Monday, March 19, 2012

The Sociological Study of Religion

     Religion has been part and parcel of almost all the cultures. This hold of religion in almost all aspects of an individual and a social life has stuck sociologists. As usual there have been many different approaches towards the study of religion. One of the first studies of religion in sociology was by Emile Durkheim. He studied the aborigines of Australia who practised totemism. He believed that totemism was the most primitive form of all religions. He made this assumption viewing that totemism is purely independent of any other form of belief. He said that by studying the primitive religion we will be able to find the reason for the existence of religion (in sociological sense). In his work “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” he does not study much about the present day religions. This is just one way in which religions were studied by sociologists.

     I, in this article would just highlight the important conditions in my view to be followed by a sociologist in his or her study of religion. A sociologist’s work is not to argue the presence or absence of god (the so called unseen supernatural power).It would be more appropriate if sociologists stop to study religion based on their beliefs or preconceived notion so that their work would not become futile. Religion had turned into something that is an integral part of all societies and in recent past has started to lose its earlier sort of dominance over all aspects of society (secularisation). A sociologist should remember that he or she is not a theologian but a sociologist. “Has religion been the binding force of the people” was the question that drove throughout Durkheim in his study. Such has to be the goal of a sociologist while trying to learn sociology of religion. He or she must try to study the reasons, effects and consequences of religious beliefs, practices and rituals. To be more precise a sociologist should alienate himself from his belief. As in any research work, he got to make sure that all his claims are supported by evidence. Durkheim once said “religion is thee projection of the society”. Such are the statements that are supposed to come from a sociological study.  I write this article as a tribute to those who think sociology of religion is equivalent to study of religion itself. This article is not intended at anyone.