Talk:Theories about religions

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Omissions (often serious) and unanswered qeuestion are invisible in CAPITALS in the article. Please removed these invisible warnings (only) after the omission has been addresses. The same warnings IN CAPITALS, but visible, are here User:Andries/Theories_of_religion.Andries (talk) 10:16, 17 March 2008 (UTC)

Hear, hear.Botteville (talk) 03:45, 4 March 2015 (UTC)

Functionalism vs. functional definitions[edit]

First, I'd like to applaud the entry creator for a wonderful addition to Wikipedia. That said, I'd like to make a suggestion. I just self-reverted an edit I made that had specified "functionalist" theories of religion as those stemming from Functionalism in the social sciences: Functionalism (sociology). The reason I self reverted and realized the issue was more complicated is because the difference between functional and substantive definitions does not conflate directly with theories of religion--and "functional" definitions are not "functionalist" definitions. The latter term is applied to functionalism, the afore mentioned social scientific paradigm. I noticed this problem, because functionalism as a theoretical orientation is certainly not a broader category within which Freudian reductionism finds itself, whether or not both essentialize religion through what it does, as opposed to what it is. On top of this proponents of substantive definitions do not need to have "substantive" theories, despite the mistake, be it uncommon, made by a few writers to use this phrase. Of course when a theorist uses a certain type of definition (substantive or functional) there are clearly implications to the broader theoretical project. I would not deny this, but the matter should be presented differently. Certain theorists work from the premise of a substantive or a functional definition, but we should not classify their theories as such, and I think it causes special problems because of existence of "functionalism" as a historically defined theoretical orientation in the social sciences, and because its relationship to the definitional enterprise is much less clear. For instance, Geertz definition of religion is functional (for third party example of this identification see Berger, Peter L. 1977. "Some Second Thoughts on Substantive versus Functional Definitions of Religion." JSSR. 13(2):125-133). However, I would never call Geertz a functionalist, although Berger (in the piece I referenced) does talk about how Geertz reflects the Durkheimian impetus in the social sciences. Anyway this is a much to long way of saying the following: Unless there are any objections I think we should not complicate the substantive, functional split between ways of defining religion with suggestions about larger theoretical projects. Any thoughts?PelleSmith (talk) 13:12, 17 March 2008 (UTC)

Pals (page 272) labels the theories by Freud, Marx, and Durkheim as "functional" or "reductionist" explanations. Kunin does not label the approach by Freud "functional" or "functionalist" as far as I can see. I had not even noticed that I (and the source) sometimes uses the word "functional" and sometimes ""functionalist" and I had not been aware of a difference in meaning. (I am not the most accurate reader, I admit. Thats is why I wrote this article mainly in user space.) Andries (talk) 07:44, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

Rodney Stark[edit]

I am not sure I see the justification of giving Rodney Stark the amount of attention he garners here. In fact the very idea of including him on the list as it is currently presented is very odd. Do we have any third party sources to substantiate this prominence, because in my mind there are several contemporary sociologists who have been much more influential than Stark. For instance, I would think Peter Berger, and Robert Bellah would deserve a mention here before Stark does. Also his general theoretical orientation vis-a-vis the sociology of religion, "rational choice theory," has never really been the dominant paradigm and is now even less popular. Sure, it did, and does, have some very vocal proponents, but a cursory glance at the current literature in the field would easily make a case against its prevalence. In fact its day in the sun came primarily by way of being presented as the most viable explanatory alternative in the wake of the obvious demise of "secularization theory." In other words people jumped on the bandwagon briefly because they knew secularization theory was wrong, or at least partially so because religion was not in decline in much of the world. My thoughts would be to include a section on the rational choice apporach and put a much smaller blurb about Stark's book within it. Any suggestions?PelleSmith (talk) 13:36, 17 March 2008 (UTC)

The main reason why I included it was because this very short on topic reputable source mentions their theory. I have no problem in condensing and renaming the section to have less emphasis on the names or Stark and Bainbridge. Andries (talk) 07:51, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
I have no problem if you add Peter Berger and Robert Bellah's theories, because I believe that they are sufficiently influential and notable to be included here. They are not included in Pals' excellent book but Pals selected, only simple theories for didactic reasons, as he explictly wrote. I hope that this article will not degenerate into a List of theories of religion. Andries (talk) 12:18, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

Image copyright problem with Image:Janco Eliade.jpg[edit]

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Revert of methodology section[edit]

I reverted the edits by Editor2020 of the section methodological because I strongly believe the term methodological atheism must be mentioned because treated by scholarly sources.

