Sociological Perspectives on Religion


Religion is a complex concept, so it is not surprising that sociologists have taken a variety of approaches to it. One common strategy is formal, wherein one seeks a structure that resembles known cases. For example, Zeldin (1969) argues that the pattern of decline and restoration found in world religions fits into a narrative framework. Similarly, Lemert (1975) and Blasi (1980) use the structure of related discontinuity between an empirical, mundane order and a superempirical, cosmic-level order to define religion.

More recent trends in the social study of religion emphasize the importance of context and culture. For example, interpretivist sociologists suggest that it is important to study how a religious phenomenon gets labeled as such and who has the power to designate what is or is not a religion. They also argue that it is not productive to attempt to develop a single, undisputed definition of religion.

Sociologists are interested in the functions that religions serve, how they can reinforce and perpetuate inequality, and the role they play in our daily lives. In this article, we will briefly explore two major types of sociological perspectives on Religion: the conflict perspective and the symbolic interactionist perspective.