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Evaluate the usefulness of the distinction between church and sect in explanation of the changing nature of religious beliefs and participation in modern society.

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Introduction

Evaluate the usefulness of the distinction between church and sect in explanation of the changing nature of religious beliefs and participation in modern society. The proven decline of religion in modern society shows us that there has been a change in the nature of religious beliefs and religious participation. Religious pluralism is far more common nowadays yet simultaneously secularisation and the number of atheists are largely increasing. The concept of religious pluralism however does not support the idea of religious decline, but merely the changes and divisions that have come about within religious forms since people are far more liberal with their beliefs. Many researchers see the activity of a religious institution as the key element of religious behaviour. More specifically the significance of religion in modern society can be measured by church attendance. The statistics shown below indicate the way religion is declining. August Comte, a French functionalist, said that the decline in participation correlates with the transition from stage two to three of 'human history.' ...read more.

Middle

If therefore we are recognising the actual decline of religion as the key change then the distinction, in this case between church and sect, fails in efficacy. It in fact holds little relevance to decline which is the fundamental change taking place. In order to further assess the utility of this distinction we must first recognise the basis of it as both theoretical and methodological. Attention should be drawn to not only the sources that have been used to compose the theory behind this distinction, but also the methods by which they can be applied to a purpose or objective. The division between church and sect was composed by sociologist Ernst Troeltsch, in 1931, and is based on historic and contemporary sources regarding a range of different religious institutions. One assumes therefore that the norms he encountered engendered a systematic approach to divorcing certain religion types from others depending on their fundamental characteristics. One issue though that emerges here is whether this distinction holds validity if it reveals correlation rather that attribute. ...read more.

Conclusion

One could extract from this that the institution with the majority has the most desirable characteristics. The process of distinction would then indicate how certain qualities have become more appealing in modern society. For example, with greater social freedom in modern society the church has more stigma attatched due to tradition and legalism. One point Troeltsch mentioned for example was that sects are egalitarian while churches are hierarchal. One would assume then, that if we know that the church is in decline, that egalitarianism has become desirable. Again however, the distinction itself is useless in determining this unless we have statistics to indicate such things. And even though this would determine far more about which practices and beliefs are preferred, it would give little indication as to why it has come to be like this. This positivistic approach therefore fails to discover what we are looking for; phenomenological reason; vestehen. Most would agree that religion, as a system of beliefs, is far too personal to pigeon hole and rationalise. The question requires qualitative data but the process of distinction only offers quantitative data. We can not therefore utilise this information for the purpose we have. 1 Olivia Santiago ...read more.

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