I was also slightly unhappy with the other changes by Editor2020, because 1. it gave a the false impression that sociologist and anthropologists are atheists (metholodogical atheism is confined to their scientific writings). 2. did not introduce the subject properly (the ignorant reader does not know yet about the basic view of sociologists and anthropologists). 3. stayed vague because it did not list the names of whom Evans Pritchard considered armchair anthropologists.

Andries (talk) 04:31, 19 October 2008 (UTC)

Alright. I've fixed the punctuation and removed the e.g. usage.--Editor2020 (talk) 16:50, 19 October 2008 (UTC)

René Girard's sacrifice theory[edit]

The article culd maybe include René Girard's sacrifice theory, which has stirred up a good deal of interest among anthropologists in recent years. ADM (talk) 06:29, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

William James?[edit]

Section seems to be missing some key figures, like James, Schliermacher, et. al., as well as anything at all on recent cognitive and 'nuerotheological' models. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Obiskatobis (talkcontribs) 22:48, 7 July 2010 (UTC)

Psychoanalysis as science[edit]

I suggest that this article is not the place to try to explain the debate about whether or not psychoanlysis is "scientific." Few of the theories in this article are "scientific" in the sense used in the criticism of psychoanalysis.

Further, the claim that psychoanlysis isn't scientific because it was developed by listening to people who were lying on a couch is absurd. There is no theory of scientific knowledge that takes a pro or con position on couches. There are good reasons to question whether psychonalytic theories of personality are "scientific," but this isn't one of them. (Nor does the sentence that makes this claim have a source.)

We could fill the article with citations, pro and con about the validity of psychoanlysis - but wouldn't it be better to leave that topic to the article on psychoanalysis where it belongs?--Federalist51 (talk) 01:40, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

Disagree, because both the article and the source state that Freud's views and theories of religions were part of his larger theory of psychoanalysis. That makes it relevant. I believe that the other theories are more scientific than Freud's theories. None of them received such trenchant, thorough criticisms on their scientific value as Freud's theories. Andries (talk) 10:39, 12 February 2011 (UTC)
The article does not state anywhere that psychoanalysis is assessed unscientific because it was developed because listening to people lying on a couch. Andries (talk) 11:48, 12 February 2011 (UTC)

Durkheim and functionalism[edit]

Description of scope of article and Lead[edit]

I've taken a crack at improving the description of the scope of this article and moved it to the lead (where it replaces a disjointed summary of an apparently randomly chosen subset of the article. The description of all of the theories discussed here as social-scientific (i.e. arising from the social sciences) is a common one and refers to the fact that these theories come out of, and are usually evaluated in, the tradition of one or more social sciences (primarily anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics). While most (but perhaps not all) 20th century social scientists would agree that their disciplines evaluate theories based on their empirical verification or falsifiability (i.e. are “scientific”), using this as a criterial for the article imposes a criteria that may not actually be met by most of the theories. There’s no question that all of the thinkers discussed in the article thought of themselves as applying a “scientific” method, but their understanding of what that meant was almost certainly not as well developed as someone operating in the social sciences today, simply because the philosophy of science itself wasn’t as well developed. --Federalist51 (talk) 21:20, 11 January 2012 (UTC)

Added to definition of cults, the Definition of functionalism in religion, and the functional approach[edit]

I made a minor edit to the definition of cults, let me know what you think. Along with these, I added some definitions and resources to the Durkheim definition of functionalism, as well as to the functional approach of understanding the sociology of religion. Though I believe the Rational Choice theory section needs some attention. Is the definition of cults and its explanation really necessary within? I am almost half tempted to remove it. Also, I think this section relies to heavily on the idea of the compensator, could it be more simply defined in the perspective of the individual rather than religion as an institution? For instance, the view of the human being being a rational actor. (talk) 14:26, 17 April 2012

title change[edit]

I do not think that the title change Metatheories_of_religion_in_the_social_sciences to is a good idea. I think the old title Theories of religions is better. The new title assumes that religion is a theory of the world. This is only one (Frazer's theory) of the possible theories of religion. This title change should have been discussed in advance. Btw Freudian theory is not a social science theory, I believe. Andries (talk) 23:03, 29 November 2012 (UTC)

