Religion in Sociological Perspective

Religion in Sociological Perspective

Religion in Sociological Perspective

Religion in Sociological Perspective

Excerpt

Sociology, in common with the other social and natural sciences, emerged as a product of western civilization. But whereas the natural sciences, and to a large extent economics, with its narrow commitment to a normative rationality, could readily surmount the cultural inhibitions and biases of their circumstances of origin and early development, sociology found it much less easy to transcend the social context in which it was evolved. Sociology was, so to say, infected by its own subject matter, by the assumptions and perspectives of the societies in which the so-called science of society was conceived and developed. Its generalizations were usually those that pertained to western societies, and its world-view was subtly dependent on the cultures in which sociologists themselves practised. Even when new subject matter was infused into this discipline from anthropology, all too often the theoretical propositions formulated in the study of tribal societies were applied, with only laggardly modifications to accommodate the differences of scale and complexity, to advanced western social systems. Other patterns of societal organization had to wait for proper sociological attention. The subject's commitment to abstract, universal propositions induced a premature and facile optimism concerning the extent to which sociology, representing itself as the social equivalent of physics, might embody one definitive body of high level theory. Its position was, none the less, deeply compromised by the indebtedness of sociological concepts to specifically western cultures, and this indebtedness -- in so far as sociology persists with its early ideals -- it has never quite transcended.

Yet, despite these evident limitations, the growing impact of western science and technology on non-western nations has steadily made the cultural captivity of the sociologist less significant. In technical, economic, and organizational matters, the rest of the world becomes progressively westernized, and although this does not immediately produce patterns of social relations or social structures that correspond to those of . . .

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