Sociology of Religion (SOC 360-901 / RELS 360-901)
R 4:00 (Hibbs B-024)

Office Hours: W 1:00 - 3:30, TR 9:30 - 10:30, By Appointment
14 Laurel St., First Floor, #1003

Office Phone\Voice Mail 828-6286
Home Phone\Voice Mail 784-3791
Web Site:

Throughout history religion has been one of the most pervasive features of human social organization. The social forms through which religious belief and practice have been expressed have been extraordinarily diverse, and the way that religion has influenced individual lives and collective social life has varied enormously. In this course we explore the way in which the religious impulse has been expressed socially, the role of religion in society, the way in which individuals form and change religious commitments, the various ways in which religious groups have been organized and some characteristic patterns of their organizational evolution, the nature of religious belief as it is expressed collectively and individually, and controversies over the appropriate role of religion  in social life. There will be particular emphasis through the course on the current expression of dominant religious traditions in the United States. There has been a continuing debate over the contemporary relevance of religion and various predictions of its ultimate demise or  rejuvenation as a social institution and as a significant element in individual lives. Illustrations from contemporary events will be used both to explore some of the perennial features of religious expression and to address some major religious policy issues and controversies.

The course text is available at the VCU Book Store. Since I have adopted this text in the past, there may be used copies available if you so choose.
Keith Roberts, Religion in Sociological Perspective. Fourth Edition. Wadsworth, 2004.

I will be available for personal meetings during the office hours listed above. Throughout the course I will be glad to meet with you personally to discuss issues which you find particularly interesting, which you wish to pursue further, or on which you would like clarification. In general it will be preferable if you schedule a specific meeting time even during office hours so that we will not be interrupted. I will also be glad to schedule individual appointments outside of regular office hours at your request.


All VCU students are presumed upon enrollment to have acquainted themselves with and have an understanding of the Honor System. Therefore, it is a student's responsibility to ask course instructors to clarify expectations for each assignment in order to be in compliance with the Honor System. The 2007 - 8 VCU Honor System policy statement and purpose is located at

The policy defines six acts (cheating, plagiarism, facilitating academic dishonesty, abuse of academic materials, stealing and lying) for which there are serious penalties.

As a student in this course, “you will be expected to practice personal and academic integrity; respect the rights and property of others; honor the rights of others to their opinions; and strive to learn from the differences in people, ideas, and cultures.” See


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require Virginia Commonwealth University to provide academic adjustments or accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Students seeking academic adjustments or accommodations must self-identify with the Coordinator of Services for Students with Disabilities on the appropriate campus. After meeting with the Coordinator, students are encouraged to meet with their instructors to discuss their needs, and if applicable, any lab safety concerns related to their disabilities…. Virginia Commonwealth University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action university providing access to education and employment without regard to age, race, color, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, veteran’s status, political affiliation, or disability.


In emergency situations the primary communications channel will be through text messaging, which is now available to students, faculty, staff and parents. You can sign up now by linking from the VCU home page or by going to

Other ways to communicate with the VCU community as well.

Sirens have been installed on both the Monroe Park and MCV Campuses for those unlikely occasions when it is imperative to get everyone's attention simultaneously. When a siren sounds, an emergency has occurred or is imminent:

1) If you are in a building on campus, remain where you are and seek additional information about what is happening and how to respond.

2) If you are outside but on campus, go to the nearest University building and seek additional information about what is happening.

3) If you are off campus, do not come to campus, but seek additional information about what is happening.

Should an emergency occur, the VCU Alert Web site at will be updated regularly with information and instructions about how to respond. For day-to-day use, the Alert web site provides useful information about how to prepare for emergencies before they happen. The site is being updated and made more accessible from VCU's home page (

Digital screens installed in major academic buildings and all residence halls on both campuses will be used in an emergency to provide audio and visual alerts similar to those displayed on the VCU Alert web site.

University Rules and Procedures prohibit anyone "to have in his possession any firearm, other weapon, or explosive, regardless of whether a license to possess the same has been issued, without the written authorization of the President of the university..."


