Religion and Society

1. What are some of the issues raised when taking a substantive rather than a functional viewpoint of religion? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? Use an example from the Gypsies to illustrate these strengths and weaknesses.

Functional approach states what a religion does, as put forward by Durkheim who states that religion unites its followers. The definition tackles what religion accomplishes or its socio-psychological and structural functions such as the ultimate meaning, desire to understand the unknown and tackling issues of human existence. Definitions are inclusive and encompass extensive phenomenon in a given concept thereby, involving other aspects that achieves this function even when they are not regarded as religion. Defining religion as a facilitator of social cohesion and unity then assumes that anything, which achieves this is religion. This is a deliberate inclusion since nationalism and communism ideologies have integrative role yet they are anti-religious.

The functional definitions prejudges the role of religion in a culture and society as an empirical question of  integration of society and enhancement of social stability since its implication could just be the opposite in that religion could also lead to social conflicts and instability. The functional definitions are therefore, bias as they prejudge empirical questions that need to be handled through practical enquiry (Chapter1 19, 20).functional definitions assumes that a given society possesses functional requisites in that it needs particular social functions that can only be accomplished by religion e.g. cultural integration (Swatos & Kivisto 130). In this case, The Gypsies are in fact a religion since they identify themselves with their culture, customs e.g. familia, language and dressings. In any case, these aspects can then be regarded as religion according to these definitions since they cause cultural integration.

Substantive definitions examine what religion is. It is better when its implication neglects the nature of religious entities as in Horton who defines religion with specification of the sought of interaction that believers possess with the ‘realm of the religious’ (Ch.1 18). defining religion based on terms or concepts that are particular to a given culture as well as the risks of ethnocentricism is inappropriate. However the definition disregards magical practices and therefore, appropriate for sociologists who belief that magic and religion are not similar and there should be a distinction between them. However, for others religion and magic are intricate and the definition of religion should include an aspect of magic.

Substantive definitions are more specific and explicit regarding the religious content as compared to the functional definitions (Swatos & Kivisto 130). They are narrower and one can point out if a given phenomenon is in fact religion or not and the definitions are applicable when studying religion in societies that  are stable and ones that have less issues concerning social change or cross cultural contacts. Theses definitions are culturally as well as historically attached and this poses a problem hence, with reference to Gypsies, they are narrow. According to these definitions, Gypsies cannot be considered as a religion since they have no uniform attachment to the ‘realm of religious’ but rather, they adopt other dominant religions in the host nation.
2. If it is difficult for sociologists to agree on how to define or study religion, what is the point of having sociology of religion? Draw upon both Hamilton and your own viewpoint in your answer.

Sociologists agree that there are as many similarities in religions as there are differences. They are faced with the questions regarding the existence of bizarre beliefs and practices that makes religion so diverse. The chief questions addressed by sociologists include the reason as to why religion is an integral part of culture and society. The second question is why religion has adopted diverse forms. The significance and role of religion is highly questionable particularly in trying to understand the beliefs and practices of a given set of people particularly in the modern scientific world (Ch.1 1-3). According to Horton, religious situations involve practices and acts directed to a given thing that give a response purposely, emotionally and intellectually and referred to justify human action. He looks at religion as “extension of the field of people’s social relationships beyond the confines of purely human society….where human beings involved see themselves in a dependent position vis- a –vis their non-human alters-a qualification necessary to exclude pets from the pantheon of gods” (Ch.1 18). Horton defines religion with specification of the sought of interaction that believers posses with the ‘realm of the religious’ (Ch.1 18). Defining religion based on terms or concepts that are particular to a given culture as well as the risks of ethnocentricism is inappropriate.

In my opinion, religion is a very powerful phenomenon in any society and has influenced a number of socio-political and economic aspects in the society. Religion plays a very significant role in social life. As a result, sociology of religion as a discipline is important for the chief reason that religion is very significant to many people and the practices shape their lives, actions and even experiences. Therefore, sociologists pursue to investigate the meaning of religion to the people concerned. Besides, it is difficult to understand a given community without understanding their religious beliefs. Some aspects of the society interact with those of religion and sociologists tries to understand a society by investigating religion and its effect on that particular society. Modern science however, has imposed a great impact on religion but that has not rendered it irrelevant in a society since it has been able to sustain significant bureaucratic institutions. Most importantly, it is looked upon for motivation and justification of good and evil. Therefore, sociology of religion enables an individual to understand diversity of religion, its impact on culture and the cultural impact of culture on religion in a given society.
3 Explain how Hamilton distinguishes between religion, faith, and morality and give an example of each. Do you personally agree with these distinctions? Why or why not? Use examples from one or more religions to defend your answer.

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