Religion and Politics in Durkheim’s Theories

Social processes and power – race, gender, and class

In his early writings, Durkheim argued that the humanity could not socially function without religion. Such claims correspond with the functional approach to studies of religion, which assumes there are explanatory, regulatory, and bonding functions to religion and religious practices. In his subsequent works, his position on the subject seems to have deviated from the categorically functionalist. As per the somewhat more mature Durkheim, religion was embedded in the society and its processes (Carls n.pag.). Although some specific concepts are argued, Durkheim’s position is sufficient in explaining the relationship of religion and society through the lens of gender, sexuality, class, race, and politics.

Gender, specifically gender roles, have been largely shaped by the scriptures – as demonstrated by Judeo-Christian texts putting women in a dependent position. Greek and Roman cultures exemplify how religion, or rather, mythological consciousness constructed various societies’ perceptions of sexuality. A variety of culture-specific rituals and beliefs (e.g., anasyrma) can also serve as exemplars in this respect.

Class, power, and some groups’ control over the others has been formed and justified by religion, as certain religious groups and individuals practicing particular religions gained resources. Ethnicity as an identity is consistent with religion as an identity that determines what beliefs are fostered by a particular ethnic groups and how it practices religion. All these concepts are relevant for the history of religion and society just as they are for the contemporary studies of religion from the sociological perspective.

Still, the interconnectedness of politics and religion – a conventional truth that requires quite an amount of critical thinking skills to discover – is probably the most remarkable, as it will be further discussed in more detail.

Politics and religion

Despite the supposed separation of secular and religious social processes, the early Durkheim could have had a point assuming the inseparability of religion and society. The interlinkage in political terms becomes clear when one looks closer at the ways the two operate.

Firstly, the idea of effervescence as a collective transcendental experience is common for most religious practices, and Durkheim argued that effervescence is the happening to lay a foundation of a religion (Carls n.pag.). The idea does not receive appraisal taken separately because it does not seem to have logical grounding. Still, to some extent, it can be perfectly applicable to some religions in the political context. The Trump example is a case in point.

Another example is Islam, which is both a political ideology (the one that relies heavily on what is prescribed by the Qur’an) and a religion. The latter component of Islam is particularly “effervescent” as Durkheim would put it, with specific rituals collective near-trance experiences.

Secondly, in political studies of religion, some notions have intrinsic political messages, i.e., government and authority, warfare and peace, state and its structure. In relation to that, Lesson 2 referred to religion a social institution with a structure similar to that of any other establishment, be it a business, a school – or a government. Thus, and most importantly, religious groups and governments resemble each other in terms of structure, usually top-down, segregating clerics (or policymakers) by their functions. An analogy comes to mind: the Catholic Church teaching that a Christian is everyone’s lord and servant – and democratic system where people are simultaneously the rulers and the ruled.

Interrelation of frameworks

Religion appears to be a mediator between the concepts discussed in this lesson just as constructionist thought links together symbolic interaction and phenomenology. The scheme can be formulated as follows: happenings can be interpreted in many different ways (phenomenology); yet, people act towards the happenings relying on the meaning they give them (symbolic interactionism); the meaning that is commonly agreed upon is a social construct.

Religion is densely interrelated with all these concepts, which, in turn, are socially constructed. Class and power have defined meanings and appear to be natural for a human society: the stratification coming from the conflict of interests and some groups’ wealth accumulation is interpretable in religion (e.g., as a blessing from God in Christianity) and justified by it. The bodies of evidence on either status diversity or segregation contradict each other (Schwadel 18-19; Christiano, Swatos, and Kivisto 150). Still, the very phenomenon of class and how it is dealt with is agreed upon in the society. Various religions can condemn or praise wealth, which determines the way class is perceived in different cultures.

The same scheme applies to all other concepts. Before the rise of gender concerns, an individual’s behavior and role was largely predetermined by beliefs related to their sex (Christiano et al., 187). In Judeo-Christian cultures, religion added up to gender and gender role assumptions: Biblical males and females have a defined set of characteristics, and the Church and the adherents act towards males or females accordingly.

Shaktidharma, on the other hand, has similarly contributed to perception of genders in some Hindu denominations that, unlike Christianity or Islam, give women a superior place (“Shaktism” par. 1-3). In relation to sexuality, polygamous (or even polyamorous) behavior is socially believed to be improper. Similarly, in the Latin Church, celibacy is mandatory for all clergy, and intercourse is (or historically was) regarded as sinful, which is why sexuality is regulated.

As one can see, each social process has its own set of norms and values, a good part of which is formed by religion. The society agrees upon what is normal and abnormal, and religion shapes these agreements, which is what interrelates these concepts.

Politics and religious groups

To return to politics, it is worth considering how exactly it applies to religious groups. As it was mentioned, there are inherent political messages in many (if not all) religious concepts. The ideas of war and peace, for one, are explicitly defined practically in any religion that justifies genocide of people of other faiths. This perspective, however, regards religion through the lens of politics. The astute viewpoint expressed in the beginning of this lesson shows a reverse effect, which can indeed be witnessed in some groups nowadays.

The point concerning religious believers valuing their political beliefs is not actually beside the point, quite on the contrary. The percentages of voters for particular parties can evidence the presence of political preferences among varying groups. The 2012 polls revealed, for instance, that 79% of American Evangelical Protestants vote Republican, compared to 50% in 2008. The same pattern is witnessed with Mormon convention (65% Republican in 2008 and 70% by 2012) (“U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” n.pag.; Lipka par. 4).

There is, therefore, a pattern according to which believers regard politics through the prism of their religion, which is another reason politics is the most relevant concept to the modern religious expression.

Works Cited

Carls, Paul. “Émile Durkheim (1858—1917).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its Authors, n.d. Web.

Christiano, Kevin J., William H. Swatos, and Peter Kivisto. Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Print.

Lipka, Michael. “U.S. religious groups and their political leanings.Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center. 2016. Web.

Schwadel, Philip. “Neighbors in the Pews: Social Status Diversity in Religious Congregations.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 5 (2009): 3-23. Print.

Shaktism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2015. Web.

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices.Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 2008. Web.