SO328 Sociology of Religion

for F1T 2010

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SO 328 Sociology of Religion


F1T 2010 DL


Seymour, Patricia N.


Adjunct Faculty


B.S. Social Sciences with an empasis in Psychology
M.A. Marriage & Family Counseling
Ph.D. Counseling Psychology

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Religion in the Contemporary World, 2nd Edition
Alan Aldridge
Polity Press, Malden, Massachusettes, 2007
ISBN: 9780745634043
Gods in the Global Village, 2nd Edition
Lester Kurtz
Pine Forge Press, July 2006
ISBN: 9781412927154

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Course Description:
SO 328 Sociology of Religion: Sociological analysis of religious organizations, movements, and experiences with an emphasis on historical and cross-cultural comparisons. The course surveys both large-scale religious trends, and demographic patterns and the social and cultural dimensions of individual religious feelings organizations, religious socialization, religious conflict, relations with other institutions, the world wide rise of fundamentalism; and the future of religion. 3:0:3

Educational Philosophy:
I believe learning is an interactive process that includes lecture, reading, application, and dialogue. I see my role in this learning process primarily as a facilitator. My goal is to facilitate your learning. To accomplish this goal I will provide required readings, relevant lectures to highlight core learning objectives, discussion questions to guide interaction, and writing assignments to provide the opportunities to demonstrate application of the core learning outcomes.

In this class we will learn from one another as we share our life experiences and perspectives through interaction with one another and interaction with the readings. I expect to learn a great deal from your life experiences, and I expect you will learn a great deal from the life experiences of one another.

Learning in this course will largely be determined by your level of involvement in the class. I will read the discussion threads regularly and respond. My responses will generally be to the class rather than to individual posts.

I have also provided practice exercises. These are intended to be enjoyable, not create a lot of stress, and give you the opportunity to apply the readings and discussion. In this course we will also learn from one another through writing assignments and course projects involving practical experience with faith groups outside one's own experience.

Class Assessment:


Respond to weekly discussion threads. At least five posts are required for full points. Five posts includes at least 1 original post and at least one response to another student’s post. The first post should be entered by Wednesday midnight. For more details see “Participation” under Course Home.  30 points x 8 weeks = 240 points

Assessment Papers

         Demonstrate application of sociological concepts each week for the first six weeks. Each paper is 1-2 pages. 60 points x 6 weeks = 360 points

Core Learning Assessment

 Approximately 3000 word (10 page) paper analyzing a religious community other than your own. This project will require attendance at a religious service distinct from your own faith practice, interviewing members and clerics from that faith community, studying their own faith literature, and responding sociologically to that material. Reflect on how the faith community interacts with society and what sociological functions the community serves for its members and for the larger community. Consider hierarchy, socio-economic, and demographics of the faith community. Assess the faith community from subjective, dramaturgical, institutional, and structural perspectives. Is the faith group world affirming, world accommodating, or world rejecting?  The paper is due at the end of week 7. The Core Learning Assessment = 200 points.

 Final exam: 50 question multiple choice test = 200 points.


Participation/Weekly discussions -- 30 points per week x 8 weeks = 240 points
Weekly Assessment Papers -- 60 points x 6 assignments = 360 points

Core Learning Assessment -- 200 points

Final Exam -- 200 points


A = 900-1000    90%-100%

B = 800-899      80%-89%

C = 700-799      70%-79%

D = 600-699      60%-69%

F = <600           <60%    

Late Submission of Course Materials:

In accordance with University policy. Late work is not accepted without prior arrangements being made with the instructor.

Classroom Rules of Conduct:
Please see University policy and follow appropriate netiquette practice. Additionally, as this is a course about the sociology of religion it is essential that respect be shown for different religious perspectives. Derogatory or defamatory remarks about other's faiths cannot and will not be tolerated. To facilitate learning about the sociology of religion it is important to be able to share and discuss various faith systems in an environment that allows for the free expression of religious beliefs and opinions.

Course Topic/Dates/Assignments:

Week 1 – The Challenge of Diversity

                 Defining Religion


1.       Kurtz, chapter 1 – Religious Life in the Global Village

    1. Aldridge, chapter 1 & 2 – Religions and the Challenge of Diversity


After reading chapter 2 in Aldridge, choose a definition of religion from a dictionary, internet, or other source and respond to the definition in a 1-2 page paper. The definition may be serious or humorous. Support your opinion of the definition of religion from your own experiences and from the readings and lecture. Consider whether the definition is inclusive or exclusive. 60 points


1)      Recognize and identify the role your faith group has historically had in society. Understand and explain how your faith has interacted with society. Consider concepts from the reading including world affirming, world rejecting, and world accommodating? Identify where your faith group would be categorized now and at various times in history. What role has your faith played in social conflicts?

