Sociological Theories on Religion

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For many years, the ideas that were presented by three sociologicalfathers continue to influence people’s view about religion. Thethree sociological fathers include Durkheim, Weber and Marx. Thethree were interested in studying religion that seemed to hold thesociety together. According to the study that was conducted byDurkheim (2012), religion led to social togetherness. For somepeople, the togetherness that is experienced by the community isconsidered as a form of godliness. In the societies, religion issymbolized by music, dance, rituals, storytelling and literatureamong many other forms. The main aim of this paper is to provide anoverview of sociological theories for 19th and 20thcentury in religion according to Emile Durkheim. Durkheim argued thatmodernization would lead to the decrease of religion importance inthe society. The latter part of the paper will explain why theDurkheim’s theory is more relevant to the contemporary practices ofreligions in the western countries using generation X and Y.

Emile Durkheim and Functionalism

Durkheim is one of the functionalism theorists of the 19thcentury. Firstly, it is important to define the term religionaccording to Durkheim. According to his study, religion is an aunified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred thingsthat is to say, things set apart and forbidden-beliefs and practiceswhich unite in one simple moral community called church, all thosewho adhere to it (Durkheim, 2012). From this definition, religion ischaracterized by practices, beliefs among other things. Additionally,religion is viewed as something sacred. According to thefunctionalism theories, the religion is connected to the health andthe wellness of the society. According to functionalists, religion isview as something that does something for the people, the society oreven both.Functionalists also believe that the religioncontributes to the continuity of the society in general. According toDurkheim, the religion works in binding the society together and alsoworked towards affirming their values and beliefs.

Durkheim studied religion in small societies that included toteismand primitive kinship that was found in the Australia. After studyingmany societies, he came up within a book that record most of thefinding about religion. According to Durkheim, religion affected theentire society and in this case, it influenced how people behaved andthought. For example, people used various symbols to show religion.Symbols brought people together. From his book, it is evident thatthere are a couple of reasons that made Durkheim focus his attentionin studying religion. Firstly, he was obsessed about writingsomething about religion before he died. Secondly, he wanted tochallenge some past scholars who had done something about religion.He was also influenced by two theorists that included James Frazarand Roberton Smith. Durkheim noticed that these two works haddeficits. For example, the work by Frazar had not indicated what thereligion origin was. Additionally, his work had also not indicatedhow the religion functioned in the society. The third reason whyDurkheim conducted a study about religion is because he wanted toknow the relationship between science and religion. Science believedthat religion was a transfiguration of the society. He conducted thisstudy to illustrate the relationship between the two.

Durkheim believed that religion was an important element to thesociety even if he never followed any religion. When he read aboutthe past religious beliefs by Robertson Smith, Max Muller amongothers who never believed in religion, Durkheim was provoked to writeabout his beliefs. One of these sociologists for example, Mullerbelieved that religions were actually personifications of the naturalenvironment. The personification formed the earliest gods andspirits. According to Durkheim, all these earlier philosophies weredemeaning to the noble idea of religion since they viewed religion asa tissue of illusions. Durkheim questioned this belief and asked howthen the religion got to stand the societies from ages. He introducedthe sociological theory that tried to explain religion in two ideas.Firstly, he argued that religion is very important when it came tothe promotion of the group cohesion. Secondly, his sociologicaltheory indicated that religion was founded on the reality. Durkheimnever believed in spirits, gods among other religious things but hewrote that all religions were true. His arguments were based on thefact that all religions were founded on social reality.

Durkheim in his explanation said that religion concept emerged whenthe people tried to separate the spheres of profane and sacred. According to his findings, people tended to separate the religiouspractices and behaviors with their normal day activities (Durkheim,2012). They viewed some of their objects and actions as sacred.Additionally, there were routines that were conducted to illustratereligion. Some objectives during these days were viewed as sacred andwere known to have some powers. In this case, people had to choosewhat to pursue either the religious practices or the normal dailyactivities. The people who were more religious practiced thereligious practices and rituals more than they practiced the normaldaily activities. Modernization has changed many things. Unlike inthe past where people used to focus more on religious practices,people nowadays are considering pursuing the utilitarian activitiesmore than they pursue the things in the sphere of sacred.

From the above explanation of the two spheres considered by thesociety, religion is created when the society defines occurrences aswhether sacred or profane. Some things are considered sacred anddeemed forbidden while others are defined as profane. In this case,the sacred things are thought to bring about the attitude ofreverence and mystery. Unlike other sociologists that believed thatreligion is a solely events, Durkheim (2012) believed that religionencompassed regular rituals and ceremonies. These ritualsstrengthened the sense of the group. In this case, people whobelieved in a certain religion seemed to connect so easily. Accordingto Durkheim study, rituals among other religious practiced were knownto strengthen religion. Some of the rituals that were connected tovarious religions include marriages, births, deaths and the times ofcrises. Wherever these practices and rituals were conducted, thesolidarity of the group strengthened in a great way. The rituals alsobrought people of the same religion together that createdtogetherness.

