Approaches to the Study of Religion

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The sociological approach looks at religious belief and practice in relation to the society. Sociologists are interested in two themes, the centrality of religion in society and the diversity of forms it inhabits (Hamilton 1995/2001:1). It regards religion as a social fact subject to empirical observation, which produces empirical evidence (Dillon 2003:7). The sociology of religion is a product of the enlightenment, from which it inherited a tendency to dismiss religion as incompatible with rationality (Dillon 2003:6). This dismissal has had significant impact on the attitude towards religion and it is the basis for the most influential paradigm in the history of the field; secularisation. The secularisation theory claims that religion is or will be on the decrease in society. So profound was its impact that modern sociology often aims to account for the continued presence of religion in society and has generally held a rather negative view of religion as being an unworthy subject of study(Davies 2007:2). The reason for the secuarlisation can be seen in the fact that sociology is a theory both guided by and aims to build theories (Wuthnow/Dillon 2003:21). Theories require analysis and generalisation. It is impossible to analyse a subject without first defining the subject (Robertson 1970:34). Definition is a contentious issue because different definitions entail different criteria which lead to different patterns being indentified in data. Theories are created by the identification of patterns in data which are then generalised.(Davies 2007:5). Thus a definition will vastly affect the content and concept of a theory. Definitions of religion in sociology fall into two categories, functional and substantive. This essay will assess...

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Works Cited

Davie, Grace (2007) The Sociology of Religion. London. Sage Publications

Dillon, Michele (2003) Handbook of the Sociology of Religion. Cambridge. Cambridge university press

Hamilton, Malcom (1995/2001) The Sociology of Religion: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives. 2nd edition. Routledge. London

Hunt, Stephen J (2002) Religion in Western Society. London. Palgrave

McGuire, Meredith B. (1997) Religion: The Social Context 4th edition. Wadsworth

Pickering, W.S.F. (1984) Durkheim’s Sociology of Religion: Themes and Theories. Routledge. London

Robertson, Ronald (1970) The Sociological Interpretation of Religion. Blackwell Sociology Series. London

Steinsaltz, Adin (2000) A Guide to Jewish Prayer . New York

Wuthnow, Robert (2003) ‘Studying Religion, Making it Sociological’ in Dillon (2003) pp.16-30
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