Religion is one of the world's oldest social institutions. Every known culture through the tens of thousands of years of human history has practiced some form of religion. While theologians and others may focus on the beliefs, truths, and spiritual meanings of religion, sociologists study religion as a social construction. Sociologists study the social functions of religion, including providing social cohesion and social control. They look at the effects of social cohesion and control on individuals and groups. They measure the significance of religion in people's lives and examine trends in religious attitudes.
At A Glance
- Religion is a set of beliefs and practices embedded in culture.
- Religion can be a source of social cohesion and also can provide social control by encouraging people to follow social norms.
- The Centrality of Religiosity Scale (CRS) is a measure of the importance of religious meanings in personality.
Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx investigated how religion maintains social order, encourages conformity, and contributes to the broader social structure.
- Functionalism suggests that religion has a function in society to shape everyday behavior and to give meaning to people's lives.
- Conflict theorists look at the ways in which religion can promote inequality, conflict, and change.
- Symbolic interactionists analyze how religious meaning is incorporated into the everyday life of individuals and groups.
- Over half of the world's population identifies with either Christianity or Islam; the other half identifies as Buddhist, Hindu, folk religionist, other, Jewish, or unaffiliated.
Religious nationalism is the linking of strongly held religious convictions with beliefs about a people's social and political destiny.
Types of religious organizations include churches, denominations, sects, and cults.
Religious membership in established churches in the United States has declined over time, as the marketplace for churches has created other opportunities to congregate.
Secularization is increasing, but the moral values of religion often shape public policy.
Religious fundamentalism becomes more or less prevalent based on broader social changes.