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Symbolic interactionism

Rising from the concept that our world is socially constructed, symbolic interactionism studies the symbols and interactions of everyday life. To interactionists, beliefs and experiences are not sacred unless individuals in a society regard them as sacred. The Star of David in Judaism, the cross in Christianity, and the crescent and star in Islam are examples of sacred symbols. Interactionists are interested in what these symbols communicate. Because interactionists study one-on-one, everyday interactions between individuals, a scholar using this approach might ask questions focused on this dynamic. The interaction between religious leaders and practitioners, the role of religion in the ordinary components of everyday life, and the ways people express religious values in social interactions—all might be topics of study to an interactionist.

Summary

Religion describes the beliefs, values, and practices related to sacred or spiritual concerns. Social theorist Émile Durkheim defined religion as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things” (1915). Max Weber believed religion could be a force for social change. Karl Marx viewed religion as a tool used by capitalist societies to perpetuate inequality. Religion is a social institution, because it includes beliefs and practices that serve the needs of society. Religion is also an example of a cultural universal, because it is found in all societies in one form or another. Functionalism, conflict theory, and interactionism all provide valuable ways for sociologists to understand religion.

Short answer

List some ways that you see religion having social control in the everyday world.

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What are some sacred items that you’re familiar with? Are there some objects, such as cups, candles, or clothing, that would be considered profane in normal settings but are considered sacred in special circumstances or when used in specific ways?

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Consider a religion that you are familiar with, and discuss some of its beliefs, behaviors, and norms. Discuss how these meet social needs. Then, research a religion that you don’t know much about. Explain how its beliefs, behaviors, and norms are like/unlike the other religion.

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Further research

For more discussion on the study of sociology and religion, check out the following blog: (External Link) . The Immanent Frame is a forum for the exchange of ideas about religion, secularism, and society by leading thinkers in the social sciences and humanities.

Read more about functionalist views on religion at (External Link) , symbolic interactionist view on religion at (External Link) , and women in the clergy at (External Link) .

Some would argue that the Protestant work ethic is still alive and well in the United States. Read British historian Niall Ferguson’s view at (External Link) .

References

Barkan, Steven E., and Susan Greenwood. 2003. “Religious Attendance and Subjective Well-Being among Older Americans: Evidence from the General Social Survey.” Review of Religious Research 45:116–129.

Durkheim, Émile. 1933 [1893]. Division of Labor in Society . Translated by George Simpson. New York: Free Press.

Durkheim, Émile. 1947 [1915].  The Elementary Forms of Religious Life . Translated by J. Swain. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Ellway, P. 2005. “The Rational Choice Theory of Religion: Shopping for Faith or Dropping your Faith?” Retrieved February 21, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Fasching, Darrel, and Dell deChant. 2001. Comparative Religious Ethics: A Narrative Approach . Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwel.

Finke, R., and R. Stark. 1988. “Religious Economies and Sacred Canopies: Religious Mobilization in American Cities, 1906.” American Sociological Review 53:41–49.

Greeley, Andrew. 1989. “Protestant and Catholic: Is the Analogical Imagination Extinct?” American Sociological Review 54:485–502.

Hechter, M. 1997. “Sociological Rational Choice Theory.” Annual Review of Sociology 23:191–214. Retrieved January 20, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Hightower, Jim. 1975. Eat Your Heart Out: Food Profiteering in America . New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Marx, Karl. 1973 [1844]. Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right . Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ritzer, George. 1993. The McDonaldization of Society . Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

Weber, Max. 2002 [1905]. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Other Writings , translated by Peter R. Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. New York: Penguin.

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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