Week 7 Lecture Notes – Starting Points Ch. 13

Estimated Reading Time 00:09:09

Religion and Secularization

Lecture by Dr. William Flynn

“Everyone calls me Philly. I grew up in Harlem.” – Dr. William Flynn.

Harlem: pretty religious society.
People say “Happy holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!”

Religion as a social phenomenon.
Weber Marx and Durkheim.
Civil Religion.
Final Reflections.

Religion as a social phenomenon
-Why do people “need” religion? What do they get from it?
-Moral/ethical framework
-shared ideas, values, doctrines, beliefs/
-performing religious ceremonies/rituals
-membership in religious organizations
-Does God exist? Evil? Is there an afterlife?
-Sociologists don’t really care!

Substantive definition of religion
-defining religious through its content
Functional definition
-defining religion through what it does (creates shared identity, meaning, etc).

-Rapid social changes in Western Europe in the 18th/19th century
-Religion is on the decline, secularization is on the rise
-“Secularization thesis” — nonreligious beliefs, values, etc will eventually replace religious ones

Max Weber
-“Disenchantment of the world”
-Religion once provided people with a sense of meaning, values, and purpose
-Max Weber: “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1905)
-A world of rationality and science undermines religious enchantment

Marx and Critical Theory
Religion is a product of human activity.
-“Man makes religion; religion does not make man.”
-A form of social control.
-Helps to explain and legitimize inequality and injustice
-“Religion… is the opium of the people.”
(causes delusion and numbs pain)
-“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Durkheim and Functionalism
-Religion comes from ‘religare’: to bind or hold together.
-Religion functions to maintain social solidarity
-“Elementary Forms of Religious Life” (1912): What is the most essential form that religion takes in social life?
(DNA of religion)
-Division between the *SACRED* and the *PROFANE*
-Those beings considered sacred become a *TOTEM* for a group
-What the totem is is irrelevant. What matters is that there is a totem.
-Shared symbol that unites all members through their identification with the totem.
e.g. Canadian Flag
-Rituals and ceremonies enacted around the totem

Civil Religion
-Robert Bellah *Civil Religion in America*
-Secularization? Maybe people are just religious in new and different ways?
-How might US nationalism function as a type of civil religion?

-Are we living in an era of secularization?
-Marx, Weber, and Durkheim?
-Marx: opium of the people?
-Weber: disenchantment and re-enchantment?
-Durkheim: totems and solidarity?

Lecture by Lorne Tepperman

What problem does religious doctrine solve?
science as a replacement for religion
in 19th century there is conflict between scientific and religious thoughts
Why would someone want to have religion?
The frighteningness of the universe.
Verifiable certainty: you are a tiny insignificant peck of dust, and you are gonna die.

“There’s a world of suffering out there that every human being, being made of flesh and blood, is heir to.” – Teppy
Religion gives us a way of understanding suffering.

Humans have a need to understand the world as meaningful and unified: reality of suffering makes the world seem cruel and random.
THEODICY: an attempt to explain and justify why supernatural forces allow suffering
(Easy to remember: sounds like idiocy.)

Most religions create and uphold a “community of believers”
-before mass communication and mass media, most social life was centred around religion
-thus, religion are sources of social organization — sources of comfort and support

The sociology of religion
-Sociologists do not assume the real existence of a god or gods
Sociologists are concerned with
-how humans enact their beliefs
-how religious and social institutions interact

Functional definitions of religion
-what religion does for people
-e.g. provide social cohesion, meaning
-elements to achieve this include rituals and communal activities

“In this sense, nationalism is a form of religion too!” -Teppy
“It calls to attention the fact that you do not have to have a God to gain many of the functional payoffs of religion.” -Teppy

Ritual creates social cohesion
-Ritual is a behaviour – a set of behaviours, where people identify

Robert Bellah and civil religion
Robert Bellah called attention to *civil religion*

Religions Differ in the importance they attach to ritual
-Some religions have a lot of rituals, some don’t.
Rituals range from:
-simple to elaborate
-secret to conspicuous
-symbolic to literal
Rites of passage: rituals that strip away an “old identity”
-used to mark, commemorate, and accomplish transitions in life
.eg. birth–coming of age–graduattion–marriage–parenthood–DEATH

The *central* importance of belief
-To be religious in any society is to “believe”
Weber is really interested in religious beliefs (not just totems)
-Every religion has key non-negotiable beliefs
-e.g. belief in multiple gods vs. one god
-e.g. belief in supernatural entities such as angels, nymphs

The normative content of religion
-Most religions tell people how to lead a moral or ethical life
-Most/all religions include rules of behaviour
-e.g. The Ten Commandments; the Golden Rule

The Secular Attack on Religion:
The Age of Enlightenment sets the stage for modernity
-Advocated reason as the main source for legitimacy and authority in decision-making.
-Tradition and belief should be substituted by reason and evidence

A Mix of Progressive Ideas
-Enlightenment philosophies were contradictory or divergent; but they are all grounded in reason, logic, and/or science
“That’s where sociology comes from.” -Teppy
“Sociology is profoundly antitraditional; in fact it is (more or less) antireligious.” -Teppy

Religion vs. Science
The Debate of the Enlightenment
-e.g. American society.
Weber says we are progressing towards a *rational-legal* society.

