Religion and Society


1.    Religion and society: what is the relationship?  How does one influence the other?

a.    Is religion mainly a reflection of more basic social realities?

b.    Is religion mainly an independent source of social forms – behavior, values, experiences?

2.    Durkheim: The most powerful and influential force within religion is the experience of the group.

a.    A recent version of this argument (Guy Swanson): It is the group in power that provides the conditions from which a concept of spirit originates.

3.    Max Weber:  Religious beliefs and practices have a powerful influence on social change and even the emergence of new social forms.

a.    Refutes Karl Marx’s assumption that religion is epiphenomenal – caused by certain, more basic social and economic realities.

b.    The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-5)

                                     i.     Religion exerted a powerful influence on the rise of economic capitalism, and the birth of modern capitalism

1.    Rational calculation, life-long investment, sober and self-controlled, industrious.


                                    ii.     Luther’s idea of vocation – ordinary work as calling, as important as the priesthood.  This releases a great energy for this-worldly activities.

1.    Protestant values of thrift, simplicity, self-denial

                                  iii.     Calvin’s idea of election, predestination: horrible anxiety and uncertainty > discipline and hard work in the world, dedication to God, provided reassurance of one’s salvation, predestination for heaven.

1.    > “This-Worldly Asceticism” – the Protestant ethic – sober, rational calculation, orderly administration, life-long investment

c.    Civilizational changes “understood” as guided by ideas and the motives that emerge from them, not through the methods of natural science.

4.    Types of religious communities

a.    Natural religious communities:

                                     i.     Little differentiation between religious and sociocultural life of the community – family life, politics, economy, warfare, medicine, etc.  Religion interwoven into all of these.

                                    ii.     Groups in natural religious communities tied together by bilogical-blood relations, kinship, geography, culture.  One is born into it or marries into it.

b.    Founded or voluntary religions:

                                     i.     Dependant on the unique authority of a charismatic figure, or the teachings and ideology he/she professed.

                                    ii.     Usually entails a personal conversion, i.e., is voluntary