McGuire, ch. 1-3

In the first chapter of McGuire’s text, we learned that religion can play a massively important role in society. Sociologists of religion in the 1940s and 50s looked for religion in churches, but recently, they have begun to define religion more broadly. For example, they now focus on how cities or ethnic groups use religion as a form of identity and how secular symbols such as the Alamo can take on a quasi-religious feeling. Sociologists use two types of definitions in the course of their work: substantive definitions, which use a Western worldview and define more narrowly, and functional definitions, which define more broadly but may encapsulate more than was intended. Finally, sociologists study four aspects of religion: beliefs, ritual, experience, and community.
In McGuire’s second chapter, he lays out the framework for meaning and belonging in religious societies. An individual constructs a “meaning system,” or worldview, through which to interpret their past behavior and the behavior of others around them. Religious groups often help create and uphold this meaning system, especially when crisis strikes and the worldview needs to shift to accommodate new data. Dualism is especially prevalent in fundamentalist groups, sometimes leading to beliefs in millennialism and acpocalypticism.
Finally, in “The Individual’s Religion,” McGuire traces the religious socialization of a young person, who quickly learns to distinguish between “us” and “them.” They may turn away from religion as an adolescent, but often return to it by old age, when it creates meaning after work and hobbies have ceased. Throughout one’s life, one may choose to undertake the process of conversion, which involves being welcomed into a new religious group and undertaking its rituals. Much of the time, however, the person’s commitment does not last, and they disengage, reversing their conversion process. These main phases and rituals make up the individual’s religious life in conversation with their community.