15.1 The Sociological Approach to Religion

Religion describes the beliefs, values, and practices related to sacred or spiritual concerns. Social theorist Émile Durkheim defined religion as a  unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things (1915). Max Weber believed religion could be a force for social change. Karl Marx viewed religion as a tool used by capitalist societies to perpetuate inequality. Religion is a social institution, because it includes beliefs and practices that serve the needs of society. Religion is also an example of a cultural universal, because it is found in all societies in one form or another. Functionalism, conflict theory, and interactionism all provide valuable ways for sociologists to understand religion.

15.2 World Religions

Sociological terms for different kinds of religious organizations are, in order of decreasing influence in society, ecclesia, denomination, sect, and cult. Religions can be categorized according to what or whom its followers worship. Some of the major, and oldest, of the world s religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

15.3 Religion in the United States
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Liberation theology combines Christian principles with political activism to address social injustice, discrimination, and poverty. Megachurches are those with a membership of more than 2,000 regular attendees, and they are a vibrant, growing and highly influential segment of U.S. religious life. Some sociologists believe levels of religiosity in the United States are declining (called secularization), while others observe a rise in fundamentalism.

Introduction to Religion

  • religion: a system of beliefs, values, and practices concerning what a person holds to be sacred or spiritually significant

Section 15.1  The Sociological Approach to Religion

  • religious experience: the conviction or sensation that one is connected to  the divine
  • religious beliefs: specific ideas that members of a particular faith hold to be true
  • religious rituals: behaviors or practices that are either required for or expected of the members of a particular group

Section 15.2  World Religions

  • cults: religious groups that are small, secretive, and highly controlling of members and have a charismatic leader
  • sect: a small, new offshoot of a denomination
  • established sects: sects that last but do not become denominations
  • denomination: a large, mainstream religion that is not sponsored by the state
  • ecclesia: a religion that is considered the state religion
  • monotheism: a religion based on belief in a single deity
  • polytheism: a religion based on belief in multiple deities
  • animism: the religion that believes in the divinity of nonhuman beings, like animals, plants, and objects of the natural world
  • totemism: the belief in a divine connection between humans and other natural beings
  • atheism: the belief in no deities

Section 15.3  Religion in the United States

  • liberation theology: the use of a church to promote social change via the political arena
  • megachurch: a Christian church that has a very large congregation averaging more than 2,000 people who attend regular weekly services

Section 15.1 The Sociological Approach to Religion

The History of Religion as a Sociological Concept
Theoretical Perspectives on Religion
 Conflict Theory
 Symbolic Interactionism

Section 15.2 World Religions

Types of Religious Organizations
Types of Religions
The World s Religions

Section 15.3 Religion in the United States

Religion and Social Change
Liberation Theology

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16.1 Education around the World

Educational systems around the world have many differences, though the same factors including resources and money affect every educational system. Educational distribution is a major issue in many nations, including in the United States, where the amount of money spent per student varies greatly by state. Education happens through both formal and informal systems; both foster cultural transmission. Universal access to education is a worldwide concern.

16.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Education

The major sociological theories offer insight into how we understand education. Functionalists view education as an important social institution that contributes both manifest and latent functions. Functionalists see education as serving the needs of society by preparing students for later roles, or functions, in society. Conflict theorists see schools as a means for perpetuating class, racial-ethnic, and gender inequalities. In the same vein, feminist theory focuses specifically on the mechanisms and roots of gender inequality in education. The theory of symbolic interactionism focuses on education as a means for labeling individuals.

16.3 Issues in Education

As schools continue to fill many roles in the lives of students, challenges arise. Historical issues include the racial desegregation of schools, marked by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling. In today s diverse educational landscape, socioeconomic status and diversity remain at the heart of issues in education, with programs such as the Head Start program attempting to give students equal footing. Other educational issues that impact society include charter schools, teaching to the test, student loan debt, and homeschooling.

One hot topic is the Common Core State Standards, or the Common Core. The primary controversy over the Common Core, from the standpoint of teachers, parents and students, and even administrators, is not so much the standards themselves, but the assessment process and the high stakes involved.

Section 16.1  Education around the World

  • education: a social institution through which a society s children are taught basic academic knowledge, learning skills, and cultural norms
  • formal education: the learning of academic facts and concepts
  • informal education: education that involves learning about cultural values, norms, and expected behaviors through participation in a society
  • cultural transmission: the way people come to learn the values, beliefs, and social norms of their culture
  • universal access: the equal ability of all people to participate in an education system

Section 16.2  Theoretical Perspectives on Education

  • social placement: the use of education to improve one s social standing
  • sorting: classifying students based on academic merit or potential
  • cultural capital: cultural knowledge that serves (metaphorically) as currency to help one navigate a culture
  • hidden curriculum: the type of nonacademic knowledge that people learn through informal learning and cultural transmission
  • tracking: a formalized sorting system that places students on  tracks (advanced, low achievers) that perpetuate inequalities
  • grade inflation: the idea that the achievement level associated with an A today is notably lower than the achievement level associated with A-level work a few decades ago
  • credentialism: the emphasis on certificates or degrees to show that a person has a certain skill, has attained a certain level of education, or has met certain job qualifications

Section 16.3  Issues in Education

  • Head Start program: a federal program that provides academically focused preschool to students of low socioeconomic status
  • No Child Left Behind Act: an act that requires states to test students in prescribed grades, with the results of those tests determining eligibility to receive federal funding

Section 16.1 Education around the World

Formal and Informal Education
Access to Education

Section 16.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Education

 Manifest Functions
 Latent Functions
Conflict Theory
Feminist Theory
Symbolic Interactionism

Section 16.3 Issues in Education

Equal Education
Head Start
No Child Left Behind
Teaching to the Test
Bilingual Education
Common Core
 What gets measured?
Charter Schools
Teacher Training
Social Promotion
Affirmative Action
Rising Student Loan Debt
Home Schooling

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