At times, I wonder if religion can be placed deep down a human being or outside of human beings. In other words, is religion an external force or an innate force in human beings? Views on religion differ, but two schools of thought seem to arise strongly (Johnstone, 13). One school looks at religion based on the substance of religion, i.e., what is religion composed of, what is the core of religion.
Does the other school look at what religion helps achieve (Johnstone, 7) what is the role of religion in society? At this point, I try to think about what role religion plays in society when negative things like earthquakes, floods, and droughts happen. Does religion bring answers to many questions running through the minds of people affected by such phenomena? I answer yes. Many people will attribute the happenings to the will of a supreme being and take consolation in the fact that such things were bound to happen anyway.
I further intend to reflect on the concept and importance of Sociology of Religion as well as the rational choice theory.
Sociology of Religion
Sociology is the study of how people interact in society. Sociology aims at deciphering how groups in society operate and how such groups affect an individual as well as collective behavior. Religion is the totality of beliefs and practices that a certain group embraces to assist them to focus on the Supreme Being or beings (Johnstone, 7). As such, religion must be practiced by a group of people and not a single individual.
Religion exhibits several characteristics. One, religion applies or is practiced by groups, which are commonly called denominations (Ronald, 9). I do not intend to imply that religion is not an individual happening. I mean, an individual can only practice religion within a certain group. Of course, the individual members make up the group, and the conviction must start with an individual (Putnam and Campbell, 35).
Secondly, religion must necessarily have a belief system to which individual members subscribe collectively but practice individually. Over, religion involves a set of practices such as rites for different occasions like baptism in Christianity. For the sake of society, religion must give moral prescriptions like respect for parents, avoidance of sexual immorality, among others. Prescriptions indicate what should be done or not done based on certain convictions. Lastly, religion involves the sacred. By this, I mean they believe in a Supreme Being or Beings (Johnstone, 11). Muslims, for instance, will cleanse themselves before going before Allah in prayers. Allah here is the Sacred.
Sociology of Religion, being a science, demands that Religion and any other subject should be approached with a lot of neutrality but I must say that it is impossible to be neutral when tackling such a value-laden subject as religion (Johnstone, 5). It is a science in the sense that it employs the scientific method of data collection and verification backed by evidence. It is the study of how religion influences society.
The question that immediately comes into my mind ‘to what extent can a sociologist in religion go to verify such concepts as the Supreme Being yet the human person is so limited (Johnstone, 6)?” Is it possible to verify issues such as the sacred, the supernatural, the opposing evil forces? It is a challenge to the aspect of the study being a science. I tend to think that where religion is concerned, the sociologist can only be content by depending on the views and observations obtained from the individuals in any religious group. Beyond that, it might prove hard.
All in all, it is worth noting that religion also embraces nonspiritual practices like education, health, and commerce. In this regard, an objective study on such aspects of religion can be carried out empirically since beneficiaries of such practices as well as the professionals involved are human beings, not unless such healing involves the spiritual realms.
Importance of Sociology of Religion
The study of how religion influences members of a society have its significance. The study allows people to understand how diversified the concept of religion is (Putnam and Campbell, 37). We have major religious groupings like Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam in the world. Even in a grouping like Christianity, there exist several groupings like the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Baptists, and so on. It is only through Sociology of Religion that one can grasp the diversity implied in religion.
Secondly, the Sociology of Religion assists the researcher to grasp, how culture affects religious views (Putnam and Campbell, 34). Culture is a people’s way of life, which is not static but dynamic. For instance, in my interaction with Muslims, I realize how the Middle East culture influences the religion called Islam. Islam is one religion whose practices like polygamy are a direct consequence of cultural practices. The use of water in sanitation, as opposed to paper, has a lot to do with culture than any other thing.
Much as culture affects and/or influences religion, it has also been known to affect certain cultures. Christianity in Africa is responsible for the change in way of life since it brought with it the European Culture. As such, practices such as worship of different deities have been overtaken by events. The missionaries condemned most of the African traditional aspects like polygamy, female genital mutilation, killing of twins among others.
Rational Choice Theory
This theory has to do with wanting more rather than less from a certain good or service. It is commonly applied to economics. When applied to religion, I would think of it as the choice a person makes regarding what satisfaction one can get from religion or a particular religion (Putnam and Campbell, 36).
Such deliberate choice is based on various assumptions. First of all, as a human being, my choice is based on rational calculations. If I belong to this religion, how am I to benefit, for instance? Secondly, I am a rational being, and in that regard, my choices must be based on reasoning. Lastly, I must choose what will grant me maximum pleasure or benefit (Johnstone, 9).
Religion can be best understood by people who are inside it more than those who are outside a religion. The outsider can only interpret the sensible, but the insider knows what they have since it has to do with the sacred, the supernatural forces which are not quantifiable. Sociology of Religion is significant since it explains how religion influences society and vice versa. Religion is a part and a parcel of our daily life and affords members some benefits. If one has to belong to a certain religion, deliberate and informed choice is inevitable. The reason has to prevail so that one can know how much benefit to expect from religion.
Johnstone, Ronald, L. Religion in Society: A Sociology or Religion. Pearson: Prentice- Hall, 2007.
Putnam, Robert D. and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.