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RELIGION-INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY

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3.0 MAIN CONTENT

3.1 Definition of Religion

Religion is defined as a set of beliefs, symbols, and practices (for example, rituals), which is based on the idea of the sacred, and which unites believers into a socio-religious community. The sacred is contrasted with the profane because it involves feelings of awe. Sociologists have defined religion by reference to the sacred rather than to a belief in a god or gods, because it makes social comparison possible.

3.2 Elements of Religion

The religious frame work is composed of four basic elements: beliefs, rituals, subjective experiences, and community.

Beliefs Religious beliefs affirm the existence of a divine or supernatural order, define its character and purposes, and explain the role humans play in that order. It is essential for you to know that a belief is a conviction that cannot be proved or disproved by ordinary means. Religious beliefs therefore organise an individual’s perception of the world and serve as a guide for behaviour. For example, animist religions hold that the world is inhabited by spirits with motives and emotions like our own. Although believers do not worship these spirits as gods, they do attempt to influence their behaviour through magic. This animist belief in spirits explains the occurrence of illness or accidents and prescribes a course of action. Similarly, the Christian belief in original sin, Christ and his miracles, and eternal salvation or damnation shapes perceptions and establishes a code of conduct.

Rituals
Religious rituals are formal, stylised enactment of religious beliefs -processions, chants, prayers, sacraments, and the like. Religious rituals differ from other activities in that believers attach a symbolic meaning to them. Religious symbols are concrete embodiments of values, idea, judgments, longings and beliefs.
Subjective Experience The subjective experiences of religion grow out of beliefs and rituals. Beliefs direct people to interpret certain inner states and group experiences as “religious”. Rituals may be used to invoke or recall communication with the supernatural. Religious experiences range from the quiet sense of peace that comes from the belief the one’s life in the hands of a divine power to the intense mystical experiences that inspire terror and awe.
Community Belongings to a community of believers is a central part of religious experience. Shared beliefs, rituals, and subjective experiences heighten group identification.

SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 1

State and explain the elements of religion.

3.3 Religion and Society: Three Views

Three nineteenth and twentieth-century thinkers have provided contrasting views of the relationship between society and religion. In the work of Durkheim, he emphasised the function of religion as a celebration of the society order. In the work of Karl Marx on the other hand, he saw religion as an instrument of oppression used by a ruling class to cover up economic exploitation of the masses. The third think, Max Weber, saw religion as an agent of social change.

SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 2

Describe the relationship between religion and society going by the three views of Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber.

3.4 The Nature of Religions

Religions are not only to be regarded as sets of beliefs and practices, but also social. Sociologists recognize four distinct types of religious organization which include the established church, the sect, the denomination, and the cult. It should be noted that “church” in this context does not refer specifically to a Christian organisation but refer any established religion.

SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 3

What is your understanding of the nature of religious?

3.5 Types of Religions

This can be considered in four distinct types, namely established church, sect, denomination and cult.

Established Church Established church refers to a religious organisation that claims unique legitimacy and has a positive relationship to society. An established church is the official religion of its society. It endorses existing political and economic institutions and is, in turn, endorsed by the state.

The Catholic Church in medieval Europe and the Anglican Church in Elizabethan England are familiar examples. In Japan, the Shinto religion dates from before the fifth century. Its emphasis on the worship of natural phenomena and its belief in Kami, kindly supernatural beings who looked out for people, led to its being made the national religion, reaching its peak in the years just before world war II.

Sect A Sect is a religious organisation that asserts its unique legitimacy but stands apart from society. A sect usually claims to have a monopoly over the route to salvation. Where an established church is seen as entering into society in order to influence it, a sect views society as “too sinful” to influence except from without. Usually, a sect dissociates itself from existing political and economic institutions, and its members may withdraw from “worldly” affairs thereby creating a separate community for its members.

Denomination Generally speaking, denominations are less exclusive than sects, more tolerant of diversity of religious belief more “worldly”, less demanding of their members, more formal in liturgy, and more demanding in professional requirements for religious functionaries. You have to note here that a denomination is usually a religious organisation that has a positive relationship to society. A denomination is also known to accept the legitimacy of other religions.

Most of the major religious groups in Nigeria today include Methodists. Anglican, Catholics, Pentecostal, Baptists, etc. All these are seen as denominations.

Cult A cult is a religious organisation that accepts the legitimacy of other religious but has a negative relationship to society. Like a sect, a cult holds that there is “something wrong” with the way most people in society live. Where sects are often “at war” with society, cults tend to focus on the individuals. They are often more concerned with getting the individual in tune with the supernatural, and with individual peace of mind than with social change. Cults are known to be more tolerant of other religions.

SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 4

Explain the four types of denomination.

4.0 CONCLUSION

Nearly all social scientists would agree that the role of religion plays in society has changed. In traditional societies, religion was seen as an authority in all areas of social life; few activities remained unaffected. During the traditional period, farmers prayed or made offerings to their gods or ancestors before planting crops. Conflicts within and between families or villages were usually acted out in religious rituals.

Today, in modem societies, religion has been one of the many specialised institutions. Farmers go to agricultural experts and the weather Bureau for advice on crops; the sick put their lives in the hands of physicians; conflicts are settled in courts run by legal experts; and so on. With this therefore, religion has been stripped of many of its former functions for authority.

5.0 SUMMARY

In this unit, we have been able to define religion, stating its elements, describing the relationship between society and religion. In the unit also, we have been able to describe the nature of religious and types of religious organisations.

Religion has been described as any set of institutionalised beliefs and practices that deal with the ultimate meaning of life. In religion, certain elements are recognised, these are beliefs, rituals, subjective experience and community. Religious organisations have been categorised into: established church; sect; denomination, and cult.

Therefore, religions are not only to be regarded as sets of beliefs and practices, but also social organisations.

6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT

  1. What do you understand by the concept “religion” State and explain the elements of religion. 
  2.  State and explain the four (4) types of religion. 

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