Sociological View of Religion
Sociologists study religion to explain the nature of different cultures. To effectively study theology, they tell the difference between standard terms in religion which are a religious experience, religious belief and religious rituals. Emile Durkheim, a pioneer French sociologist, explained religion as matters that exceed the level of human knowledge (Grafton, 1945). Durkheim added that religion could be termed as an integrated system comprising beliefs about the sacred items meant to unite a community to form the church of all individuals who adhere to the beliefs and practices. Therefore, he believed religion is a binding factor in the community. To study the society, he applied different methods of natural science where he discovered that the origin of religion is linked to the communities’ collective mindset. Durkheim explained that the source of bonds of social order is the shared values in society. As he analyzed religion in terms of societal impact, he concluded that the shared values must be maintained to promote social stability in the community.
According to the sociologists, the primary motivator for religious impulse is to give answers to essential questions that are difficult and impossible to be addressed scientifically (Lawler, 2015). For instance, science cannot address what happens when someone dies other than provide a biological explanation. It also does not explain the higher purpose of life other than to reproduce or exist or even the existence of a higher being. Another primary motivator for religion is fear of the unknown especially after-life and what it portends. It provides a non-falsifiable answer to the question of what happens when people die.
One of the sociologist approach is the social-conflict theory. It was developed by Marx which states that religion has a significant role in ensuring the status quo. Marx argued that bourgeoisie used religion to ensure satisfaction among the proletariat. Religion was able to accomplish this by promising rewards in the life after-death rather than in this life. It is in this sense that Marx term it as the opium of masses. He argued that the abrogation of religion as illusionary happiness of people is the demand for real happiness. What he meant is that for the proletariat to rise against the bourgeoisie and gain control of factors of production they must throw off religion (Molloy, & Hilgers, 2013). This theory is the most compelling because it advocates for change.
Grafton, T. H. (1945). Religious origins and sociological theory. American Sociological Review, 10(6), 726-739.
Lawler, S. (2015). Identity: sociological perspectives. John Wiley & Sons.
Molloy, M., & Hilgers, T. L. (2013). Experiencing the world’s religions: tradition, challenge, and change. New York: McGraw-Hill.