The exception to the “Enlightenment Rule”: The US
-Though technologically modern, Americans hold many pre-modern religious beliefs
The three countries in which people are least likely to accept the theory of evolution are Cyprus, Turkey, and the US.

“This is crazy! This is crazy!” -Teppy
In all societies, as science becomes a stronger force, people would put aside pre-rational beliefs. But even though US has high level of scientific prosperity, it is still a pretty conservative country in terms of religion.

The Social Gospel Movement
-Religion isn’t always backward-looking
-Developed in the late 19th century
-The Social Gospel movement developed in the late 19th century
-an important progressive force in Canadian society between roughly 1880 and 1940
-Applied Christian doctrine to the solution of problems like unemployment, poverty, poor housing, and family breakdown

“Many people participate in the religion of consumerism. Every weekend they go out for consumerist therapy and it gives their life meaning.” -Teppy

Sometimes religion is a mechanism by which the disadvantaged express themselves. People have used religion to mobilize the disadvantaged.

Fighting poverty in the cities
-First appeared during a decade of political corruption and economic distress (the 1880s)
“The state didn’t have welfare back then.” -Teppy
-Soon, Canadian churches were creating urban institutions such as settlement houses and missions to help the poor
-e.g. The Fred Victor Mission founded in Toronto in 1894 and still in existence.

Fighting sexual inequality, prostitution, and alcoholism
-Older causes likes temperance and the fight against prostitution were easily added to these urban initiatives
-e.g. the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)
“It didn’t work, but it is an attempt for women to fight for their equality.” -Teppy

Fighting for farmers and unions
-The WCTU helped empower women in public affairs and linked to the women’s suffrage movement
-The social gospel movement also influenced the leaders

Social gospel goes into decline
-After WWI
due in part to the failure of Prohibition–which did not gain support in Canada.
also more multicultural immigrants came

The shift from religious to political mobilization
-secularization of Canadian society and the politicization of protest
-Increasingly, political movements and parties seized

The CCF-NDP emerged
-Social Gospel leaders such as JS Woodsworth turned their efforts to political organization.
-For Woodsworth, this led in 1932 to the founding of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) – later the NDP

The Churches weakened and united
-The churches most associated with the social gospel weakened, due to
-economic depression
-religious secularization
-political and union mobilization
-backlash against prohibition
The merger in the United Church in 1925
-Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians

Political offspring of Social Gospel transform Canada
-Baptist minister Tommy (TC) Douglas – brings laws to Saskatchewan
-Background in CCF
-e.g. universal healthcare, family allowances, and old age pensions
-All these laws were adapted later as laws in Canada

In the end, the poor used religion to change society
-The poor brought socialists to power in Canada
-Today, the poor give the highest percentage of their income to charity

Religious cycles: Charisma and the routinization of Charisma
-Weber sees charismatic (non-traditional) authority as a recurring force in human history
-It alternates with the “routinization of charisma”
-a recurring alternation of sacred and profane, nonrational and rational concerns

3 basis of authority: traditional, rational-legal, charismatic.

Charisma as a quality of leadership
-We see charisma when we see how people respond to a certain individual
-Charisma = a certain quality which sets apart an individual from ordinary men

Charisma as personal followership
-Charisma is the main counterweight to bureaucratic rigidity in mass democracies
–by its non-rational nature, it is alien to the established institution of society
–as a source of innovation, charisma is a force for social change
e.g. Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther.
-Followers respond to charisma by recognizing that it is their duty to follow the leader

Charismatic authority is often “routinized” during the lifetime of the leader.
This ensures that he or she will be succeeded either by
-a bureaucracy vested with rational-legal authority, or by
-a return to the institutionalized structures of tradition

Role of non-rational religion in rational social life
“The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Max Weber.
-first translated to English by Talcott Parsons.
-Religion doesn’t necessarily prevent change; sometimes it enables change!
Capitalism is due to Protestantism.

In Calvinism, there is a belief that future is predestined. You might think this takes pressure off people… But what Weber claims happened is this: people are itching to find out if they are going to heaven or hell! People are looking for signs.
Protestants believing in predestination work really hard, not because it will lead me to heaven, but because it will tell me if I’ll go to heaven or hell.

Calvinism has an elective affinity to capitalism.

The Secularization Debate:
-Weber argues that religion can support progress
-The enlightenment theorists (Voltaire, Marx) argue religion hinders progress
–Secularization theory argues that the influence of religion must decline for progress and modernization to take place.

What is secularization?
-The result of declines in religion, etc

An Example of social differentiation
“Religion plays a smaller part in life.” -Teppy
Seems to be inevitable result for industrialization and economic development.

Falling church attendance suggests falling religiosity

Even in religious countries, religious attendance is down
eg. Islamic countries

People are also less concerned with marrying “within their faith”.
Hindus tend to marry other Hindus; Buddhists, not so much.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s