Talk:Sociology of religion

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Stark and Bainbridge[edit]

This is an interesting article, but it makes it sound as if Stark and Bainbridge were the only two people who wrote anything of interest on the sociology of religion. It is also questionable in places from the neutral point of view (I hope those who know more about the subect will help, here) and mixes what appears to be the author's own theorizing with established theories--at least, it's difficult for this reader to see what the difference is. I'd comment further, and go to work on the article itself, but I am running short on time...sorry.

OK, I admit, I wrote it. I admit there is heaps more to the topic than Stark & Bainbridge -- it's just their work is the limit of my knowledge of the field... none of it is my own theorizing -- I took it all from their work; how established their theories are I really don't know since as I said their work is the limit of my knowledge of the topic. As to being not of the neutral point of view, I admit some of it may sound bad from a religious perspective (e.g. the Psychopathology or Normal Relations model) but that is their theory, not my bias. -- Simon J Kissane
It is far too big. I will try to summarize and refer the readers for more information to the appropriate section in development of religion. Andries 17:02, 28 October 2006 (UTC)


"I admit some of it may sound bad from a religious perspective," which is exactly why it belongs here, in "Sociology of Religion"! This is indeed how professors sound who study religion. Those who - ahem - get involved with their research subjects don't end up being taken very seriouisly professionally. I am thinking about a person I know of who studies Rastas. Who is reputed to be a little too closely involved. Ahem. And a professor of mine who studied Santeria altars in New Jersey and the Bronx. We _all_ wanted to know if he had sacrificed goats himself. Nice entry, Simon; it's useful as it is and provides lots of starting off places for those who want to work on it. --MichaelTinkler

What about adding sociobiological and memetic theories of religion here ? --Taw

Do you mean someone actually takes "memetic" theories of religion seriously? That's something I'd like details on, if so. --LMS


I would be *really* surprised if correct (confirmable by experiment) theory weren't sociobiological. There is no other cultural evolution theory with solid mathematical basis. And it seems that gene-only theories don't work well for explaining cultures, so it will most probably be meme-based sociology. --Taw


I would be really surprised if there were any correct (confirmable by experiment) theory of the sociology of religion.

This is not to say that I see a problem with sociologists or the fact that they should study religion. It's just that I've never met a sociologist who expects to be able to do predictive experimentation on human populations. So, the best sociological theories will necessarily be based on other kinds of epistemic justification than confirmation by experiment.

I personally don't take mimetic and sociobiological theories seriously in almost any domain, but when dealing with human populations the sociobiological theories I've heard are mostly ad hoc, and are universally un-falsifiable. I think it may be reasonable to put some information on mimetic and sociobiological theories on this page, as there are a number of sociologists who've taken these things seriously, but there is significant dissent, and that should be recorded too. --Mark Christensen


Most sociologists are pseudoscientists. There is no sciece without experimental confirmation, at least in mathematical simulation. Old generation of sociologists must go away, as they aren't any more effective than philosophers were in physics or biology.

Sociobiology was many times experimentally confirmed on non-human animals, so if somebody "don't take it seriously" without presenting better theory, he has nothing to do with science.

And btw. that's the way sociobiology works: 1. make adhoc theory 2. try it out mathematically. 3. repeat if needed

You'd be surprised how often it just works.

And basic memetics was confirmed in human populations by studying time/space distribution of details in major idea systems. --Taw

I would be *really* surprised if correct (confirmable by experiment) theory weren't
Well, try Stark & Bainbridge's theory, which is the only theory the article mentions at the moment. They :claim their theory is empirically testable, though so far little work I am aware of has tried to test it. :(Observe though [1]).--Simon J Kissane

Well, it only tells why somebody starts religion, not why it becomes popular. --Taw

It's just that I've never met a sociologist who expects to be able to do predictive
experimentation on human populations.
Sociologists often do experimentation in a sense. They can't really do experiments of the form 'set the :independent variable, watch what happens to the dependent variable'; but they can do a lot of observations :and other research (surveys, interviews, etc.) which can then be analysed by statistical means.
--Simon J Kissane

"Experimentation with sense" is just another name for Pseudoscience. If they can't do real experiments, they should use mathematics, computer simulations etc. That's exactly why old sociologists will be replaced by sociobiologists. --Taw

I like "old generations of sociologists must go away." My, my, my. Let's at least pretend some respect for the insights of a field with a track record until the sociobiologists develop one. The idea that computer simulations of human populations are anywhere near useful (just think of traffic modelling, which goodness knows the U.S. government has *poured* money into) is at this stage something that looks like a faith-based exercise. The fact that "major idea systems" depends on the human reporting of those ideas also makes their mathematical modelling somewhat suspect. I'm a historian, and I know how "idea systems" get reported! --MichaelTinkler

