Religion Web Work


In this chapter you learned about the sociological meaning and functions of religion. In Western societies most people practice religion through some organizational structure, which is why the nature of religious organizations is an important component of the sociological study of religion. In this activity you will take a closer look at religious organizations.


  1. Start at the Hartford Institute for Religious Research Web site ""
  2. Click on and read About the Field.
  3. In the menu on the left of the screen, scroll your mouse over Organizations. In the menu that appears, click on Study of Religious Orgs.
  4. Click on Studies of Congregations. From there, click on National Congregations Study. Click on and read the Page of Additional Information about the NCS.
  5. Scroll your mouse over Research Areas in the menu on the left of the screen. Click on Church Growth/Decline. Then click on Articles. Read the article titled "Mainline Churches: The Real Reason for Decline."
  6. Use what you have learned to answer the following questions.


  1. What aspects of religion do sociologists of religion study?
  2. What role do social scientists who study religion today have for society?
  3. According to the NCS, what are two differences between more recently founded congregations and older congregations? Why do you think this is so?
  4. According to Johnson's article, why have so many young people departed mainline churches?
  5. In the menu at the top left of the screen, scroll over Organizations and then click on Denominations. Click on the Links to denominational homepages. In the list that appears, choose a congregation to research and learn more about. Create a five-minute speech to present to your class to teach them about the congregation you researched.

Student Web Activity Answers

  1. Sociologists of religion study every aspect of religion, from what is believed to how people act while in worship and while living out their stated convictions. They study the changing role of religion both in the public arena (political, economic, and media) and in intimate interpersonal relationships; global religious pluralism and conflict; the nature of religious cults and sects; the influence of religion on racial, gender, and sexuality issues; and the effect of the media and modern culture on religious practices.
  2. They help journalists and the general public make sense of the rise of religious themes and influences in television, political conflicts, personal issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and in highly publicized "cultic" tragedies. Sociology of religion has much to teach about how religion functions for the individual and in society.
  3. More recently founded congregations have more informal and enthusiastic worship, and more recently founded congregations are less likely to engage in activities that build bridges between congregations and communities outside the congregation. Students' explanations will vary.
  4. One reason for the decline is the shift toward greater individual autonomy and freedom from institutional restraints that began in the mid-1960s. This shift, which found its most flamboyant expression in the counterculture, was spearheaded by young white people from middle-class families, a large number of which were affiliated with mainline Protestant churches. Another reason is the fact that middle-class people born since World War II are far more likely than their predecessors to have earned higher degrees, possibly absorbing in the process the agnosticism of modern academia.
  5. Students' speeches will vary.