AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme

The AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme is a five-year strategic research initiative funded by two UK research councils: the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. running 2007-2012. It has funded 75 projects across UK universities investigating various aspects of the complex relationships between religion and society, both historical and contemporary.

Research supported includes the website "British Religion in Numbers",[1] providing a one-stop shop for statistics on religion in Britain led by Professor David Voas at Manchester University, Professor Kim Knott at Leeds University's restudy of British media coverage of religion and spirituality, and an investigation of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh shrine practices across the Punjab led by Dr Tej Purewal, also at Manchester. Phase 2 of the Programme has focused on Youth and Religion specifically, supporting projects like Dr Basia Spalek at Birmingham University's research into police partnerships with young Muslims.

The Religion and Society Programme is hosted at Lancaster University, and directed by Professor Linda Woodhead helped by Dr Rebecca Catto (Research Associate) and Peta Ainsworth (Administrator). The Programme also helps to organize various relevant and topical events such as a day at the British Library asking ‘where next for religion in the public sphere’ in July 2010 and a closed seminar asking ‘Child abuse in the Catholic Church – what can be learned?’ at Heythrop College London in November 2010.

Sociology of Religion

Sociologist have studied religion right from the beginning of the discipline, in the 19th century. It was a central concern of the first generation of sociological thinkers and those who influence them. Major influences in the history of the disciplines, such as Comte, Karl Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Simmel all contributed in various ways to the sociology of religion. The French philosopher August Comte, coined the term sociology. Even so, religion as a replacement for existing religions as a new religion of positivism. Positivism was the view that only the methods of the natural sciences could provide knowledge of human nature and society (Kaelber, 2004). He thought positivism was valuable for its potential to solve social problems and to reorganize society. He developed a blueprint for a new social order which had a religion of humanity at its ethical basis. He did so to recognize the importance of religion in creating social bonds between people. However, his work has been largely overshadowed by the work of other scholars in sociology of religion, such as Max Weber and Durkheim's. Later work in the sociology of religion has often been developed with the work of these early scholars. Just to pick one example, one of the most famous works in the sociology of religion; Max Weber's the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This was concerned with the question of the role played by religion. It's all to understand why a system of rational capitalism developing the west from about the 17th century onwards (Kaelber, 2004). Sociologist are interested in studying religion for three main reason. The first, is that religion is simply very important in the lives of many people around the world. Eighty five percent of the world's population affirmed some kind of religious belief with Christians, Muslims, and Hindus making up the three largest religious groups. Religious ideas help people to interpret their experiences. Religious values influence many people's actions and the organizations provide many people with fellowship, aid, and support. Sociologists just seeking to understand people's culture, can’t avoid than to understand the role that religion plays in their lives. Also, they must understand the consequences of religious beliefs and practices for the wider society, which might contain non-religious elements or a diversity. Second, revolves around the idea of how religion takes different forms. The difference in religious beliefs and practices between societies is something that is noticeable and needs explanation. Finally, the third reason for religious study in sociology is the fact that religion changes over time in response to different social conditions. The prime objective for this effect, is to understand why (Kaelber, 2002).

Religion in America

Religion in America has had a relationship since the very beginning of the nation. This relationship has changed over time and has shaped the culture. It started with the Native Americans and their worship of the Great Spirits. They believed that their ancestors watched over them and that the spirits in nature blessed them. When colonist came to America, they brought Christianity along with them. They tried to integrate the religion into the lives of the Native people. Christianity branched out and separated into Protestant and Catholic (Trundle, 2012). There were many forms of Protestant like Methodist, Lutheran, and Quakers. There are other forms of Catholic as well, including the Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox. Later other religions were introduced to America through immigration. Religions like Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, and many others. These began to influence the culture. America was known as the melting pot of different cultures and religions. It was seen as a safe haven for those seeking religious freedom. Religion has effected America in many ways over the years. It was the reason the colonist came to America, and was used as an excuse for dominating over the Native Americans (Trundle, 2012). It was also used as a foundation for the civil rights movement as Martin Luther King Jr. presented his speech through his own personal belief system. More recent was September 11 when the twin towers were destroyed through religious beliefs. The bombers claimed that it was for religious purposes on why they did what they did. In effect, all religions joined together in America to rebuild and grow stronger. Religion has brought people together in times of need, throughout history. It has also caused negative effects in society as explained with 9/11.

What happens after Religion

Fewer and fewer people believe nowadays. It's possible that in a generation, there simply won’t be religion across Europe and large sections of North America, Australia, and Asia. That's not necessarily a problem. However, it is worth thinking about why people made up religion in the first place, and what we’re doing with the needs and longings that led them to do so. At one level, religions are about asking us to believe in something. When people say, they can’t believe, they tend to stop right there with the whole religion business. They often then point out all the horrid things that religions have undoubtly done and continue to do. In this sense, belief is almost the least important and defiantly the least interesting side of religion. What's fascinating is all the other stuff religions get up to. For example, the way they regularly gather people around, and tell them to be nice to one another. Also, the way they create a sense of community, teaching others to see everyone else as human beings (Gruber, 2008). Religions use rituals to point stuff out to us and lodge it in our fickle minds. For example, that the seasons are changing or that it's the time to remember our ancestors. Religions know were not just intellectual creatures, so they carefully appeal to us via art and beauty. We think of beauty in one category, a frivolous and superficial thing, and truth and depth in another. Religions join them together. They build temples, cathedrals, and mosques that use beauty to lend depth to important ideas. They use the resources of art to remind us of what matters. Its directed at making us feel things, calm, pity, awe.

We may no longer believe, but the needs and longings that make up these stories go on. We long for beauty, wisdom, and purpose. We want to live for something more than just ourselves. Society tells us to direct our hopes in two areas. These are romantic love, and professional success, and it distracts us with news, movies, and consumption. It's not enough, as we know. We need reminders to be good, places to reawaken awe, and something to awaken our kinder, less selfish impulses. Universal things which need tending like delicate flowers and rituals that bring us together. The choice isn’t between religion and a secular world as it is now. The challenge is to learn from religions, so we can fill the secular world with replacements for the things we long ago made up religion to provide (Giovanni, 2003).


Giovanni, G. D. (2003). Faith without religion, religion without faith: Kant and hegel on religion. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 41(3), 365.

Gruber, J., & Hungerman, D. M. (2008). The church versus the mall: What happens when religion faces increased secular competition? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(2), 831.

Kaelber, L. (2004). Sociology of religion: A historical Introduction/Religion in society: A sociology of Religion/Religion: The social Context/Religion in sociological Perspective/Invitation to the sociology of religion. Teaching Sociology, 32(3), 329-332.

Kaelber, L. (2002). Sociology of religion: Theoretical and comparative perspectives / sociology of religion: Contemporary developments / A comparatice sociology of world religions: Virtuosos, priests, and popular religion. Teaching Sociology, 30(4), 496.

Trundle, R. C. (2012). AMERICA'S RELIGION VERSUS RELIGION IN AMERICA: A PHILOSOPHIC PROFILE. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, 11(33), 3-20.

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