Sociology | Religion and Society
S313 | 12789 | Steensland

Religion and Society (S313), Professor Brian Steensland

The success of the civil rights movement. The attack on the World
Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The outpouring of support for
victims of Hurricane Katrina. The deep divisions in this country
over issues such as abortion and homosexuality. What links these
diverse topics? The role played in each of them by religious
organizations and people of faith.

In both dramatic and subtle ways, religion is a powerful influence
in society and its effects are quite varied. Sometimes religion
plays a role in struggles for justice and tremendous acts of
compassion. At other times it plays a role in sustaining violence
and maintaining oppression. In more subtle ways, religion plays a
central role in the lives of millions of people on a daily basis by
providing them with purpose, community, and moral guidance.

Accordingly, this course will be oriented by four main questions:

1) Why religion? Why has nearly every society in human history had
systems of religious belief? Moreover, what makes religion an
inherently “social” thing?

2) What are contemporary trends in religious belief and practice in
the U.S. and the world? How does religious belief shape people
attitudes? How do people actually practice their faith? Is
religion increasing or decreasing in its influence?

3) What role does religion play in American politics and public
life? Has this role changed in recent years and, if so, how?

4) What role does religion play in broader global society,
particularly in light of the recent connections between the rise
of religious fundamentalism and terrorist activity?

By addressing each of these questions, this course will provide
students with a fuller understanding of religious experience,
religious patterns, and religious institutions in the U.S. and the
rest of the world.