Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

PART II
RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION

In Part I we examined ways in which individuals relate to religion--their meaning systems, their identity, and their choices. Now we turn to the structure of religious bodies.

This may not be everyone's favorite view of the subject. We often hear people complain about "organized religion." And yet many people continue to attend churches and other places of worship. Perhaps what they are seeking is a sense of community, and not necessarily the imposition of structure. However, communities cannot exist solely on the basis of ideas and values. They must deal with practical considerations, such as where they will meet, how their buildings will be maintained, and who will be responsible for rituals and other group activities. When people are dealing with personal problems or seeking answers to religious questions, they may feel the need of someone to counsel them. When they become parents, they may look for someone to help teach their children about their faith.

Religions develop structures to accomplish all these tasks and others. On the local level the structure may be a congregation, that is, a group of people who gather regularly to worship together. They may choose clergy to carry out special religious functions, or the clergy may be selected by a centralized church administration. These are the usual patterns in Western societies of the religious division of labor--that is, the distinction between clergy, who are responsible for providing leadership and tending to the spiritual needs of the members, and the members themselves, or lay people. There are some exceptions, such those Quaker congregations that do not have full-time paid clergy but rather share the responsibility for pastoral care among the members, who are all regarded as ministers. In other parts of the world the patterns may be more complex, as in the case of Hinduism, in which religious functions are carried out by a large number of people with different roles.

The structures of religious bodies also differ according to whether they are closer to the model of a church or that of a sect. A church is a large organization

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