Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division
Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
  • Oss0212
  • Sociology
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
    English, Abkhazian
    Media Formats:

    Apply the sociological perspectives to domestic and global religions


    OER Text Material

    Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World, Section: 17.3
    17.3 – Sociological Perspectives on Religion:

    • Summarize the major functions of religion.
    • Explain the views of religion held by the conflict perspective.
    • Explain the views of religion held by the symbolic interactionist perspective.

    Sociological perspectives on religion aim to understand the functions religion serves, the inequality and
    other problems it can reinforce and perpetuate, and the role it plays in our daily lives (Emerson,
    Monahan, & Mirola, 2011). Table 17.1 “Theory Snapshot” summarizes what these perspectives say.
    Limited content on Weber’s work on Religion.

    Supplementary Material (Videos and Reading)

    Sociological Perspectives on Religion

    1. Navigate Guide Source: Sociological Theories of Religion - ​Structural Functionalism​ Functionalism is a theoretical framework used in sociology that attempts to explain the nature of social order, the relationship between the various parts (structures), and their contribution to the stability of the society. Functionalists examine the functionality of each structure to determine how it contributes to the stability of society as a whole. When applied to the sociological study of religion, this approach views religion as a functional entity within society because it creates social cohesion and integration by reaffirming the bonds that people have with each other. In the functionalist view, religious rituals express the spiritual convictions of the members of the religion and help increase the belongingness of the individuals to the group. Although functionalism may be useful for explaining how religious phenomena occur, it is less useful for explaining why they occur. Similarly, it fails to explain—or even adequately define —religion as a whole.
    2. Navigate Guide Source: Sociological Theories of Religion – ​Conflict Analysis​
      The Conflict Perspective is an approach to analyzing social behavior which is based on the assumption that social behavior is best explained and understood in terms of conflict or tension between competing groups. When applied to religion, conflict analysis posits that religion is a source of conflict that divides or stratifies society. Marx argued that religion is a tool which helps maintain the status quo in society by making the lower classes content with promises of great rewards in the life after death. The conflict perspective can explain many conflicts seen around the world not only throughout history, but also today. However, this approach does not adequately explain all the data of the religious experience. In reality, religion is often found to be a liberating force within society; promoting equality rather than inequality.
    3. The ​Conflict Perspective​ on Religion – Marx and the “Opiate of the Masses” – Lumen – Boundless Sociology
      One of the most frequently paraphrased statements of Karl Marx is, religion is the opium of the people. It was translated from the German original, “Die Religion... ist das Opium des Volkes,” and is often referred to as “religion is the opiate of the masses. ” Taken in context, Marx is arguing that religion was constructed by people to calm uncertainty over our role in the universe and in society.
    4. Max Weber – The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (​Conflict Perspective​)
      Undoubtedly ranks as one of the most renowned, and controversial, works of modern social science. First published as a two-part article in 1904–5, in the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, of which Weber was one of the editors, it immediately provoked a critical debate, in which Weber participated actively, and which, some seventy years later, has still not gone off the boil.
    5. Navigate Guide Source: Sociological Theories of Religion: ​Symbolic Interactionism​
      The symbolic interaction perspective posits that one's self concept is created through the interpretation of the symbolic gestures, words, actions, and appearances of others that are observed during social interactions. This perspective considers immediate social interactions to be the place where society exists. In this view, humans give meaning to their behavior through reflection and interpret the meaning of behaviors, events, and things. Symbolic interactionists study society through the interpretation of objects, events, and behaviors by the members of that society. The symbolic interactionist perspective assumes that social order is constantly being negotiated and recreated through the interpretations of the people who give it meaning. This is a helpful construct to better understand differences that arise in interpretation of religious tenets or writings and other difficulties encountered in religious circles.
    6. Critical Reflections of the Contemporary - Sociological Perspectives and Religion
      For some decades, the academic concept of religion has been examined critically by a number of scholars. There have been some sociological responses to these criticisms against ‘religion’. This article argues that these sociological responses have missed important implications of these criticisms, which can be constructively incorporated into sociological discourse about religion. What can be meaningfully studied is the practice of classification carried out with the term ‘religion’ and norms and imperatives which govern and naturalise a specific discursive configuration of the religious-secular dichotomy. This approach indicates the vacuum in the sociological discourse of religion, which needs to be filled with empirical research, in order to map and theorize the ways in which people utilize the term ‘religion’ in a specific social context.
    7. Sociology of Religion – Peter Kivisto (video)
    8. Serious Science (video, published on Jul 6, 2015)
      Why is the attitude to religion changing with time? What it depends on with different cultures? Why has religion become a more private matter? These and other questions will be answered by Augustana College Professor of Social Thought, Peter Kivisto.


    1. Religion​ – Data in the News (with numerous sub-topics)
    2. 2018 Religion​ – Pew Research Center (with numerous articles and links)
    3. The Religious Typology – Pew Research Center (August 29, 2018)
      ​A new way to categorize Americans by religion. Religious typology sorts Americans into seven groups based on the religious and spiritual beliefs they share, how actively they practice their faith, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.