A Sociological Approach to Questions about Religious Diversity

Michele Dillon

in The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780195340136
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 A Sociological Approach to Questions about Religious Diversity

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  • Religion
  • Comparative Religion
  • Sociology of Religion


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This article examines questions about religious diversity from a sociological perspective, focusing on Europe and the United States. The public face and much of the public's awareness of religious diversity are filtered through the mosaic of symbols that demarcate religious differences. It is through symbols that societies, groups, and communities demarcate the sacred from the profane. The distinction Emile Durkheim draws between the sacred and the profane anticipates the specter of religious intolerance. There are limits, however, to what the state or other institutions can accomplish in nurturing a political culture of religious tolerance. For some time now, the sociology of religion has been dominated by a theoretical approach that emphasizes a market paradigm of church behavior. It is important to recognize that the origins and socio-historical development of the different world religions have given rise to each institutionalizing different worldviews. This is a topic that Max Weber wrote about extensively based on his detailed comparative-historical analyses of the five world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism).

Keywords: Europe; United States; symbols; sacred; profane; sociology; religion; religious tolerance; political culture

Article.  6513 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Comparative Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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