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Religion Overview

Religion includes any institutionalized system of shared beliefs and rituals that identify a relationship between the sacred and the profane. Sociologists do not evaluate the truth of religious beliefs; instead, they study the ways that religions shape and are shaped by cultural institutions and processes, as well as the ways that religions influence and are influenced by individuals’ behavior.

Religion shapes everyday life by providing morals, values, rules, and norms. Also, religion can give meaning to our lives as well as providing an opportunity to socialize and share in group activities and a collective identity. Among religion’s social dysfunctions are the ways that it can promote inequality and conflict.

Religion in America: Religiosity is the consistent and regular practice of religious beliefs and is gauged in terms of the frequency of attendance at worship services and the importance of religious beliefs to an individual.

Religious Affiliation Trends in the United States

Fundamentalism is a particular way of understanding and interpreting sacred texts that can be part of any denomination or sect. The number of Americans describing themselves as fundamentalists has grown over the past decades because fundamentalism advocates a return to tradition and to unambiguous values and ideologies.

Unchurched spirituality is a nontraditional version of religion in which beliefs are practiced individually and privately rather than in organized group settings.

Separation of church and state is an American principle, but aspects of religion still influence American culture and government. Many federal schedules are organized around Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter without regard for religious holidays of other groups. The authors also question the degree of separation between church and state. Given that the Reverend Billy Graham has advised every president from Eisenhower to George W. Bush, and every president has identified as a Christian, is there really separation of church and state?

Religion Terms and Concepts

Social institutions

for each social institution you should understand the impact of various forms of social stratification (ie class/race/ethnicity/sex/gender, etc) on the life chances related to that institution






liberation theory


extrinsic/intrinsic religiousity




You may receive a message about this being a group assignment when you go to submit. Ignore this – it is not a group assignment.

This chapter discusses religion. You should be able to distinguish between the three perspectives – functionalism, conflict and symbolic interactionism. You may first give your opinion if you wish but this will not be graded. The grade is based on the *application of sociology,* not your opinion.

The question for each boils down to “When should someone’s religious convictions be respected legally?”

Before you start, consider the case of the Pastafarians – should their beliefs be upheld? View this video and look at this article:

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/ipastafaridoc (Links to an external site.)

https://www.spaghettimonster.org/2021/09/vaccine-exemption-letters/ (Links to an external site.)

1. Holidays (time off from school or work?) (which holidays are “legitimate” – who decides what is a legitimate holiday? is there a limit to how many holidays we can recognize? why or why not? think of all three theories)

2. Allowing parents to refuse medical treatment of their children? (some religions are against blood transfusions, vaccines, cancer treatments, etc. When is it okay to allow parents the right to refuse treatment for their children on the basis of religious beliefs of the parents?)

3. Allowing a business owner to deny services to a customer based on the owner’s religious beliefs or the religious beliefs of the customer?

4. Exemption from laws? (should religious beliefs supersede laws? Should some people have the ability to challenge laws based on their belief systems?)

Again, the assignment is not about your personal opinion. Rather you should be able to say something like (and please don’t just copy these prompts!) “Functionalists would say this was important because …..” Or conflict theorists would say “Allowing (or disallowing depending on the situation) this would further serve to maintain the position of those already in power because ….”

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