sociology of religion
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sociology of religionthe branch of sociology which deals with religious phenomena (see also RELIGION). Historically, the sociological analysis of religion was central in the analysis of most of the leading classical sociologists, notably WEBER and DURKHEIM. The ideas of these two theorists still constitute the core of the sociology of religion. Durkheim's work was concerned with the role of religion as a functional universal contributing to the integration of society. This remains the foundation of the FUNCTIONALIST THEORY OF RELIGION. Weber's concern was with the comparative analysis of the varying forms of religious belief and religious organizations, and the implications of these for the development of rationality and for social change (see PROTESTANT ETHIC, ASCETICISM, CONFUCIANISM, JUDAISM, CHURCH-SECT TYPOLOGY, THEODICY, PROPHECY). Prior to the work of Weber and Durkheim, the sociology of religion had viewed religion simply as ‘error’ (as for COMTE, or for MARX, e.g. the latter's conception of religion as the ‘opiate of the masses’), or it had speculated about the origins of religion and the stages of its evolutionary development (see TYLOR, SPENCER).
More recently, the sociology of religion has concentrated its attention on the process of SECULARIZATION occurring in Western societies. There have also been many studies of religious organizations (e.g. B.Wilson, 1967), especially ‘fringe’ religions and CULTS and SECTS (e.g. Scientology or the Moonies). In SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY, in HISTORICAL SOCIOLOGY, and in the study of contemporary non-European societies, comparative study of religion as a major social institution continues to occupy a central place in sociological analysis. See also CIVIL RELIGION, HINDUISM, ISLAM, BUDDHISM, CASTE.