Notes on the Sociology of Religion (1)

John C. Rankin (2008)

Albanese, Catherine L., America: Religions and Religion (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1992), Introduction, pp. 1-11.


  1. Background: Chestnut Hill College, Duquesne University, University of Chicago (1972, Ph.D., American Religious History; widely published, esp. textbook, America: Religions and Religion (4th ed. 2006)
  2. Starting point: metaphor of the elephant and a group of blind man.
  3. Application: nobody will ever know the whole story.
  4. Challenge of defining religion: a) difficulty due to plurality of “religions” and their variety of definitions; definition of “definition,” w/Latin root finis, = end, limit, boundary; c) religion (not etymologically defined here) thrives inside and outside boundaries; d) religion arose in needing to deal w/boundaries; e) ritual, the unknown, “otherness.”
  5. Two kinds of religion: a) ordinary: synonymous w/culture; at home with the way things are; b) extraordinary: helps people transcend beyond culture and everyday concerns; universal statements that move beyond the pedestrian; and “ecstasy,” the “other side.”
  6. Religious System: a) creeds; b) codes of behavior; c) cultus or rituals; d) communities.
  7. Conclusion: a) “Religion here can be understood as a system of symbols (creeds, codes, cultus) by means of which people (a community) orient themselves in the world with reference to both ordinary and extraordinary powers, meanings, and values” (p.11).
  8. Critique: a) extrinsic observations only.


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House of Lords 17 October 2017

Text of John Rankin’s address on the occasion of the 500th annive5rsary of the Reformation.