Sociological theories of religion


Religion is classified as either superficial or strong in sociology. It is something beyond our comprehension. Thus, social scientists have attempted to understand the relationship between religion and society. There are several sociological theories of religion, but the three great thinkers of sociology have had the most effect.

Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx are their names. Notably, none of them was fond of religion, but they were fascinated by religion's power over individuals and society. Their ideas all agreed that religion is mostly an illusion, and they predicted that its attractiveness and power would wane over time.

Durkheim and functionalism

  • In his academic career, Emile Durkheim spent a lot of time investigating religion. He was mostly interested in tiny communities. Durkheim regarded religion within the framework of society and acknowledged its significance in shaping the members' beliefs and behaviour He noticed that individuals typically distinguish between sacred religious symbols, ceremonies, and items and profane ordinary objects.

  • The difference between sacred and profane items is that the former was thought to have divine characteristics. When we look at mature societies, we observe that people may not think that things have any unique power, but they nevertheless respect and admire sacred objects.

  • Durkheim believed that religion involves more than simply belief; it is also about regular rituals and rites. Rituals bring members of a religious organization together and enable them to escape the mundane parts of everyday life into higher levels of experience.

  • We cannot examine sociological ideas of religion without including Durkheim, who felt that religion contributes to the health and survival of society. He also prophesied that religion's impact would diminish as our culture modernized and included scientific thought.

  • As a result, he believed that civic religion, which includes civic festivities, parades, and so on, would be pushed instead of conventional religion.

Weber and social change

  • Although Durkheim's research and conclusions were confined to a few cases, he argued that the theory was relevant to religion in general.

  • On the contrary, Max Weber's research was conducted on a vast scale, encompassing faiths from all over the world. As a result, he concentrated on millions of followers of many religions throughout the world, including Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

  • He assessed Christianity's influence on Western culture and philosophy. He wanted to learn about the influence of religion on societal transformation. As a result, he discovered the origins of Capitalism in Protestantism and the inverse in Eastern religions. Hinduism, for example, emphasised attaining divinity and avoiding the prosaic physical world.

  • On the other hand, he considered Christianity to be a religion that claimed to save individuals by subscribing to a specific set of ideas and moral precepts. As a result, he considered that Eastern religions had a passive stance, whereas salvation faiths took a more active one.

Marx: Conflict theory

  • Karl Max was not religious, and he never studied religion in depth. Nonetheless, he has considerable power whenever the subject of sociological views of religion is brought up. He drew his ideas on the subject from nineteenth-century theological and philosophical thinkers such as Ludwig Feuerbach.

  • Feuerbach believed that humans could not grasp society. As a result, they transfer their culturally based practices and values onto independent creatures such as gods, angels, devils, and spirits. So, after realizing that their ideals are projected onto religion, they may achieve them in this world rather than the hereafter.

  • Thus, religion was dubbed the “opium of the masses” by Marx. He argued that religion encourages individuals to accept their lives as they are, regardless of how horrible they are, and to postpone the benefits or joys until the hereafter.

  • As a result, religion prevents social change since it teaches non-resistance to tyranny and diverts people's attention away from the world's injustices. Similarly, He believed that religion served as a sanctuary from the harshness of our daily life and government persecution. He did, however, foresee that conventional religion would eventually go away.


Q1. What are the similarities between sociological theories of religion?

Ans. When researching sociological conceptions of religion, we can find that none of the three traditional sociological theorists, Durkheim, Weber, and Marx, were religious. The influence of religion over people and society, on the other hand, was of interest to all three of them. They believed that religion was an illusion and that its attractiveness and power in the contemporary mind would disappear with time.

Q2. How does religion affect social structure?

Ans. Religion aids in the establishment of moral order in society. It is also in charge of establishing the legitimacy of social hierarchies, cultural borders, and collective objectives. Furthermore, religious organizations provide a framework for understanding the world and guiding individuals' personal and communal behaviours.

Q3. Is religion a cultural concept?

Ans. Many people assume that religion is about individuals since religious views are very personal. The bigger picture, however, reveals that it is also a social institution. Religion is defined by social scientists as an organized and integrated system of beliefs, conventions, and behaviours centred on human basic social needs and values.

Updated on: 17-Mar-2023


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