 I expect you to attend class regularly. Attendance will be taken during each class. If you have not arrived by the beginning of class, you may be counted absent. Because I think that regular attendance is important for the learning process, I offer a reward for regular attendance and discourage non-attendance. Through the attendance policy you can can either earn or lose points on your final course average.

The scale of attendance point adjustments is as follows:

If you miss 0 classes or 1 class, you will earn 6 points on your final average
If you miss 2 classes, you will earn 4 points on your final average
If you miss 3 classes, you will earn 2 points on your final average
If you miss 4 classes, 0 points will be added or deducted from your final average
If you miss 5 classes, you will lose 2 points on your final average
If you miss 6 classes, you will lose 4 points on your final average
If you miss more than 6 classes, you will lose 4 points plus a letter grade for each additional absence

Attendance is taken twice in the evening section of the course. Missing the entire session counts as two absences, and missing either half of the class counts as one absence. Therefore, you may miss two complete class sessions or parts of several sessions without penalty. In the morning section of the course, each class meeting counts as one absence.

If you encounter unusual problems in maintaining regular attendance, you are responsible for letting me know so that I can respond appropriately. In cases where you are legitimately unable to attend a particular class, you may receive an excused absence that will not be counted in attendance point policy.

CLASS DECORUM (House Rules) (House Rules)

1. If you arrive after class has begun, you will wait to be admitted (usually about ten minutes after class begins).
2. If you need to leave class early, you will inform me and take a seat near the door exit.
A late arrival early departure seating area will be available.
4. All cell phone, beeper, and texting devices must be turned off before class begins. If you are expecting an emergency call, inform me and I will locate you near the door.
5. Laptops can be used in class only by permission. If you receive permission, you will agree to access only the course website and to sit in a location that will not disturb others. 


All reading assignments will be drawn from the text and online materials. The attached course organization guide provides a listing of the organizational format of the course, the issues which will be covered in each of the major segments of the course, reading assignments for each course segment, and the placement of examinations. Reading assignments will be made in class each week for the following week and posted on the web site. Longer term reading assignments can be obtained from the course organization guide. Additional assignments will be made for material contained on the course web site as indicated in the “Course Web Site” section below.


 I have placed the overheads used in lectures and sample questions for each of the four exams on the course web site. Weekly class assignments and announcements of upcoming exams will be posted on the web site on a regular basis. There are also links to web sites and material drawn from those sites that are related to topics covered in class. I will assign certain of these materials along with normal text reading assignments. Since web based materials are constantly changing, assignments of these materials will be made on a weekly basis. These various resources are very important to successful completion of the course. The web site address is as follows:
The User ID is “soc360" and the Password is “religion”

There will be four examinations. Exact dates will be announced in class at least one week prior to the exam and posted on the course web page. Each of the four tests, including the final (fourth) exam, will cover only material subsequent to material on the previous exam(s). The exam format will be multiple choice and true/false questions. Material from reading and lecture will appear on each examination. Each of the four exams will comprise one fourth of the final grade. Attendance points will be added to or subtracted from the final percentage average of the three exams. In the case of an emergency you must contact me in advance and receive permission to defer taking a test at the scheduled time if you wish to be eligible for a makeup exam.

If you know that you cannot be present on the date and time of the final test, please withdraw from the course.

Please remember to bring #2 pencils to all test sessions!



This is a survey course in the sociology of religion. The overall objective of the course is to examine religion as a social form from a sociological perspective. In order to do this we will first explore how sociologists approach religion and contrast this approach to those of religious believers as well as other social science disciplines. Next we will examine some of the basic social components of religion, the social material out of which religion is fashioned socially. Building upon this discussion, we shall then consider how these various components are organized in different kinds of religious groups and in different social locations. Examination of these issues will constitute the segment of the course. In the second segment of the course, we will examine a number of different kinds of religious organization, both conventional forms of religious organization (churches) and oppositional religious organization (movements). Our objective will be to identify the social conditions under which these alternative kinds of religious organization emerge and how these kinds of organization are connected to the social locations in which they are created and sustained. Each of the course section headings below contains a description of that section of the course relates to the overall course objective.