Durkheim Theory Relevance with Contemporary Practices of Religionin Western Cultures Using Generation X and Y

In his book, Durkheim predicted that as the societies modernized, thereligion would continue losing importance. In his thinking, hepredicted that the scientific thinking that was being invented day byday was likely to replace the religious thinking. In this case,people only believed in the power of God among other religiousfigures and there were fewer distractions. Modernization brought withitself many distractions that are keeping people away from religion.After many scientific inventions, people turned and started believingin science. For example, things like test tube babies were introducedand instead of people consulting God, they are more likely to consultscientists.

Nowadays, people are very busy in their day to day life and theyforget about god. For example, many people are paying less attentionto the rituals and ceremonies as Durkheim had foretold. Generation Xand Y have experienced modernization that has changed many things.Because of this modernization, the concept of religion is on theverge of extinction in that many people are nowadays promoting theirlives, happiness and forgetting about their creator. Additionally,these generations have witnessed the promotion of the civil religionthat include civil celebrations and patriotism in churches ratherthan setting the church apart for religious practices only. Durkheim(2012) believes that if the traditional religions were to continue,then it was only as a mean of promoting togetherness in the societyand nothing more.

Unlike the beliefs about Animism or Naturalism, Durkheim believed inTotemism. According to Durkheim, totemism is the most elementary formof religion. In this case, it was the easiest to study of religion.This study indicated that as the societies continued to experiencemodernization, secularization settled in that reduced religiousinfluences. Nowadays, Durkheim beliefs are irrelevant considering thescientific inventions going on nowadays. The modernity revolutionbrought up new forms of religion and traditional values. For thegeneration X and Y, religion was not in a position to influencepeople as it did before. The science that overtook many societies hasreplaced the faith an intuition about religion that people had.

Nowadays, people no longer contact the god as they are makingdecisions. For example, the parliamentarians make decisions affectingthe society at large without mentioning the consultation with theother world. Nowadays, people are not concentrating on religion butthey use common sense in making decisions. One of the reasons why thereligion is not more emphasized is because of many religions in thesocieties. Even in Christianity, there are many denominations forexample, Catholicism and Protestantism. In this case, makingdecisions while mentioning various faiths is almost impossible.

The contemporary practices of the western cultures are more relevantto Durkheim findings. Even if Durkheim did not believe in anytheory, he believed in religion and respected people’s faith.Nowadays, people have tended to ignore God in many things as heforetold. The birth of modernization leads to individuals makingtheir own independent decisions. God is no longer viewed as someonewho can intervene in various matters that include civil,relationships, family among others.

In his book, Durkheim believed that as modernization and scientificinventions came, religion would slowly disappear. His words areclearly evident in the contemporary society. Before modernizationcame, only religion was regarded as the bond that connected people inthe society. However, many other things came and replaced religion.Nowadays, people are glued together but the internet, civic religionamong other elements that are making religion to disappear. Nowadays, civic religion is being implemented where various statesare using various rituals, practices among other elements to create astrong symbolism and enhance homogeneity.

From the above analysis, Durkheim views are very revenant today. Ashe explained in his book, nationalism was to become the mostimportant glue among people. As religion continued to be eliminatedin people’s day to day activities, people looked for something thatcould keep them together. As Durkheim concluded in his study, thereis no much difference between Christians celebrating the life ofChrist and the Jews celebrating Ten Commandments (Durkheim, 2012). Nowadays, religion has continued to weaken and the small numbers ofpeople who believe in religion do not want to step on other religionsbut showing that their religion is superior. In this case, people arefailing to campaign about their religion to get more followers. As aresult, religion and religious practices continue to lose its meaningin the society.


Indeed, religion has continued to weaken by day. In the contemporarysociety, religion is being replaced by nationalism, modernizationamong other elements that have nothing to do with God. Usinggeneration X and Y, it is evident that Durkheim beliefs have becomemore relevant. Durkheim predicted that religion will be replaced bymodernism that has already happened. Durkheim research has beenacknowledged as one of the most profound work when it comes toreligion. The work conducted an extensive research on the Australianaborigines. From the above analysis, it is evident that religion isnot supernaturally inspired but comes as a product of the society. Religion is something that promotes solidarity in the society.Additionally, Durkheim argued that religion provided the society withthe meaning for life and without following any religion people werehopeless of their future. The generation X and Y have diverted fromthe religion after the scientific inventions. Nowadays, people tendto believe more in scientific invention more that they do to God. Itis very unfortunate that religion is being despised by many this issomething that could not be believed in the past. In conclusion,modernization has largely lead to the society’s secularizationwhere religion has a very little influence on various aspects oflife.


Durkheim, E. (2012). Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.Dover Publications.

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