A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

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Religious Socialization
Sources of Influence and Influences of Agency
Darren E. Sherkat

Religious socialization is an interactive process through which social agents influence individuals' religious beliefs and understandings. People interact with a variety of different agents of socialization over the life course, and these individuals, organizations, and experiences channel the beliefs and understandings that constitute religious preferences and these preferences help inform commitments to religious organizations. Agents of socialization influence individuals only if the source is a trusted and valued connection, and experiences can only inform religious understandings if they are salient for religious faith. Individuals have considerable agency to reject socialization pressure, and to choose which connections guide religious preferences. The temporal ordering of contact with agents of socialization is clearly important. Parents' initial inputs into religious preferences and ties help guide people's interactions with other individuals and organizations (Myers 1996; Cornwall 1989; Sherkat 1998). Parents and denominations also channel peer interactions, and especially spousal choice both of which motivate religious beliefs and ties. Education and status factors also may influence religious preferences, and religious orientations also direct educational attainment and occupational choice (Sherkat and Wilson 1995; Darnell and Sherkat 1997; Sherkat and Darnell 1999).

In this chapter, I begin by elaborating a theoretical foundation for the study of religious influence and religious socialization. I draw on contemporary theory and research on social movements and the sociology of religion, particularly on the nature of religious preferences and endogenous and exogenous sources of preference change. The nexus between these arenas of social research is crucial for an integrative perspective on socialization geared toward ideologically structured collective action (Zald 2000). Next, I review research documenting the influence of various socialization agents. Finally, I provide a general assessment of the prospects for future research on socialization and how they fit into important theoretical debates in the sociology of religion.


John McCarthy and Mayer Zald (1977) provided a definition of social movements that can easily be integrated to the study of religion: Social movements are preference structures for change. McCarthy and Zald (1977) contrast these unmobilized preference


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A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion
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