Doesn't the old title also equally "presume" the same thing? I think the confusion is on the use of the word "theory." It wouldn't be the first time someone just didn't use it correctly, insofar as religion is concerned. Just any collection of sentences is a theory. So certainly, any religion is a theory, and any theory that talks about religion is a metatheory. I.e any group of sentences whose subject matter is some other theory is a metatheory. Greg Bard (talk) 23:43, 29 November 2012 (UTC)
  • Coming to this late, but agree with Andries that "metatheories" of religion is not the best title. Metatheory is, at best, a specialized term, if not jargon. A search in google scholar or jstor quickly reveals that this topic covered by this article is generally referred to as "theories of religion." Though not inaccurate, "In the social sciences" strikes me as unnecessary and somewhat anachronistic. Will give this a some time (to see if anyone else wants to chime in), but am inclined to revert to original name. --Federalist51 (talk) 17:31, 29 October 2013 (UTC)

Another title change[edit]

User:Grebard made another title change without prior announcement or any explanation. I left a warning on his or her talk page. I think the old title Theories of religions is better than the new title Theories about religions. I am not a native speaker of English but I thought it was alwas "Theores of ...." Please correct me if I am wrong. Andries (talk) 21:09, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

The motivation and explanation for this new title change can be found somewhere here Wikipedia:Categories_for_discussion/Log/2014_May_2#Category:Theories_of_religion, but I cannot make a lot of sense from it. Andries (talk) 22:29, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

Sociology uses the term "Theories of Religion" for theories about the existence and social function of religions. Editor2020 03:31, 9 June 2014 (UTC)
I am sorry your information has a poor choice of words, and you are fully impressed by it. Those who actually study theories as an object of study in themselves know that the distinction between a theory and a metatheory (also called a "theory about a theory") is an important one. This isn't to say that sociologists aren't perfectly wonderful scholars who are the rightful experts on the subject matter of this article. However, insofar as its title is concerned let's please classify things properly. Greg Bard (talk) 15:13, 9 June 2014 (UTC)
I have to agree with what user:Mangoe wrote about this to you: "Greg, this is your own idiosyncratic position...." Andries (talk) 07:17, 30 August 2014 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the proposal was moved. --BDD (talk) 00:55, 31 January 2014 (UTC)

Metatheories of religion in the social sciencesTheories of religions – More common name in scholarly sources. Simpler, more intuitive name. Name had been the same for years and was changed unilaterally without prior discussion. Andries (talk) 09:17, 13 January 2014 (UTC)

  • Revert the move, back to the original title. Consensus for that move is disputed. --SmokeyJoe (talk) 11:17, 21 January 2014 (UTC)
  • Support per nom Red Slash 02:03, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

Needs content/ref check[edit]

I've been reformatting the notes to conform to standard. I notice, the notes were never finished. Some notes turned up for material to which they had no relevance. I think the notes were added after the material. This article is so old it is sacrosanct. That should be one of the categories in the box "sacrosanct Wikipedia articles." I think no one has looked at it in so long the material is getting out of hand. Needs a review. I'm only formatting notes.Botteville (talk) 04:14, 2 March 2015 (UTC)


As soon as I started looking at content I could see that topically the material is all mixed up. Theorists are lumped together, and "it" (the cumulative effect of all the editors) is not sure it wants to use method or content as a basis for classification. I propose to reorganize it. This article is central to the box. The main organization is substantive/functional. So, that will be the basis for organizing the authors. The methodological content will be removed to the methodologies. So, the topics wil go, History, Classification, Methodologies, just as now. Then, Substantive theories: author1, author 2, etc.; Functional theories: author 1, author 2, etc. Marx does not begin the parade, he takes his place in history. That way, authors might be added without total mixup. Right now, one isn't sure where to add them. The requested material for the Methodology section is actually in the sections of the authors. One can see that the method of overlay has had a confusing effect. I propose to be the unifying hand for the moment. While I am doing this this I will alter phraseology slightly in places to achieve better editorial distancing.Botteville (talk) 10:37, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

Methdological criticism[edit]

