Religion is part and parcel of society as it helps in defining what society really is and how it functions. There are many religions in the world today many of which have a huge following. When putting the social context of religion into perspective, it is clear that it cannot be separated from society and therefore it has to be incorporated therein almost every facet of life. On one hand, religion intersects to what society is and on the other, on the issues that affect the said society. Ronald Johnstone, in his book Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion focuses on how religion has impacted and shaped the society and how society has embraced it in almost every facet of life.
Johnson states categorically that there is a connection between religion and political parties and it that the two are not easily separable. According to him, this means that they coexist and that one cannot function without the other. He points out religious violence in the context of politics in society and when he relates this with the happenings of Northern Ireland, he concludes that the conflict that exists there is not about seeking to find the divine truth that the people should live by but rather one that the religious and political groups use to propel and seek to gratify themselves (Johnstone 143). They are out to compete and outdo each other at the expense of religion. He says that the motivation behind the unionists, Protestants, Catholics and even the Nationalists is not propelled towards fighting for the social liberties that are meant to benefit the people from one side of the divide, either political or religious. These people at the helm of the conflict in Ireland claim to have religious and political ideologies which are seen to work hand in hand and therefore this becomes very difficult to separate these two.
Religious fundamentalism is what it means to go back to the founding principles of a religious group. All religious groups have got fundamental beliefs upon which is built. These fundamental beliefs act as the measuring gauge with which a religion is measured. According to Johnstone, these religious groups including the Protestants, Jewish and Islam have their beliefs which shape their faith. And so, these groups tend to rely so much on what they believe is what said about how they should operate. This means that these groups to a large extent are unwilling to compromise and reach a middle ground upon which they can draw new principles to govern the society and the politics and society. When all the views of these religious groups are put together, they seem to clash on some issues. This leads to the clash of laws and policies that a country should live by. According to Johnstone these religious groups provide a diverse way of looking at the way society should operate regardless of the fact that they fail to agree on some facts.
Stratification, religion, and race is also another area that Johnstone points out. He uses theorists such as Webber and Karl Marx in explaining how religion has been used in the past in subduing the marginalized people in society (222- 229). According to them, religion was used as a tool that was redirecting the attention that marginalization and exploitation was supposed to get this is seen in such a way that there had emerged classes of people who were defined by what they had or possessed and therefore alienating the poor from the rich. The rich were hiding behind religion as they went by their mission of making the best out their influence. He concludes that those people regarded as very faithful in their various religions or faiths are those who have low family income. On the other hand, different racial groups are known to belong to certain religious groups and their elective affinity is determined by their possessions and income.
Johnstone also covers the issue of women and religion. Women have over the years taken the back seat in matters concerning leadership in the various religious groups in existent today. But this has changed because in the recent past, there have been seen women standing up and taking leadership roles in the church. Gone are the days when women were just seen as passive members of the church whose role was mainly practice religion and leave all the leadership to men. A case in point is where he talks about women in the Catholic Church and also The Southern Baptist Convention. Traditionally, their roles were reserved but there has been a shift in how they are treated by the church and society in general. Johnstone’s point of interest in this chapter is the major shift from traditional religion in regard to women position to a more conventional one where women are now becoming party to decision making and leadership roles in the church a good example being seen through the mega churches.
The Black and Native American Religion in America is another area that is well covered in this book. It gives the history of the American experience of blacks and natives in regard to their evolvement I matters religion. The black religion in America sought to teach on the hereafter and all that is achievable in regard to affirming their position in society against racism. The church in this case embraced equality and maybe, the genesis of their teachings is seen through their historical background on the social injustices they faced. In as much as this has changed, this forms the basis of their teachings. The Native American religion on the other hand seeks to address the issues that also affect them which are a bit more different from the black religion.
On matters ecumenism, there have been ecumenical developments since the 1900s. Several reformed denominations have embraced reforms and have opened up to each other in terms of coming together to speak a common language on some issues that affect society. A good example is the joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This saw the coming together of the Roman Catholic Church and The Lutherans in the year 1999. Such gestures have seen the churches work together while not minding some of the fundamental believes that clash in regard to what they believe.
It is therefore evident that the central concern of Johnstone is to highlight the position that religion has had in society. It is evident that religion plays a huge role in defining the way people live and relate with one another. It is not all rosy when it comes to matters religion. The book delves into laying bare some of the challenges that are seen when religion is put together with some aspects of society such as politics. It is evident that indeed religion has been part and parcel of life and it is going to be so for a very long time. Society has also embraced this fact regardless of some of the confusion that arises from this fact.
Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. 2007.