Society and the Sacred: The Social Formations and Transformations of Religion
While it may be stating the obvious, religion is both influenced by society and influences society. As we have seen, some sociologist such as Emile Durkheim, suggest that religion reflects the power structure and values of a society. On the other hand, Max Weber has set forth the idea that religion can and does shape the values and power structure of society. In many cases, it is impossible to isolate "religion" as a separate, independent component in contrast to "society." In almost all cases, there is a reciprocal relationship between religion and society. Each influences and is shaped by the other.
This unit focuses less on the impact of religion on society as a whole; rather its real focus is how religious traditions are embodied in communities. In this unit we will explore the various type of religious societies, and how they develop and change.
Types of religious societies
A. Natural community: In natural religious communities, there is little or no distinction between the religious and "non religious" life of the community. Indeed, every aspect of the natural community including its attitude toward family, its economic system and its power structure, is a manifestation of religious belief and practice. In short, there is no distinction between culture and religion. The main characteristics of the natural community are:
A voluntary religious community is built on common beliefs, special functions, or sacred powers that extend beyond natural ties of kinship and geography. One must make a conscious decision to join a voluntary religious community. Often, one is admitted to such a community only after instruction and a public announcement of one's decision. Voluntary religious communities often arise out of a dissatisfaction with the traditional, natural religious community. Unlike the natural community, rites of passage and ancestor worship play almost no role. On the other hand, rites of initiation into the community (such as baptism) are emphasized. Examples of voluntary religious communities are Christianity and Buddhism.
Founded religions are a type of voluntary religious community. As its name suggests, a founded religion is one that is established by a charismatic (gifted) leader who is a witness or bearer of new spiritual insight or revelation. Founded religions such as Christianity usually demand a sharper break with the natural community. For example, Jesus demanded that his followers leave behind all loyalties to family in order to participate in the new community.
Founded religions always face a crisis when the founder dies or, in the eyes of the community, is no longer physically present. This crisis is usually met by collecting teachings of founder, establishing a canon, creating a rule of faith or creed, and creating an organization to carry on the work of the founder. .