SOAN 232: Saints, Sects, and Society


Click HERE to visit the course site for Spring 2017

Religion is a key part of every society on earth.  From the Stone Age to the Space Age, religion has given people a sense of themselves and of their cosmos.  It has held societies together and has torn them apart.  It is both a source of meaning and a source of confusion, both to individuals and to groups.

Through lectures, readings, discussions, films, group research projects and field trips, we will attempt to understand the structure of modern religious life, its recent changes, and the significance of those changes for society at large.  In the process, students will be invited to:

  • appreciate religious perspectives other than their own;
  • see the effects of social organization on religious life;
  • understand the role that religions and religious notions play in society at large, particularly in the United States;
  • understand the different ways in which sociologists approach religion (and religions)

We will spend the first part of the semester getting an overview of how sociologists approach religion and looking in depth at some contemporary American religious groups.  We will discover some useful tools for understanding religious dynamics.  Each student will visit a religious congregations, observing and reporting on its practices.  We will then explore some key questions about what is happening to religion in contemporary society.  Is it disappearing? Becoming more conservative?  More individualized?  How does religion affect personal life?  How does it shape social life?  After a second congregation visit and an interview with a religious specialist, students will then, in groups, explore religion’s effect on some contemporary social issues.  In these inquiries, we will use the sociological tools that we have learned to understand local religious life.

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