Old sociology was exactly like old philosophy. Philosophers tried to explain physics, biology etc by non-mathematical and non-scientific means. Fortunately, biology and physics is currently being run by people who use mathematical simulations and the scientific method. Old philosophers went away. We have the same situation today in social sciences. Too much ideology, too many unstated axioms in every reasoning and too much politics. For example historians still don't agree on why things happen the way they happen, they only provide raw data and theories not based on any solid evidence (ok, that's blatant generalization). The same thing applies to most other social sciences - some useful observations, some primitive and weakly checked generalizations, very little math and almost no experiments.

Of course it doesn't mean that all non-sociobiological theories are false and worthless, it just mean that most of them is unchecked and should be treated with some distance. --Taw

How many articles could you have written in the time it took you to engage in the above? Wikipedia isn't a discussion forum, it's an encyclopedia. --LMS

Where are the references for this article? To be honest, I don't believe in the theories described in the article. They are not stated as theories but as facts which I think is misleading. The current article completely ignores the influence of the media. The media can do more than a hundred friends. Thanks in advance. Andries 22:05, 7 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Sorry, I overlooked the statment that the article deals only with one theory.

Andries 22:11, 7 Apr 2004 (UTC)

I think some concepts of Max Weber (Max_Weber#Sociology_of_religion) should be incorporated here, don't you? --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus 19:04, 17 Jul 2004 (UTC)

A number of comments -

First, in response to "'I admit some of it may sound bad from a religious perspective,' which is exactly why it belongs here, in "Sociology of Religion"! This is indeed how professors sound who study religion. Those who - ahem - get involved with their research subjects don't end up being taken very seriouisly professionally." from Michael Tinkler.

The fact is that everyone approaches subjects with a bias, and this is especially problematic in the social sciences. The difference between those who are "taken seriously" and those who are not tends to be in their presentation of the data, the research that data is derived from, their secondary research, and their engagment with topics of substance. In other words, their "involvment" in their subject does not always (I would say rarely) affect their professional reputation - their discipline as a scholar is what matters. Another way of saying this is that some of the most respected sociologists of religion are religious.

Second, I agree completely with --LMS above...bravo. In light of your comment, I will shut up and write :). Just to throw in a quick quib - that whole sociobiological stuff above is hilarious.

Third, in response to Simon J Kissane. Anytime a political poll correctly predicts an election, sociologists have met your challenge. Yes, statistical analysis is also based on mathematics, but there is a huge element of "purely sociological" reasoning that goes into it. For a more potent example, recent qualitative (interview-based) research into the nature of "family-friendly" corporations are allowing corporations to design more cost-efficient and effective policies.

Ha! and some people imply that sociology doesn't matter.

Please disagree with me, but do it at

--Jcdavis 23:03, 29 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Mistake in History and relevance[edit]

Its actually a fact that religious attendence is declining, You can goto any catholic website and look at their attendence figures + church closures, and its been declining steadily.

for example.

Parish churches have been closing at a steady rate.

Year Parish Churches Others open to the public 1981










































2002 2,830 750 2003 2,799 689

even the attendence population has been falling by 100,000 people a year since 1981. someone should edit this on as the details on this website are no longer correct.

a link

Stark is Too Prominent[edit]

Rodney Stark is a decently important contemporary sociologist of religion ... however, he is WAY too prominent here. Listing him among Marx, Durkheim and Weber as if he were of equivalent importance in the field is very silly. This is a major flaw in this entry.

It is equally silly to discuss Stark and Bainbridge's theory alone under "Sociological Theories of the Formation of Religion." This is a field of study encompassing quite a bit, with multiple academic journals on this subject published every season. There is a lot more out there than these two alone. Many reputable sociologists of religion do not even agree with Stark and Bainbridge.

There should really be a category for the founders of the field of Sociology of Religion (Marx, Durkheim, Weber). Then, there should be a category in which the theories of important contemporary sociologists are introduced -- including Rodney Stark, but also the equally influential Peter Berger, Robert Bellah, Robert Wuthnow, Christian Smith, etc.

I'm not sure the current headings (especially "Sociological Theories of the Formation of Religion") are helpful at all.

Is there someone out there up to the task of fixing it? I will try to come back and tweak what I can.

