belief systems exist side by side in one and the same society and context. This fact means that religion is no longer an element that an individual takes for granted, as in years past; now, it becomes one of the aspects of a person’s life that he or she can choose.
5. Discuss the main features of communalism and fundamentalism.
Ans. The followers of a particular religion must belong to one community. Their fundamental interests are the same. Any difference that they may have is irrelevant or trivial for community life.
(ii) The people who follow different religions can’t belong to the same social community.
(iii) If the followers of different religions have some commonalities, these are superficial and immaterial. Their interests are bound to be different and involve a conflict.
(iv) Communalism believes that people belonging to different religions cannot live as equal citizens within one nation. Either, one of them has to dominate the rest or they have to form different nations.
Fundamentalism describes an ideology of religious or other social groups which calls for an adherence to literal meanings of sermons or scriptures or doctrines and apply them to all aspects of life.Forces of drastic social change are important for the emergence of fundamentalism and it resist all types of change.It is relatively new phenomenon and emerged in the background of threat of modernity and globalization to tradition.
Fundamentalism and communalism have certain ideological elements in common. Both attack the concept of separation of religion from politics and the state. Both oppose the concept of equal truth in all religions or the unity of different religions. Communalism is often associated with eruption of violence and riots, these conflagrations may not have any particular aim or goal. In a multi religious society a fundamentalist tends to be communal while communalists are quite often not fundamentalists. Fundamentalism stress upon the infallibility of scriptures. Communalism is a strong allegiance to one’s own ethnic group rather than to a society. The allegiance can be based out of religion, race, and ethnicity. In India basis of allegiance had been religion. Fundamentalists tend to separate certain communities from the mainstream. Religion based opposition is ideological and usually becomes active during the phases of social upheaval. Fundamentalism aims to establish a normative order by various means from wars to speeches to peaceful mentions. Communalism aims to establish its supremacy through violence that often involves hatred. This is a situation where religion and religious communities view each other with hostility and antagonism. Fundamentalism is a movement and led by charismatic leaders. Communalists have a mass psyche. Communalism becomes apparent only on certain occasions. It may not be sustained like fundamentalism as a movement. Fundamentalists’ movements are reactive and response to what the persons involved like the leaders and participants consider a crisis. Communalism emerges when are conflicts of interest and a sense of insecurity and suspicion exists in one or both the groups. Antagonism is central in communalism while promotion of the original is central in fundamentalism. The pursuit of political power is very important to fundamentalists. Communalism is more protective of its own rights and beliefs.
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