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.
Start at the Hartford Institute for Religious
Research Web site "http://hirr.hartsem.edu/sociology/sociology.html"
Click on and read About the Field.
In the menu on the left of the screen, scroll
your mouse over Organizations. In the menu that appears, click on
of Religious Orgs.
Click on Studies of Congregations.
From there, click on National Congregations Study. Click on and
read the Page of Additional Information about the NCS.
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."
Use what you have learned to answer the following
What aspects of religion do sociologists of
What role do social scientists who study religion
today have for society?
According to the NCS, what are two differences
between more recently founded congregations and older congregations? Why
do you think this is so?
According to Johnson's article, why have so
many young people departed mainline churches?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Students' speeches will vary.