This site may be helpful:

Evolutionary Theology[edit]

At which point is a religion condisidered to be distinct from it's predessor? What sepparates one religion from another? Is there an exact distinguishing factor (standard in linguistic or biological classification) or more like any set of varying factors (standard in ethnic/musical classification)? For instance, Christianity and its parent faith of Judaism are considered to be completely and distinct religions, of course. It's not the God Jews and Christians worship that set them apart, though the way they relate to God is very different. Perhaps it's just the fact that most of both faiths have claimed to belong to different religions for several centuries? Many works, including this article, define religion in there own way but few focus on what exactly destinguishes one from another.--J. Daily 04:38, 10 May 2006 (UTC)


What "distinguishes one religion from another" would depend on how you had operationalized religion. This means you would have to answer the question of what "counts" as a religious group for you, and what is the most important aspect of religion for your work. Sociologists of religion have no agreed-upon or standard classification of religious bodies, no more than they have one accepted definition of religion. That's not the way the discipline works. It's not a "hard" science -- although even the "hard" sciences have some basic terminological confusion from time to time.

So one sociologist might argue that Christianity is a distinct religious system from Judaism because of critical differences in its theology, or doctrine: its beliefs about the divinity of Christ, or whatever. Another might say that this theological stuff is worthless, as so many Christian groups have drastically different theologies themselves -- so we can distinguish Judaism and Christianity based on their everyday practice, their ritual and worship styles. Another might say that all of this was silly, and it was better to classify them based on the class location of their first members, because it was their class interests that determined everything else about the group, and money (not flaky beliefs!) is what really matters.

Another sociologist might say: hey, you know what? There was very little difference between early Christianity and Judaism, and in my work there's no point in distinguishing when exactly they broke apart. That's a historian's job. I study congregations in the United States, so I only need to look at how churches and synagogues define themselves now -- and that's how I tell them apart. (In fact, many of us now make pragmatic decisions about classifying groups based on their own self-definition.)

It is important for the scholar to be upfront about how they define and distinguish religious groups, and to provide support as to why they are making these distinctions. But there is no "set" way to do so. Feel free to articulate and justify your own taxonomy. :)

-- Anonymous

"Vale of Tears" has its own wiki page now, and should be linked

Moved "Rodney Stark" section here[edit]

There is no reason whatsoever to have this section in the entry as it is. Rodney Stark is one of many contemporary sociologists of religion and by no means the most influential or most notable. If someone wants to condense this section to a nice paragraph while referencing it then please do so and add it back to the entry. For that purpose I will copy it here:

Rodney Stark

According to the theory of Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, religions are systems of "compensators". Compensators are a body of language and practices that compensate for some physical lack or frustrated goal. They can be divided into specific compensators (compensators for the failure to achieve specific goals), and general compensators (compensators for failure to achieve any goal).

It has been observed that social or political movements that fail to achieve their goals will often transform into religions. As it becomes clear that the goals of the movement will not be achieved by natural means (at least within their lifetimes), members of the movement will look to the supernatural to achieve what cannot be achieved naturally. The new religious beliefs are compensators for the failure to achieve the original goals. Examples of this include the counterculture movement in America: the early counterculture movement was intent on changing society and removing its injustice and boredom; but as members of the movement proved unable to achieve these goals they turned to Eastern and new religions as compensators.

A general sociological theory of the formation of religions is contained in R. Stark & W. S. Bainbridge's book "Theory of Religion". This theory is outlined roughly below:

Most religions start out their lives as cults or sects, i.e. groups in high tension with the surrounding society. Over time, they tend to either die out, or become more established, mainstream and in less tension with society. Cults are new groups with a new novel theology, while sects are attempts to return mainstream religions to (what the sect views as) their original purity. Mainstream established groups are called denominations. The comments below about cult formation apply equally well to sect formation.

There are four models of cult formation: the Psychopathological Model, the Entrepreneurial Model, the Social Model and the Normal Revelations model.

According to the "Psychopathological Model", religions are founded during a period of severe stress in the life of the founder. The founder suffers from psychological problems, which they resolve through the founding of the religion. (The development of the religion is for them a form of self-therapy, or self-medication.)

According to the Entrepreneurial Model, founders of religions act like entrepreneurs, developing new products (religions) to sell to consumers (to convert people to). According to this model, most founders of new religions already have experience in several religious groups before they begin their own. They take ideas from the pre-existing religions, and try to improve on them to make them more popular.

The Social Model emphasises not the founder of the religion, but rather the early religious group. According to this model, religions are founded by means of social implosions. Members of the religious group spend less and less time with people outside the group, and more and more time with each other within it. The level of affection and emotional bonding between members of a group increases, and their emotional bonds to members outside the group diminish. According to the social model, when a social implosion occurs, the group will naturally develop a new theology and rituals to accompany it.

