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Religion and Society

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Chapter 18 - Religion

Religion and Society

-Some form of religious belief exists all over the world.

-Sociologists do not debate religious doctrine.

-Sociologists do study the social functions and pitfalls of religion.

Religion Defined

Religion- a unified system of beliefs and practices regarding sacred things that unites its adherents into a single moral community.

-This is a functionalist definition provided by Durkheim.

Beliefs- regarding sacred things.

Practices- rituals and behaviors designed to demonstrate beliefs.

Sacred things- unwordly things inspiring awe, reverence, deep respect, or fear.

Single moral community- any group of people sharing religious beliefs and practices; any ?church.?

3 Categories of Religion

-Each category is defined by how the ?sacred things? are identified.

1.Theism - one or more supernatural beings.

-Monotheism (one God)

?Christianity, Islam, Judaism

-Polytheism (more than one God)


2. Ethicalism - moral principles

-Not supernatural.

-The principles guide righteous living.

-Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism

3. Animism - spirits capable of helping or harming people.

-Not necessarily Gods.

-Spirits can be placated and manipulated.


Ethicalism: Buddhism

-The Four Noble Truths:

1. Life is suffering; Suffering exists.

2. Suffering is caused by attachments to titles and objects.

3. Suffering ceases when desire ceases.

4. Follow the Eightfold path.

The Eightfold Path:

1. Right belief. 5. Right occupation or living

2. Right resolve 6. Right effort

3. Right speech 7. Right-mindedness

4. Right conduct 8. Right ecstasy

How does one know ?right? from ?wrong??

-Accurate and honest perceptions.

-Our perceptions are clouded by suffering, desire, and karma.

To clear up our perceptions, we must work toward:

--citti vritti nrodha

-?Stopping mental disturbances?

Animism: Shamanism

-Shamans serve dual functions:

1. Religious leaders

2. Physicians

-The power of symbols

-Symbols have far more power in animistic religions.

-They do not simply represent, they embody.

-Shamans form relationships and practices that allow them to symbolically leave the everyday world.

-They enter spirit realms in order to procure services, guidance, and healing from spirits.

-The initiation rites:

-3 parts to become initiated:

1. Inherited shamanistic powers.

2. Receiving ?the calling.?

3. Conscious decision.

-The goal is to remove the initiate from everyday senses.

-Drive their spirit toward the spirit worlds.

-Sleep deprivation, fasting, hallucinogens, meditations, chanting/rhythm, beating, symbolic taboos, etc.

-The initiate?s spirit is driven to the Lower Realm, the Spirit Realm

-They have tasks to complete there.

-In the process, they are symbolically maimed, disfigured, and/or mutilated.

-The initiates complete their tasks and reassemble their selves.

-This also symbolizes a ?rebirth? in the realm of spirits.

-They now know the way to the Lower Realm, and have a ?travel visa.?

-The initiate now travels to the Upper Realm, via the World Tree.

-They undergo another transformation where their spirit incorporates extra characteristics.

-Usually bird characteristics, but can be other nature spirits.

-Upon completion of the transformation the Upper Realm, the initiate returns to Middle Realm.

-Now additional learning takes place to better serve the community.

Functions and Dysfunctions of Religion

1. The Supportive Function

-Function: consolation, relief from anxiety and fear, comforting



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