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Religion and Religiosity

Sociological Understanding of Religion

Religion is a set of beliefs and practices embedded in culture.
Every known culture has practiced some form of religion, a set of beliefs adhered to by the members of a community, incorporating ritual practices and symbols that are regarded with a sense of awe or wonder. Religious beliefs and practices are often linked to a culture's understanding of the creation and meaning of life. Most religions incorporate a belief in and worship of a superhuman power, such as a god or gods, although sociologists do not focus on this aspect of religion. Instead, sociologists study religion as a social institution and a cultural practice.

Social Function of Religion

Religion can be a source of social cohesion and also can provide social control by encouraging people to follow social norms.
While theologians study the nature of religious belief, sociologists study the function of religion in society. All known cultures throughout history have practiced religion in some form. Even vastly different religions share certain elements, such as marriage ceremonies and funeral rites. Sociologists study religion as a social institution and religious elements as a function of social needs, values, and structure. They analyze how religion is a social force that can serve to create social cohesion, a sense shared by members of a society or community of being bound together as a group. Similarly, religion can function as a source of social control, or enforcement and encouragement of conformity by society upon its members by law or by social pressure. Sociologists look at the role of religion in a society, including how this role changes over time. Religion and religious practices can also contribute to social conflict. Sociologists analyze how these conflicts arise and what such conflicts might indicate about trends in society as a whole.

Centrality of Religiosity Scale

The Centrality of Religiosity Scale (CRS) is a measure of the importance of religious meanings in personality.

Religiosity is the significance of religion in a person's life. It is the intensity and consistency with which individuals practice their religion. Religiosity can be difficult to assess. Membership in a religious group or organization does not necessarily indicate a high level of religiosity. An individual can attend religious services or celebrate religious holidays without being particularly religious. Likewise, an individual may experience a high level of religiosity but not partake in religious rituals.

Sociologists measure religiosity by asking people about their religious beliefs and practices. One tool sociologists and other researchers use to evaluate religiosity in the United States is the Centrality of Religiosity Scale (CRS), which measures the centrality, or importance, of religious meanings in personality. It measures five core dimensions of religiosity:

  • public practice
  • private practice
  • religious experience
  • ideology
  • intellectual

In the CRS, public practice refers to the ways in which people are involved in public religious activities, such as attending religious services, and the importance people give to attending services and belonging to a religious community. Private practice describes the ways in which people engage in religious behavior in their personal or private lives. For example, the CRS asks how often people pray and how important they consider personal prayer. Religious experience is defined as how much or how often people experience a sense of the divine playing a role in their lives. For example, the CRS asks how often respondents feel a sense of divine intervention in their lives or how often they feel that a divine being wants to reveal something to them. Questions related to ideology center around what people believe. Questions include to what extent people believe in a god or the divine, an afterlife, or the probability that a higher power exists. The intellectual dimension focuses on people's level of interest in religion and religious questions. These questions ask about how often respondents think about religious issues, how interested they are in religious topics, and how much they work to stay or become informed about religious questions through their media consumption habits, such as reading, using the Internet, and watching or listening to programs on television or the radio.