2)       Kurtz discusses religious life in the global village. Provide examples of how your faith has responded to the diversity in the religious marketplace. Share examples from your own life of how you have been impacted by the religious marketplace. Identify specific social changes (e.g. immigration, homosexual issues etc.)your faith group has dealt with and how that has changed your faith group.

By the end of this section you should be able to demonstrate the following:

1)      understand the challenge of defining religion

2)      provide a personal definition of religion

3)      explain the follow concepts: diversity, religious marketplace, sacred canopy, elective affinity

4)      apply dramaturgical, structural, institutional, and subjective approaches to studying faith

Week 2 -- Sociological Tour of Religions: Eastern Faiths

     Categories of Religions, Church-Cult Continuum


    1. Kurtz, chapter 2 – A Sociological Tour: Turning East
    2. Aldridge, chapter 3 – Varieties of Religious Movements


Observe a worship service of a religious organization other than your own and write a one to two page sociological assessment. Consider the socio-economics and demographics of the religious organization. Reflect on the beliefs, structure, hierarchy and organization of the religious organization. Discuss how the religious organization is world affirming, world rejecting or world accommodating. How might one categorize the religious organization? Where might one place the religious organization along the church-cult continuum and why? 1-2 pages. 60 points.


This is the first of two observations of a religious organization. One of the two may be the basis for the Core Assessment due week 7.


1)      Discuss your experiences with Eastern Faiths. Do NOT include Islam because we will be looking at Islam next week. Consider faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Taoism, etc. Understand how your experiences with these faiths have been influenced by Western culture.

2)      Understand the categories of “church”, “cult”, “sect”, and “denomination.” Apply these categories to your faith group. Accept that others may apply these categories differently.

Week 3 -- Sociological Tour of Religion: Western Faiths

     Rise of Fundamentalism


    1. Kurtz, chapter 3 – The Tour: Judaism, Christianity, Islam
    2. Aldridge, chapter 6 – Fundamentalism


Analyze a news report about a faith issue. Find the topic from multiple news sources (e.g. multiple news organizations – CNN and CNN online are considered same organization) and critique the religious issues raised. Consider why that particular faith issue is in the news. How does that issue relate to the challenges of diversity? How does the issue relate to concepts of the sacred canopy, religious marketplace, or elective affinity? What groups does that particular faith issue resonate with? Does it relate to the rise of fundamentalism? Present your conclusions and sociological assessment in a 1-2 page paper. 60 points.


1)      Define fundamentalism and identify examples of the rise of fundamentalism in your community, and in your faith group. If you seen fundamentalism increase within your faith group, then explain how your faith group has encountered and responded to fundamentalist movements in society.

2)      Discuss your experiences with Western Faiths including Islam. Consider Christianity including New Religious Movements that have their roots within Christianity. Discuss Kurtz’ comparison of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and assess how this compares or contrasts with your experiences of these faiths.  

Week 4 -- Civil Religion, Religion and politics, Religious ethos 


    1. Kurtz, chapter 4 – The Religious Ethos
    2. Aldridge, chapter 7 – Civil Religion and Political Ritual


Observe a worship service of a religious organization other than your own and write a one to two page sociological assessment. Consider the socio-economics and demographics of the religious organization. Reflect on the beliefs, structure, hierarchy and organization of the religious organization. Discuss how the religious organization is world affirming, world rejecting or world accommodating. How might one categorize the religious organization? Where might one place the religious organization along the church-cult continuum and why? 1-2 pages. 60 points.


This is the second of two observations of a religious organization. One of the two may be the basis for the Core Assessment due week 7. Having completed this assignment, now would be a good time to begin work on the Core Assessment.  


1)      Demonstrate comprehension of the concept of “civil religion” by providing contemporary examples, and explaining how those examples support or disagree with Aldridge’s discussion of civil religion and the religious ethos.

2)      Provide illustrations of political ritual, and the influence religion and politics have had on each other. Identify the interactions of religious ethos and politics that you have seen. What has been the impact of these interactions? How might one understand the sociology of these interactions between social ethos and the religious ethos.