These paragraphs were so totally biased that I had to rewrite much of them. One of the major sins is presentation of criticisms of views the persons criticised did not hold. Tylor and Maret, and others, did not believe in unform evolution. I doubt if any one does. Evolution is by fits and starts. It is not a uniform thing, nor do I think anyone ever said it was. It is true, there are long periods of uniform change. They are just as likely to be interrupted by unpredictable catastrophic events. This fact makes me question whether the sources really said that or something is being cooked up by an obviously biased functionalist. So, I did my best to keep the criticism in a distanced setting but I have no confidence that the sources given really meant that. I suppose a reference check will have to be in the agenda.Botteville (talk) 13:02, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

I think Tylor did believe in uniform cultural evolution. I will look it up. Andries (talk) 08:26, 22 July 2017 (UTC)

Phony Pals, page ref[edit]

There was a ref to Pals in there without a page number, just tagged "Pals, page". The editor was apparently using it as a catch-all until he could go through and supply the page numbers. I noticed it when it was on a quote with another ref. I thought that strange, as only one ref is enough for a quote. It was not in fact in Pals. I can get an Amazon peek on that one; otherwise, you have to buy the book. The thing is, the ref is not to one page or to any specific pages. The book is full of refs and definitions of functionalism, but none of them are referenced by "page". The WP software just gathered all the "page" refs together. Note that the article is interspersed with commented suggestions. That means, this is an abandoned article, and I can see why. When criticised the editor just dropped it. All this leads me to think that it need a content check. I'm doing the formats of references right now. I may not get to it, or not for a while. The moral of the story is, never begin an article if you are so biased that you do not have any chance of getting it finished. I suppose he did not realize he was so biased. Anyway for now these old incomplete refs are coming out, lock stock and barrel.Botteville (talk) 15:13, 3 March 2015 (UTC)

I did not drop it when criticized. I was short on time for the tedious job of providing page numbers. The refs are not phony, but incomplete, please assume good faith. The book by Pals has an index. Thanks for helping. Andries (talk) 08:30, 22 July 2017 (UTC)

Problem with Stark & Bainbridge[edit]

I notice this article abounds (or abounded before I got hold of it) in long chains of references, such as abcd, etc. WP frowns on that practice in general although it does not enforce the policy very strictly. However, I noted the Stark & Bainbridge refs don't have any page numbers, which is definitely not the policy. I got a peek at the book through Amazon and discovered that the editor never had any pages in mind. He was referencing the whole book in each case, and the references were accumulating as abcd etc. Sorry, not the way to do it. You can't just give the book, you need the page numbers also. It is quite an interesting book with a psychological explanation of religion. Religious people are general compensators looking for compensations in the sky they can't get on earth. The old Pie in the Sky when you Die complaint. It is all BS, but I would have respected it as representative of the functional approach. The old dictum, die now, enjoy socialism in the future, sort of knocked h. out of it. People don't want want to die now, and the future is just as far away as the sky. It isn't any compensation either. However I am not rewriting this article, at least not now. So, I am not doing the work the editor should have done in looking up the page numbers. Instead I am taking the entire ref out, except for in additional reading. If you want it back in, look up the page numbers, rewrite the article.Botteville (talk) 03:11, 4 March 2015 (UTC)

Finished edit[edit]

I finished correcting the obvious errors in this article. The article is very old. It has had hundreds of editors and a name change. Now, no one seems interested. Part of the disinterest is that, over the years, the article had gotten out of control. No one knew where to start. Here is what I did.

The main problem was the formatting errors. The references were awful. Don't feel bad, when I first started I used to argue with the editors about what constituted a reference, and feel bad when I lost, which I almost always did. Wikipedia (WP) has certain formats for references. I must say it is quite flexible. These are stored under templates. If you do a search on template:cite book you will be led into them. You will find the correct ways to use the templates. No need to guess. Everything is explained. In a pinch you can follow my lead in the article.

There is a certain minumum of information you must give in these citation templates. Page number is one of them. However, you can give a chapter if you like, if the information is distributed passim in the chapter. If you include a reference name, and you cite a named reference, it has to be to a specifc page or range of pages or chapter, whatever is specified. You can't use the named ref for a different, unspecified page. If you have different pages for the same work, there are a few methods of handling that. I use the harvard, with the short form in the footnote. you can find material on that under template:harvnb. What I saw in this article is named references for the whole book, no page numbers. That collects long chains of note numbers: abcdef... Not allowed. On chaining notes at the end of the sentence, one problem is that the whole chain has to apply to the whole preceding text. If you have a quote, for example, a chain of refs does not reveal which note refers to the quote. I did not quite correct all of those. This is sort of like dimensioning a drawing. You have to use judgement on the best way to specify the item drawn.

