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Sociology and Religion

Learn why professionals are studying sociology and religion

sociology religion

Where we came from, why we’re here, what’s right and wrong, or what happens when we die are questions that all religions attempt to answer. There are hundreds of religions that have given mankind the answers to these questions for thousands of years. Because religion plays such a huge part in society, sociologists will continue to study it.

First and foremost, the sociological study of religion is not an attempt to find validity in any form of religion. Instead, sociologists study religion’s place in society and how individuals are affected by it. The study of religion in sociology focuses on the actions people take in expression of their religion, because actions, not thoughts, are social.

Why Sociology of Religion is Important

Today, the study of religion in society has taken on a new importance as the clash of religions and cultures leads to violence and stereotyping in the US and the world.

In the U.S., Muslims have been facing growing and sometimes violent discrimination since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It has been the job of some sociologists studying religion to investigate why and how this discrimination exists. Often times when studying discrimination, we find that the basis for the pervasive hatred is false. In the U.S., much of the less educated population believes that Muslim culture breeds loathing for America’s citizens. However, recent sociological research has found the opposite; since 9/11, a very small number of American-Muslims have become violent extremists.

In the article Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans (Schanzer, Kurzman, Moosa, 2010), the authors discuss how their research led to the conclusion that Muslims in America have developed a wide range of practices aimed at reducing radicalism within the Muslim-American culture. Muslim-Americans can often be found openly denouncing terrorism and violence, self-policing their communities (including reporting radicals to police and promoting mainstream ideas through strong social networks and education), decreasing social isolation through community building efforts, and some are even becoming politically active through the development of advocacy organizations. This last practice has been showing Muslims in America and around the globe that America, in spite of our less educated, bias populations, is still fertile ground for the growth of religious toleration.

Sociology

Information gleaned from quality studies, similar to the one mentioned above, are often passed on to other organizations or government entities and can be used to create better policy or to help guide upcoming advocacy groups. As a professional focused on the sociology of religion, your work could be used as a key component of encouraging change within our society.

The sociology of religion can also be used to help social change within a religion itself. In Negotiating a Religious Identity: The Case of the Gay Evangelical, Scott Thumma (Professor, Sociology of Religion at Hartford Institute for Religion Research) uses case studies to investigate the stigma of homosexuality in Christianity.

Through his research, Dr. Thumma exhumed information leading to the conclusion that individuals and groups had used various techniques of socialization to “include a positive valuation of homosexuality”. Through advocacy groups, community awareness, and sheer numbers, homosexuality has lost much of its stigma as a shunned practice within the walls of Christianity.

As a professional in the field of religious sociology, you may be in a similar position as Dr. Thumma, aggregating various studies and extracting a better understanding of methods that help to change our world and the incorporation of religion in a peaceful and accepting way.

Careers in the Sociology of Religion

As a sociologist studying religion, you can use your knowledge and skills to help various communities of differing faiths understand and cohabitate with one another. If you choose to do this independently, you can get grants for your research from the government, universities, or special interest groups. This kind of research leads to the articles and books that are used in schools and journals and can have an important social impact. If you decide to take another route within the sociology of religion, there are several options available to you, including:

  • Journalism
  • Religious professions
  • International business
  • Diplomacy
  • Social service

A Famous Religious Sociologist Who Made Waves

Émile Durkheim is considered, along with Karl Marx and Max Weber, to be one of the founders of social science. One of his principal works in sociology, Suicide focuses on the sociology of religion.

In Durkheim’s study of suicide, he looked at many factors including education level, military status, and marital status to compare rates of suicide. One of the factors that he considered was religion, and he found that Protestants had higher suicide rates than Catholics and Jews. This fit nicely into his notion that religion acts as a social cohesive that gives individuals a sense of community and meaning. According to Durkheim, suicide rates are most influenced by how attached an individual feels to his society and the external restraints individuals have on their lives.

Durkheim determined that while Protestants do experience the inclusion and restraints that religion provides, the more strict practices of Judaism and Catholicism provide these to a higher degree. Although he also warns against too much integration and restriction leading to suicide, seemingly Judaism and Catholicism seem to have a good balance that keeps suicide rates relatively low.

If you are interested in becoming a sociologist of religion or social scientist, request information from schools offering degree programs in psychology or sociology.

Sociology Schools & Colleges
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Brandman University , Santa Maria
  • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
  • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
  • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
  • Has a network of 26 campuses.

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  • Provides an exclusive Ashford Mobile app to keep students connected to the online classroom on the go.
  • Offers a business program in partnership and collaboration with Forbes magazine.
  • Offers several credit transfer and previous experience options for students who qualify.
  • Dedicated to fostering intellectual and personal growth since 1918.
  • Offers associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in business, health, education, and more.
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Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose. Our 20,000 alumni, from more than 110 countries, are changing the world as accomplished professionals. Named a top-15 school nationally for online bachelor's programs (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), Regent is among the most affordable undergraduate Christian colleges (CCCU 2015). Fully accredited, challenging programs are available online and on campus. New classes begin every eight weeks.

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University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
  • Provides career services that help students find careers that match their interests and map out a personalized career plan.
  • Offers mentorships and networking opportunities through an Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
  • Has flexible start dates and class schedules.
  • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
  • Gives students the chance to earn credits for applicable military training and education.
  • Locations nationwide and online options.
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  • Ranked among top Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
  • Ranked 37th among the Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
  • Stands as the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation with 100,000+ students.
  • Offers over 230 programs online, from the certificate to the doctoral level.
  • Has a student-faculty ratio of 25:1, and 42.3% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
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  • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School by Victory Media, publishers of G.I. Jobs®.
  • Each program is designed to instill the knowledge, ethical values, and interpersonal skills of professional practice and to foster values of social responsibility.
  • Offers several flexible learning options, including a blended format that combines campus and online learning.
  • Several scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify.
  • Features a competency-based MBA program that allows students to test out of subjects based on prior professional experience.
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  •  Ranked one of the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  •  Offers a no-obligation, 3-week trial period where students may determine if the university is right for them before they commit to it.
  •  Strives to be a student’s partner in lifelong learning; committed to helping them achieve their goals.
  •  Serves students of all ages, from first-graders learning to read to professionals seeking postgraduate training.
  •  Provides career-oriented diploma through master’s programs in fields such as healthcare, business, legal and paralegal services, information technology, criminal justice and design.
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Brenau University , Jacksonville

• Ranked among the 2015 Best Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
• Ranked among the 2015 Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News & World Report.
• Challenging students to live extraordinary lives of personal and professional fulfillment since 1878.
• Offers programs in business, communication, education, humanities, fine arts, health sciences, and graduate studies.
• Provides on-campus housing options and study abroad programs for students.
• Campus features several academic centers for students, including The Writing Center and the Study Place for Achievement (SPA).

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Point University , Online (campus option available)

Founded in 1937, Point University is a private, four-year liberal arts institution that educates students to influence culture for Christ in all spheres of life.

The University provides a broad, comprehensive curriculum designed to prepare students for their chosen professions. We are equipping the next generation to take their faith into the marketplace in new and culturally relevant ways – to erase the lines between who they are and what they do so that they see life and mission as one and the same.

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Keiser University Campus , Fort Lauderdale
  • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
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