Week 5 -- Modernism, Multiculturalism, Secularism


    1. Kurtz, chapter 5 – Modernism and Multiculturalism
    2. Aldridge, chapter 4 & 5 – Secularization


Having looked at other faith systems and news stories and critiqued them sociologically, it is time to apply those same tools to assessing your faith. Write a one to two page analysis of how your religious faith system or background, and how your personal belief system, is responding to the challenges of modernism, multiculturalism, and secularization. Project those current responses into the near future and explain possible outcomes in society, and in your faith group and/or for your personal faith. Support your answer with specific examples from your own life, and/or official standings from your faith group. Discuss how the rise of fundamentalism has impacted your faith group. Discuss how other contemporary events; e.g. homosexual issues, politics, abortion, immigration etc, are impacting or being responded to by your religious faith system. Where might your faith group be categorized along the world affirming, world accommodating, world rejecting continuum and why? One to two pages. 60 points


1)      Identify examples of how modernism and multiculturalism have impacted your faith group. Provide specific examples of a modern challenge and the way your faith group has responded. Consider structural, dramaturgical, institutional, and subjective responses to modernism and multiculturalism.

2)      Identify examples of secularization and its impact on your faith group. Apply Auguste Comte’s law of three stages to your religious faith group. Do you agree with Comte? Why or why not, and what is the application for your faith?  

Week 6 -- New Religious Movements, Religious identity and meaning


    1. Kurtz, chapter 6 – Religious Movements for a New Century
    2. Aldridge, chapter 9 – Religious Identity and Meaning in a Consumer Society


This week we continue using the skills we have learned to study religion. Having critiqued your own faith system last week we get to consider the religious identity, meaning, and impact your faith system has on community. Bring together the points you made last week as you consider the history of and current identity of your faith system. Possible points to consider include – at different points in history where has your faith been considered along the cult-church continuum? How has your religious organization contributed to social conflict or social stability? What are the dynamics of your religious organization or faith movement? What are the effects of your faith group on social policies and the larger society? Analyze your faith group from institutional, structural, dramaturgical, and subjective approaches. When and where has your faith group been considered a New Religious Movement? When and how did it move beyond that category? 1-2 pages, 60 points


1)       Discuss emerging issues concerning gender, sexual orientation, and consumerism as they impact religious identity in contemporary culture. What have been the social functions and/or dysfunctions relating to these emerging issues?

2)      Respond to arguments for and against a distinction between spirituality and religion. Is there a difference? Quantitatively and qualitatively what is that difference from a sociological perspective?

Week 7 -- Religion and Conflict

Reading: Kurtz, chapter 7 – Religion and Social Conflict


Core Learning Assessment - Approximately 3000 word (10 pages) paper analyzing a religious community apart from your own. This project will require attendance at a religious service distinct from your own faith practice, interviewing members and clerics from that faith community, studying their own faith literature, and responding sociologically to that material. Establish how the community interacts with society and what sociological functions the community serves for its members and for the larger community. Consider socio-economic, cultural, demographic issues. Analyze the religious community from institutional, dramaturgical, structural and subjective perspectives. How does this analysis agree with or dispute the claims of their literature or the claims of outsiders about the religious community? Is the religious community world affirming, world accommodating, or world rejecting? In what ways? How is the religious community addressing the challenges of modernity, multiculturalism, and secularism? How has the rise of fundamentalism effected the religious community? What is the interplay between the religious community and the larger community? How does the community deal with the religious marketplace? What does their sacred canopy look like or how does it meet the needs of members? Approximately 10 pages. 200 points. For more information see the grading rubric.


1)      Demonstrate your grasp on sociological terms and methods of studying religions by analyzing the role religion has played in social conflict. Cite examples of religion furthering conflicts as well as examples of religion being on the side of solving conflict. How has religion been used to promote peace and used to promote conflict. Since it is probably easier to see the role of religion in promoting conflict find specific examples of religion assuaging conflict and building community.

2)      Demonstrate your successful study of your religion through sharing what you learned about the sociology of the religious group you studied.

Week 8 -- State and Religion

Reading: Aldridge, chapter 8 – Brainwashing, Consumer Protection and the State


1)      Describe the role the state has played in providing consumer protection in the area of religion. Support your description with specific examples.

2)      Apply your learning of sociology of religion in the discussion of brainwashing, consumer protection and the role and responsibility of the state.

3)      Seek additional information from classmates in preparation for the celebration of knowledge (final exam) this week.

Final Exam: 200 points

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Last Updated:7/30/2010 1:23:50 PM