The Sociology of Religion Isn't Just About Religion

It’s an examination of behavior, belonging, and belief

October 27, 2022

Sociology of Religion examines human behavior as well as a variety of faith systems, but it’s more than a survey of world religions. Senior Lecturer Jennifer Snook explains that the course is about the relationship between macro-, meso-, and micro-structures; institutions; and the intersection of religion, social life, knowledge systems, and the political.

“We talk more about how particular religions exhibit particular characteristics than any discussion of specific beliefs,” she says. This mix makes for a fascinating course that will allow you to analyze behavior, belonging, and belief.

Examining Identity and Meaning

This course will introduce you to engaging topics tied to identity and meaning. You will examine religion as a social organization that can oppress, liberate, mitigate social change, and intersect other social institutions. 

We talk more about how particular religions exhibit particular characteristics than any discussion of specific beliefs.”

Senior Lecturer Jennifer Snook

Sociology of Religion will also introduce you to a variety of theorists, both contemporary and historical. Snook says that students learn how to theorize “in the moment” on many aspects of our modern lives through hands-on learning opportunities, community interactions, and guest speakers. 

This course is a logical stepping stone to upper-level sociology classes. However, it also introduces you to theory, intensive research, and social implications of religious systems that will serve you well as you navigate the world.  

As part of a comprehensive liberal arts education, Sociology of Religion exposes you to new ways of thinking, Snook says. The course examines how others have lived the human experience; their stories may inspire you as well. 

Concepts at Work

Sociology of Religion is not designed to lead you to one belief or another. Instead, it exposes you to the relationships and practices that build the various religious systems of meaning. “We discuss a variety of subjects as examples of how concepts are at work,” Snook says. For example, how does rationalization relate to atheism? Or church, state, and politics to contemporary Satanism? What’s the relationship between Max Weber, prosperity gospel, and Pentecostalism? Karl Marx and liberation theology? Reenchantment and Paganisms?

Snook says class discussions are lively, friendly, and sometimes even persuasive. It’s not uncommon for students to begin the course with one set of views and end it with a new outlook on their beliefs. 

At the end of the semester, Snook asks her students do a final reflection, writing about their assumptions, cynicisms, and theories, which may have changed, grown, or deepened. It’s a way for students to not only wrap up the class, but also to think more deeply about how behavior, belonging, and belief all fit together in their lives and beyond. 

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