Review of Religion in Society by Ronald Johnstone
The author of Religion in Society by Ronald Johnstone used animpartial, objectiveapproachtooffer a solid examination of religionas a social entity that ismutually dependentand in continuous integration with other societal bodies. It assists the audience to comprehend thefunction and role ofreligionin society that occursin spite of different claimson thereality or fallacy of religious systems.The concentration was on American religious institutions,although the textincluded many instances of therelations between society and religionin different cultures,both past and modern.The text holds great significancefor individuals that are engrossed in religion as a societal organization.
The first chapter discusses religion from a sociological perspective. It starts with the definition of religion that was focused on the society. Most people have a partial knowledge of religion and its impact on their lives. Johnstone insisted that religion had no explicit definition. Rather, he proposed an abstract description of religion as being a philosophy and a force that shaped societal behavior. By failing to offer an explicit definition, the text provided an opportunity for different answers to the question of the nature of religion. However, this made the first and subsequent chapters containing religion issues appear vague. Johnstone then progresses gradually into the origins of religion. At this section of the text, he delves into a historical analysis that quotes the bible as a main reference text. There have been numerous complications and debates over the use of the bible as a reliable academic source especially in the study of religion. The author was particularly meticulous in his analysis opting to use psychological and anthropological perspectives to explain the origin of religion. Additionally, Johnstone used the rational choice theory to reinforce his arguments. Chapter 2 brought up discrepancies concerning the natural knowledge of God since it was difficult to make empirical arguments based on the past and nature. The rational choice theory argues that the trends of conduct in societies are a sign of the options selected by individuals as they attempt to capitalize on their benefits and diminish their expenses. In other words, individuals make decisions on how they should behave by evaluating the expenses and advantages of different courses of action. Due to this, trends of behavior will grow within the society that originates from those decisions. There is also a problem with sociological views of religion in that it is not imperative what one thinks about religion. The vital thing is the capacity to scrutinize religion impartially in its cultural and social context. Johnstone raised several questions: what is the relationship between social factors and religion? How are religious bodies organized? What is the influence of religion on other aspects of life such as politics and education?
The contents of chapter three delve deeper into the place of religion within the society. Ronald Johnstone portrayed religion as a group occurrence. Groups in society tend to act in an almost similar manner and have definite prerequisites that underlie them. For instance, Christians conform to accepted group norms such as attending mass, taking the Holy Communion and celebrating Christian holidays together. Johnstone also prescribed five functional prerequisites of group life: maintaining order, preserving a sense of purpose, producing acceptable levels of results, socialization and recruitment. With the increase in the size of the groups, it becomes uncontrollable and creates room for deviancy that resulted in different denominations. The author attempted to use empirical theories to explain the behavior of large groups within society in as far as religion is concerned. Ronald Johnstone also mentioned the issue of bureaucratization of religious institutions. The daily operations of the church or mosque are increasingly being influenced by bureaucracy such as lobbying activities, public relations as well as fundraising complications triggered by third parties.
Chapter 4 of the book ‘Religion in Society’ discusses the relationship between sects, denominations and churches. Sects and churches are closely related in the organization of religion within the society. Johnstone drew a clear difference between a church and sect by bringing out the level of tension between the contemporary world and the group of believers. While churches coexist gracefully with the immediate environment, sects live in high tension with the surrounding. This explanation may prove suitable in academic circles but within the society, the difference between sects and churches is slim. Sects behave in a manner that is quite opposite to church members. Christianity offers a set of regulations that may people subscribe to with diligence. Conversely, sects come up with their own rules that regularly go against social norms. The text suggested that even the type of preaching differed between churches and sects. Again, Johnstone addressed the differences between sects, denominations and churches effectively.
Several agents influence religious socialization including peers, family and the church. Family members hold a large sway on the choice and extent of religiosity. The presence of one or both parents increases the chances of their children attending church services or seminaries and consequently, their religiosity. Families have a greater influence on personal religious choices that may involve the level of personal prayers, commitment to the church and conventional orthodoxy. Johnstone engaged in a detailed analysis of the contribution of all the three agents on religion. However, it is his analysis of religious socialization that took center stage in the arguments in his publications. Using the three agents, Johnstone was able to bring up the correlation between these agents and the society. Of concern is the focus on definition and measures of religiosity at the expense of other aspects of religious socialization. Johnstone would have done better to spread his discussion to other aspects such as conversion and internalization.
The last chapters of the text by Ronal Johnstone focused on religious conflict. The chapter discussed the conflict theory proposed by Karl Marx as well as other historians in the past. Johnstone’s approach towards addressing religious conflict was slightly flawed because he used examples from the past and current religious phenomena. His approach using a comparison of the two eras would serve to make the understanding of religious conflict rather difficult. This is because contemporary perspectives are corrupted and skewed to an extent that it can be confusing. Pointing out that religious groups were also responsible for setting up challenges on a higher level than they contributed towards positive ends was a flawed argument. The church and religion in general have been at the forefront in ensuring that the society is shaped in a morally upright manner. Most of the initiatives by Christians such as poverty eradication, peace settlements and promotion of morality have changed the world for the better.
Overall, the works by Ronald Johnstone offered a multifaceted and detailed approach into religion especially within the developed world. Religion as a topic has several deep seated, controversial and extraordinary themes that may be difficult to explain using empirical methods. The conflict between faith and science has long bothered many scholars and analysts with either party aggressively pursuing their goals in their convictions. Achieving a sensible conclusion towards the different arguments in religion requires adopting an objective approach towards addressing religious matters. Ronald Johnstone was able to capture most of this desirable analytic style in his book.