A Sociological Study of Religion


Religion, in its broadest sense, is a social practice that involves commitment to a particular set of beliefs. Often, religion has a formal or institutional form such as houses of worship, religious services, or schools of religion. However, religion can also be practised in everyday life by people outside the institutional setting. This is known as living religion.

A sociological study of religion usually takes a qualitative approach. It seeks to understand how people engage, express, create, and make religion in their daily lives. This can involve looking at how a religion is acknowledged as a religion by different groups of people and who has power over this process.

The definition of religion can be a complex and contested issue in sociology. It is often debated about whether there can be one universal definition of religion or if it is determined by the members of a certain community and society.

Some scholars of religion, such as sociologists and philosophers, argue that there is no such thing as a single, universal definition of religion because it can vary widely across different societies, individuals, and times. This means that a single definition cannot be used to evaluate the truth or otherwise of a religious belief or set of beliefs.

In contrast, interpretivist sociologists and social constructionists suggest that there are a number of different ways that a set of beliefs can be defined as a religion. For example, some believe that a religion is not necessarily associated with a God or a supernatural being.

Others, such as religious historians and sociologists of religion, believe that religion is a social practice that can be described in terms of structures and disciplinary practices. This theory, sometimes called the structure-agency approach, has a long history in the social sciences and is still alive today.

The social function of religion is the primary concern of many sociologists, such as Emile Durkheim and Paul Tillich. These two scholars believe that religion is a social function that helps people to create solidarity and organize their values.

Durkheim’s function is based on the idea that religion functions as a glue that holds together communities of believers (Atran and Henrich 2010). Other researchers, such as Sosis and Ruffle, have argued that religion acts as a guiding force for individuals and provides them with an orientation for their lives.

Another approach to the study of religion is the formal approach, which takes a more theoretical and empirically oriented view of the concept. The formal approach is rooted in the classical theory of concepts, which argues that every accurately defined concept will have a defining property that makes it uniquely identifiable.

As a result, a formal approach can be more useful than a monothetic or polythetic approach in the analysis of a social category like religion. In both cases, it can recognize just as many properties as a monothetic approach and can fasten on more than one property.

Some scholars, such as sociologist Ira Asad, have argued that the term religion is an invented concept that has distorted our understanding of historical realities. They argue that the modern expansion of the concept went hand in hand with European colonialism and that people should cease treating religion as if it were an object of their power in the world.