The objective of the "Perspectives on Religion" section of the course is to identify what constitutes a sociological perspective on religion. What is religion from a sociological perspective? There are a number of different perspectives on religion, and there are important differences among them. One of the most important differences occurs between the way committed believers and social scientists approach religion. Since this is a social science course, it is important to establish the distinctive nature of the social science approach, its strengths, and its limitations. We will examine the way that anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists approach and define religion and the differences between religion and other ways of knowing.

1. Roberts, Chapter 1, pp. 3-25, "What Do We Mean by the Term Religion?"
2. Roberts, Chapter 2, pp. 26-42, "A Scientific Perspective on Religion"
3. Roberts, Chapter 3, pp. 45-68, "The Role of Religion in Society: Macro Perspectives"


The objective of "The Religious Experience" section of the course is to identify the central elements of religious experience. What are the core social components of religious experience from a sociological perspective? We will focus on two elements of religious experience, myth and ritual. What is it that distinguishes myth and ritual from other social forms and why are these forms so central to religion? We will use two of the most important forms of religious experience, conversion and symbolic healing, to illustrate these processes.

1. Roberts, Chapter 4, pp. 69-94, "Religious Experience, Symbol Systems, and World Views”
2. Roberts, Chapter 5, pp. 97-129, "Conversion and Commitment”



The objective of "The Beginnings of Religious Organizations" section of the course is to offer a sociological interpretation of the organizational origin, development, and dilemmas of religion. How do religious organizations emerge and develop? From a sociological perspective, religion is more than beliefs and more than individual practice, it is expressed through some social form. We will a model of religious organization development and illustrate different possible outcomes for religious groups.

1. Roberts, Chapter 6, pp. 161-180, "Emergence and Viability of Religious Movements: Mobilization of Resources and Plausibility of the World View"
2. Roberts, Chapter 7, pp. 156-174, "Survival of Religious Movements: Mobilization of Resources and Plausibility of the World View"


The objective of the "The Place of Religion in the Social Order" section of the course is to identify major sources of social division along religious lines. Why are there so many types of religious belief, practice, and organization, and how are they patterned socially? The primary focus in this section of the course is on the relationship between religion and social class. We will also examine two major sociological perspectives on religion, consensus and conflict approaches, through which the place of religion in the social order is understood. These two perspectives yield very different understandings of the role of religion in the social order.

1. Roberts, Chapter 9, pp. 201-218, "Religion and Social Stratification: Interactive Processes"
2. Roberts, Chapter 10, pp. 219-249, "Social Stratification and Religious Ideology"



This section of the course constitutes the beginning of the "second half" of the course. The first section of the course was devoted to discussion of various elements or religion from a sociological perspective and the way in which religious groups are formed and developed. For the remainder of the course we will be examining the spectrum of established religious groups, from liberal to conservative. In order to set the stage for a discussion of the major differences in religious organization across the social order, we will first develop a typology of religious organizations and of the kind of social locations in which each occurs. The objective of the “Religious Organizations" section of the course is to begin an examination of the patterning of religious organized in different social locations. In this case, what are the distinguishing characteristics of different religious organizations and how can we account for them sociologically?

1. Roberts, Chapter 8, pp. 176-198, "Analysis of Religious Groups and Organizations"
2. Roberts, Chapter 11, pp. 253-271, “ Religion and Prejudice: Christianity and Racism”
3. Roberts, Chapter 12, pp. 273-300, “Religion and Prejudice: Christianity, Gender, and Sexism.”



The objective of the "Issues and Developments" section of the course is to examine issues that have produced conflict within and between religious organizations through American history and new developments in religious organization. With respect to conflicts, Race and gender have been two major sources of division through American history. More recently, abusive practices by religious leaders and organizations have become a major social issue.With respect to new developments, technological innovation and global organization have both reshaped religious organization and practice in a variety of ways.

1. Roberts, Chapter 13, pp. 306-328, "Secularization: Religion in Decline or in Reformation?”
2. Roberts, Chapter 14, pp. 329-352, "The Marketing of Religion"
3. Roberts, Chapter 16, pp. 372-397, "Religion and Globalization"


The final examination is scheduled for the time listed in the final exam schedule