The Normal Revelations model was added to the theory by Stark in a later work. According to the Normal Revelations model, religions are founded when the founder interprets ordinary natural phenomena as supernatural; for instance, ascribing his or her own creativity in inventing the religion to that of the deity.

Some religions are better described by one model than another, though all apply to differing degrees to all religions.

Once a cult or sect has been founded, the next problem for the founder is to convert new members to it. Prime candidates for religious conversion are those with an openness to religion, but who do not belong or fit well in any existing religious group. Those with no religion or no interest in religion are difficult to convert, especially since the cult and sect beliefs are so extreme by the standards of the surrounding society. But those already happy members of a religious group are difficult to convert as well, since they have strong social links to their pre-existing religion and are unlikely to want to sever them in order to join a new one. The best candidates for religious conversion are those who are members of or have been associated with religious groups (thereby showing an interest or openness to religion), yet exist on the fringe of these groups, without strong social ties to prevent them from joining a new group.

Potential converts vary in their level of social connection. New religions best spread through pre-existing friendship networks. Converts who are marginal with few friends are easy to convert, but having few friends to convert they cannot add much to the further growth of the organization. Converts with a large social network are harder to convert, since they tend to have more invested in mainstream society; but once converted they yield many new followers through their friendship network.

Cults initially can have quite high growth rates; but as the social networks that initially feed them are exhausted, their growth rate falls quickly. On the other hand, the rate of growth is exponential (ignoring the limited supply of potential converts): the more converts you have, the more missionaries you can have out looking for new converts. But nonetheless it can take a very long time for religions to grow to a large size by natural growth. This often leads to cult leaders giving up after several decades, and withdrawing the cult from the world.

It is difficult for cults and sects to maintain their initial enthusiasm for more than about a generation. As children are born into the cult or sect, members begin to demand a more stable life. When this happens, cults tend to lose or de-emphasise many of their more radical beliefs, and become more open to the surrounding society; they then become denominations.

The goal or dream of most founders of religions is to convert their entire society; but of the myriad religions founded throughout history, few have been very successful. Most of the world's religious people adhere to one of a few major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism). It is very difficult for a religion to grow to this size. Most of these religions (especially Christianity) became established when they were adopted by politically powerful individuals. The religion of the common people took much longer to change (sometimes centuries).

Please do not simply add it back as it is. If someone wishes to make another entry about Stark's theories then by all means do so, but this is much to long for our present purposes here. Thanks.PelleSmith 21:47, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
Too long, I agree, but a condensed version should be here, because the theory is influential. See [2] Also the text mentions the reference i.e. their book Theory of religion so it was not unreferenced. You can verify a lot, simply with google books.Andries (talk) 19:06, 9 March 2008 (UTC)

Sociological groupings[edit]

Hello. I'm looking into sociological groupings of religious phenomena. I'll be happy to collaborate in finding representative info to group various religious or belief groups. Realbie 16:41, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

Arabic Article[edit]

Could anyobody who is able to speak Arabic rewrite this ideological drivel:



Maybe the article could mention that several clergymen have occupied the post of sociologist of religion, since it is similar to what is called pastoral research. ADM (talk) 12:14, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

Big factual inaccuracy[edit]

The article states that the Scandinavian societies are secular states when in fact Finland, Norway and Sweden all have established Protestant churches and high levels of religious adherence.

John — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:55, 22 December 2011 (UTC)

The idea that Marx had no moral motivation is blatantly contradicted by the statement that he studied science for "the benefit of humanity". That in itself is a powerful ethical motivation. -Isaac Christiansen

I changed the spelling of a word to an alternate spelling.[edit]

"centred" in the second paragraph was changed to "centered".

Found the article very intrguing and very insiteful in some aspect. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Richmond513 (talkcontribs) 22:18, 10 April 2012 (UTC)

I changed the sentence structure of this line "The common worker is led to believe that he or she is a replaceable tool, and is alienated to the point of extreme discontent" in order to help it flow a bit better. Very interesting article. Heitzmte (talk) 04:57, 13 April 2012 (UTC) (talk) 21:43, 17 April 2012 (UTC) I am a user. This article was overall well written although, i did find a few spelling errors. I think that more content in the Secularization and Civil religion section would have been helpful for the reader in understanding the Sociology of religion, since both play a major role.

Blivethnkopen (talk) 21:49, 17 April 2012 (UTC)I am a user. This article was overall well written although, i did find a few spelling errors. I think that more content in the Secularization and Civil religion section would have been helpful for the reader in understanding the Sociology of religion, since both play a major role. I feel that is would be of value to let the reader that "An emphasis on practice somewhat flies in the face of the everyday notion that religions are sets of beliefs" how more detail on how religion shapes sociocultural systems.