On the organization, I didn't really see one at first. After a while the best organization became clear. This is nothing more or less than a catalogue of theories. That being so, we want a discrete entry for each theory,. The current organization into two types is absolutely correct. That is the terminology in use and those are the types. That became obvious when I worked on mana (but I am not done with it yet). The types cannot be reconciled or harmonized. They are from totally different traditions.

None of this should be mistaken for science. In the words of a famous film role, "I don't see any science here at all, sir." These are all strictly personal theories unsupported by any experimental data. There are no repeatable results here. Anyone cannot repeat the experiment and get the same results. In fact religious experience is totally non-repeatable (I did not say non-repeated). I do not believe there are any computer programs that can scientifically predict that a certain society or certain customs will arise. I understand there to have been a few outstanding failures in that regard.

I mention this topic because there is a certain one-way flow of invective. The functionalists feel they have to attack the essentialists, but not vice versa. I found and still find that in these articles. That is not a neutral point of view. The functionalists did not replace or supersede the essentialists. The essentialists are not the obsolete views of the capitalist past. You must guard against those hypocritical assertions. The functionalists are no more accepted than the essentialists. Sometimes I see an exasperated essentialist reply, but not too often. It is not their policy to get dragged into this invective. So, we don't want that on WP either.

Which gets around to the last point. Much of this article and some others were written by blatent and blatting functionalists who were primarily involved in selling functionalism. For example, in this article Marx had been moved out of his proper order to the head of the line. No selling, please. Stick to the order, which is basically chronological. One more point. There are obviously many more theories than are mentioned here. So, the article is expandable. The current arrangement allows for expansion. However, you can't get them all so consider which are most representative.

My final concern is whether the editors are correctly representing the views of the theorists. I did not check very far in that direction but what I did check gives me reason to question what I read. What you need to guard against is mainly functionalist misrepresentations of essentialists. They create a straw Tylor, a straw Frazer, and so on. I think we are interested in real men, not puppets in a functionalist puppet show.Botteville (talk) 02:40, 6 March 2015 (UTC)

I added in the see also section a link to the Terror management theory which is, I believe, scientific. Please note that many languages do not usually make a distinction between science and other academic fields. They are all lumped together with one word, "wetenschap" in my native Dutch, but also in German "Wissenschaft" and French "science". Even Dutch people or Germans who know English very well somewhat mistranslate English science into "wetenschap" or "Wissenschaft". Andries (talk)

Article scope and title[edit]

I realize I'm not the first person to bring up issues of the article title, but it needs to be brought up again. The article scope implied by this title is too broad. Right now, this is essentially Ideas by academics on religion. With such a scope, we can never hope to achieve comprehensive and balanced coverage. I propose renaming to Functions of religion, then splitting the Socialist constructionism section to Definition of religion, and merging the Weber and Rational choice theory sections to Sociology of religion. Sondra.kinsey (talk) 18:27, 20 July 2017 (UTC)

I do not understand. The original title was theories of religions which is a common title in academic literature and the original article that I wrote reflected the contents in academic literature. I think it should go back tot that title and may be the article should be purged a bit. What do you mean with a comprehensive and balanced coverage? I oppose renaming the article to functions of religions / functions of religion. The article makes it clear that description functions of religions does not describe all theories of religions. I agree that the socialist constructionism section could go to definitions of religion / definition of religion. Andries (talk) 07:34, 22 July 2017 (UTC)
@Andries: I see that the term "Theories of religion" is established in the academic literature. However, my point is that this topic could cover anything someone with a PhD might think to write about the already vague term religion. This article doesn't answer a particular question, or have a precise topic. The scholars mentioned here are discussing wildly different topics, and are essentially unrelated, except that they have something to do with religion (eg. Weber and Freud). Sondra.kinsey (talk) 12:12, 22 July 2017 (UTC)
I understand a bit what you are saying, but with the exception of the section social constructionism I disagree that scholars discuss wildly different topics. They all try to deliver a general theory about religions and only the major influential theories should go into this article, not just any academic theory about religion. Andries (talk) 17:26, 22 July 2017 (UTC)