Sociological Perspectives On Religion

Sociological Perspectives On Religion

Sociological Perspectives On Religion




Sociological Perspectives on Religion

According to and do Basirico, religion is described as “Religion is a ritualized system of beliefs and practices related to things defined as sacred by an organized community of believers.” (Basirico, 2012) In every society, one will always find a type of religion to believe in. there are various forms of religion but some most known forms include Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Jew and Buddhism. Religion is an important aspect in a society as it influences ways in which people think or act. Religion is a great part of reading bonds in a family and community and is also been a huge part in making decisions on political as well as economic issues ass religious leaders are often play great leadership role in a country. Sociologists are interested with religion as it helps them understand people’s interaction, their expression as well as actions (Hamilton, 2009).

There are various ways sociologists view religion and while others may view it from a functional perspective, others view it from a sociological approach. Functionalism is a framework that tries to explain social order, relationship that exists in various parts in a society and how these structures contribute to stability of society. When this theory is applied to religion, it views religion as a functional entity in a society as it creates integration as well as cohesion by bringing people together who believe in one thing. From a functionalist point of view, religious rituals portray conviction of members of a religion thus creating a sense of belongingness among the numbers. Emile Durkheim one of the theorists of structural functionalism views religion as a function in a society. Durkheim defined religion as “unified system of beliefs and practice relative to sacred things.” (Pickering, 2002) He believed that religion played a huge role in bringing stability in a society. One question that Durkheim sort to answer was what factors would bring people together yet various people always had various interests? The answer was religion as it gave people a common thing to believe in. for example Christians going to church every Sunday or Muslims daily prayers. From functionalist point of view religion is a great way of instilling social norms in a society. This was because many religions believed in leaving a certain way such as being respectful, kind, showing love too another and respecting the authority. Questions that functionalists may ask include: why do people believe in common things in a religion? Are the social norms we have instilled by religion? Why do conflicts occur even in churches yet they ought to promote cohesion?

Social conflict theory is another sociological perspective theory that explains how religion affects the society and individuals. Karl Marx is known for this theory and he defined religion as “opium of the people.” Marx pointed out that religion played a great role in maintaining status quo. Most religious beliefs often offer followers with a reward in the after-life and not the religion itself. Religion plays a role in giving explanations on state of the world. It offers reasons for social inequalities that occur and will perpetuate them through divine sanctions. Marx argued that religion taught people to accept their current life no matter how bad it is as they were promised a better reward in their afterlife. Because of this, religion prohibited social change by diverting attention from injustices that occurred in the world, promising a reward that was yet to come, teaching nonresistance to cruelty and justifying inequalities of both wealth and power of the privileged (Furseth, 2017). Marx held the belief that religion was a sanctuary from the challenges that life presented. Conflict theorist believe that religion is a way that keeps lower classes working with just a little or with no regard at all to their structure. Conflict theorist believe that religion can be a way of imposing a rule over people an example is where kings and queens ruled and claimed to have been chosen by God. Questions that conflict theorist can ask include why do we suffer? Does a reward in the afterlife really exist? Does religion make one satisfied with the social and economic status they are in?

Lastly, we examine the symbolic interaction theory on religion. The theory posits that an individual’s concept is created by interpretation of actions, symbolic gestures, words as well as appearances. It considers immediate social interaction as where the society exists. Humans are able to give meaning to their behavior by reflecting then interpreting meaning of behaviors and events. Symbolic interactionist state that religion is socially constructed and only comes up when there is a social or cultural change. Through this sociological view of religion, rituals and religious practices are symbolic activities that help define identities of a group, and thus religious beliefs are viewed as subject to interpretation. It recognizes the fact that various religion arises as a result of different historical or social context. Symbolic interactionist help gives answers that are not well explained in other perspectives such as why there may different interpretation to same bible scripture. Some differences that have been seen include ordaining homosexual archbishops or allowing women to be part of the clergy (Goldstein, 2012). The theory points out that religious text will often be interpreted by different individuals to probably suit their argument. Some questions that may arise include: who des interpretations of the sacred texts? Why will certain individuals interpret certain texts differently yet they are of the same faith? Can a religious text have more than one meaning?

In conclusion, there are different sociological theories that try to explain relationship between religion and the society or its followers. All the theories have shortcomings and that is why many theories occur to point out why the other one was wrong. However, I fell the functionalist theory seems to apply more. Religion is a great part of why cohesion and peace exist. There are norms that are instilled in us through religion that help us interact with each other and coexist peacefully. I also disagree with the conflict theory that they help the poor get comfortable with the social class they are in as one of religious teachings is hard work. Although religious functions advocate for respect of leaders it also points out how the leaders should lead their people. A society that uses religion as their cornerstone will find that it provides a settling sense in the society.


Basirico, L. A., Cashion, B. G., & Eshleman, J. R. (2012). Introduction to sociology. BVT Publishing.

Furseth, I., and Pål, R. (2017) An introduction to the sociology of religion: Classical and contemporary perspectives. Routledge.

Goldstein, Warren S. (2012). “Sociological Theory of Religion.” Religion Compass 6.7: 347-353.

Hamilton, M. B. (2001). The sociology of religion: Theoretical and comparative perspectives. Psychology Press.

Pickering, R. B. (2009). Durkheim’s sociology of religion: Themes and theories. James Clarke & Co. Ltd.