Academic Programs 


Religion as a Social Phenomenon: The Sociological Study of

Fall 2003

All religion is a social phenomenon. Although faith has a private dimension, human beings experience religion in groups or through forms created by social organizations. Every religion creates and is maintained by institutionalized rituals or concrete organizational forms. Professed beliefs are passed down by religious traditions, and ideally, these beliefs have consequences for one’s social behavior. Religious life has spawned times of war and times of peace; changed human beings and human history. Each of these social dimensions of religion can be investigated with the research methods of social scientist. Much can be learned about religion from a sociological perspective, from reading classical sociological theories of religious organization and practice including those of Weber, Durkheim, and Marx. However, be forewarned, "It is the conviction of many thoughtful [persons] that the objective study of religion is at best impossible, and at worst dangerous." Milton Yinger. Religion, Society and the Individual.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Thursdays, 7:00-9:20 p.m.

Scott Thumma
Faculty Associate in Religion and Society/Web and Distance Education

Contact Information:

(860)  509-9571


Course Syllabus
Class web site

Course Objectives:

       This course is designed as an introduction to the broad field of sociology of religion. Through readings, class discussion, observation in several congregations, and exploration of the Internet, students will develop the theoretical perspectives and tools enabling them to gain a greater understanding of religion and congregational life.


          Texts :    Religion: the Social Context,  Meredith McGuire

                         The Sacred Canopy,  Peter Berger

                          Studying Congregations,  Ammerman, Carroll, Dudley, and McKinney

Additional Readings:

                                    A number of articles are required in addition to the above books. They are available on reserve in the Library under my name.

Course Requirements:

     1) I expect class attendance and participation. Each student will             present a summary and lead a discussion around the readings from one week.  This discussion will be around several questions distributed during the week prior to the presentation date. Class participation and the class presentation will count for 20%of the final grade.

            Active participation will help a borderline final grade.

     2) There will be a research paper (10-15 pages) focusing on one            well-defined issue observed in one of the congregations visited.

            Worth 45%.

     3) The two observation reflections (2‑3 pages), will total 35% of the            final grade. These reflections will be used as a foundation for the           research paper.

      Feel free to talk with me about any questions, problems or ideas you may have concerning this class.

Session Readings

Session 1

Introduction to the course           

Film "Born Again"

Session 2

           Sociological Perspectives on Religion

                      McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 1

                      Berger, The Sacred Canopy, appendix I & II

Optional: *Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System"

Session 3

Religion as Meaning and Belonging

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 2

Optional: *Geertz, "Ethos, Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols"

    *Heilman, "Joking"

Session 4

Doing Sociology of Religion: Methods in Studying a Religious Groups

Ammerman, et al. Studying Congregations

Chapter 2, 3 & Methodological Chapter

Optional: McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, p.321-327

Session 5

Religion as Meaning and Belonging, Revisited

Berger, The Sacred Canopy, chap. 1,2 & 3

Optional: Berger, chap. 4

** first participant observation due **

Session 6

The Religious Life: Community, Conversion & Commitment

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 3

*Thumma, "Negotiating a Religious Identity"

*Gray & Thumma, "The Gospel Hour"

Session 7

Official and Nonofficial Religious Expressions

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 4 AND

*Greil & Rudy, "On the Margins of the Sacred" chap. 12

in  Robbins & Anthony In Gods We Trust (IGWT)


*Neitz, "In Goddess We Trust" chap. 18 in (IGWT

Session 8

Religious Organizations and Institutions

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 5

AND one of the following:

*McMullen, "The Religious Construction of a Global Identity"

*Eiesland, "Contending with a Giant"

*Nelson, "The Church and the Congregation"

** second participant observation due **

Session 9

Religion as Social Cohesion or Conflict?

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 6

* Emile Durkheim, from Elementary Forms of Religious Life

Session 10

Religion and Social Change

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chapter 7         

* Max Weber, from "The Social Psychology of the World Religions"

Session 11

Religion in the Modern World

McGuire, Religion: the Social Context, chap. 8 AND

*Roof, A Generation of Seekers, chap. 8 & 9


*Poston, "Da'wa in the West" and

*Nyang, "Convergence and Divergence"

Optional: Berger, The Sacred Canopy, chap. 5,6,7

Session 12

Religion and the Web

** Come prepared to discuss several web sites you found **

Session 13

The Future of Religion

Readings to be announced

** Final Paper Due


Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500