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Religious Organizations

Religious Organizations

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the various components of religion.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Masjid Public Domain World Map Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on religious organizations. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today, let's look at religious organizations. So the institution of religion is an institution that's trying to look at the extraordinary, the supernatural, the things that transcend everyday, and specifically, another way of talking about the institution of religion is calling it church. Now, I have in parentheses that a church is a building which you use for worship. That's kind of a limited way that we use the definition of a church. Think of church being the institution of religion. So regardless of whether Catholic or Christian or some other form of religion, those all can be called church.

So let's look at some different aspects of the institution of religion. First thing we're going to look at is a denomination. So there you saw, I divided up the one big church into four different separate ones. You can think of a denomination as being a church or a brand of a religious organization. And this type of religious organization really considers itself part of larger society.

Denomination is easier to think about, maybe with some examples, rather than just that definition. So Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, those are all examples of different denominations, specifically denominations of the Christian church, but they're all just a type of church, and they stay part of larger society as a whole.

Now a different type of religion is a state church. And this is a church that is formally linked to a state. So this is when you have a government that is saying, this is our religion, this is what we support. And that amount of support can vary. But let's look at some examples in the world here.

On this map here, it's not important that you know what all the colors mean. The colors are just different religions, and what religions are the state religions. But anything that is not gray is a place that has a state religion. And again, this amount of control the government exerts based on the state religion varies.

In England, there is a state religion there. The Church of England, in fact. But it doesn't really put a lot of control and constraint and restrictions on its population to follow the state religion. On the other hand, Iran also has a state religion. But they're really forcing their religion on a much larger segment, and in a much more forceful way on their population.

Let's look at some other aspects of religion. And these are religions that are apart from society. So a sect is a type of religion that separates itself from society, and they deny plurality.

So generally speaking, if I take a step back here, denominations, they allow the existence of other denominations. They obviously think that their denomination is the best, but they're not saying the other ones don't have a spot to exist. Well, a sect does deny that. They have no tolerance, or very limited tolerance for other religions. And that's one of the reasons why they're largely separate from society.

Now if you step further away from society, you have a cult. And in a cult, their norms greatly differ from that of society. So a sect, maybe they do a little bit, and they're a little separated, or mostly separated, but in a cult, they're very separated. They're further away from society. And a cult generally is centered around a very charismatic leader who founds the cult, who brings people together, who keeps people in the cult.

Now, an interesting thing that's happening in this post-modern world, is you have the rise of civic religion. Now, a civic religion isn't necessarily a religion in the same way we would say that Christianity is a religion. But it can fall under the sociological term of a religion.

So a civic religion is one where the devotion of the religion is actually to the state and the citizens of that state, so to a country. It's closely tied to the idea of patriotism. And it's considered generally less formal than typical religions, but there are many different rituals that connect to the state.

A great example of that here in the United States of America-- Pledge of Allegiance. That's pretty similar to a lot of religious ritual. Or the national anthem, it's played at almost every sporting event before it starts. And it's putting the focus not necessarily on God, but as God and how it connects to the state.

Another totally different way of looking at religion is fundamentalism. Now fundamentalism is pretty much a Western term, but it basically means ultra-conservative beliefs. I have on the screen there, traditional values. So making things really old school, going back to the traditions.

And fundamentalists, normally we maybe hear about them in the media talking about Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists. There are other types of fundamentalists, but those are the two that are most salient, the most prevalent in our everyday lives. And fundamentalists, in this attempt to be ultra-conservative and bring things back, way back, they're not tolerant of other religions at all.

And whatever their sacred text is, they interpret that text as literal. So if you have a Christian fundamentalist, they're going to take every single word in the Bible as literal, as word for word. Whereas if you have a progressive Christian, they're going to look at the Bible in a different way, and maybe interpret the writings in the Bible to modern society.

So today's takeaway message-- church is just the institution of religion. And we looked at a couple of different ways that you can look at this institution of religion. Denomination is a church that is mainly within society. And a state church is one that is formally linked to our country.

A sect is a religious organization, which is pretty much separate from society. And a cult is further separate from society. And their norms greatly differ from the majority of people.

A civic religion is one whose focus is on devotion to a state and citizenship of that state. And fundamentalism is an ultraconservative group with ultraconservative religious group. Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon.

Terms to Know

The institution of religion that is integrated into society as a whole.


A religious-like devotion to a state and the citizenship ideals of that state.


A small, close-knit group who devoutly follows the instruction of a charismatic leader.


A church that recognizes religious difference and exists separate from the nation state.


A highly traditional worldview that dismisses all other religious groups by taking one book as word-for-word truth.


A smaller, less formal and more spontaneous religious group that exists apart from the larger society.

State Church

A church that is linked to a nation state.