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Introduction to Sacred Communities

We can approach the broad topic of religion and society by way of three interrelated topics.

1. First, we will explore the relationship between religion in general and the larger society. This topic alone is the subject of entire books. Here we can only make some general observations about the reciprocal relationship between religion and society.

Shaker worship service
2. A second subject is the nature of sacred communities. How can one describe and classify the multitude of social units that are a part of religion? While there are many ways to approach this task, One way is to  explore differences in the ways that sacred communities either conform to or resist the prevailing values and ideals of the larger society or dominant religious culture. Such an approach leads us into a consideration of denominations, sects and cults.

3. A third subject to be addressed is the question of how sacred communities change.  In particular, how are they reformed and how do they give rise to other sacred communities?


Note: A majority of the examples used in this section are taken from American Christianity and American history. There are two reasons for this:

1. Since we are a part of American culture these examples will at once be more familiar and more relevant to us.  It is important to keep in mind, however, that similar examples can be found in every culture and in every religious tradition.

2. One of the stated objectives of this course is to "describe the impact of religion on contemporary American culture" (see the syllabus).  This unit provides the most obvious place where we can address this objective.