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Religiosity is a term used by social scientists to refer to religious behavior. Social scientists generally view religion as a cultural system of shared beliefs and rituals that offers a sense of transcendent meaning and purpose. Religion is often constrained within the natural and material categories. Religiosity therefore refers to the way people and communities are influenced by religious ideas and shape social reality accordingly.

From its inception, religiosity has been a central issue for social scientists. The German political philosopher Karl Marx viewed religion as an ideology of capitalist oppression. For Marx, religion compensated for the needs denied under capitalism, and the elimination of religion was indispensable to human emancipation. The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) viewed religion as a meaning-making system that determined human behavior and shaped societies. Weber predicted that with the increase of rationalization there would be a disenchantment of the world that would lead to the decline of religious beliefs. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim viewed religion as the very essence of society that constrained individuals from egocentric behavior while simultaneously enabling them to adjust and function in social settings.

In the 1950s and the 1960s social scholars, most notably Peter L. Berger, proposed the secularization theory. The secularization theory claims that modernization necessarily leads to the decline of religion, both in society and in the minds of individuals. This in turn leads to the privatization of religion that marginalizes religion from the public sphere. Therefore as modernity ushered in plurality, subjectivity, and different authorities for legitimation, religion, unable to deal with these challenges, eventually withdrew from the public realm. According to the theory, the future of religion is a private one, eventually existing mainly in the private lives of individuals.

Decades after the secularization theory was popularized, Berger and its other champions revised and reconsidered the theory in light of an unsecularized modern world. Modernity not only did not secularize society but it created a counter-secularization movement that resulted in the increasing influence of religiosity in the modern world. In Public Religions in the Modern World (1994) Jose Casanova argued against the assumption that the increasing differentiation between religious and public institutions automatically leads to the decline of religion. Casanova claimed that public religions do not necessarily challenge the foundation of modern liberal society. In fact Casanova suggested that public religions can help advance modern agendas such as those of human rights and democracy.


One public form of religiosity is the religious phenomenon known as fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is characterized by a strict adherence to religious doctrines in their original form in order to restore a previous social order in the present world. The sociologist James Davison Hunter argued that fundamentalism is a direct product of modernity. Hunter characterized fundamentalists as those who believe that something has gone wrong in human history. Religious fundamentalists believe that their sacred order for human life has been disturbed and they must correct it to the best of their abilities. Hence religious fundamentalists are religious adherents who believe that they must restore the sacred order that their deity intended for this world. Though the term fundamentalist is ambiguously used to characterize both peaceful devout Muslims and extremist terrorists, it is important to note that religious fundamentalism does not always involve acts of violence. As the scholar Nancy T. Ammerman noted, one characteristic of many fundamentalist sects is that they are separatists. They seek to restore what they believe to be a sacred order only for their religious community. Many of these fundamentalists retreat from the secular world in order to construct the social reality of their liking. For example, the fastest growing Christian denominations in the United States are religious groups with fundamentalist beliefs.

One of the most notable branches of Christian fundamentalism is Pentecostalism. This form of Christianity emphasizes the experience of the Holy Spirit. Adherents are highly expressive and emotional, and their religious rituals often involve spiritual healings and the act of speaking in tongues, which is the utterance of what appears to be an unknown foreign language or simply nonsense syllables. In less than one hundred years Pentecostalism, along with its offshoot the charismatic movement, has become the largest segment of Protestant Christianity and the second largest Christian tradition after the Roman Catholic Church. In the early twenty-first century one out of every four Christians in the world is Pentecostal or charismatic. Pentecostal Christians use mass media to carry their message around the world and are arguably the most visible form of Christianity in the world.

The resurgence of religiosity in social sciences is especially clear at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The clear relationship between church and state in the United States was apparent to the great French observer Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s when he noted that churches and other voluntary organizations were the cradle of American democracy. The interconnectedness of religion and politics should not be confused with the conflict between church and state, though the clash of both are increasing in modern times. The conflict between church and state is institutional, while the conflict of religiosity and politics is within individuals. All religious citizens must negotiate between personal sacred beliefs and secular laws designed to appease a plurality of religions. This creates a cognitive dissonance that often leads to public confrontations between religion and politics. In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1997) Samuel Huntington traced the shifting focus of global conflict toward the end of the twentieth century. He noted that international conflict has shifted from ideological differences to religious and cultural conflict. Gone are the days when the United States allied with Islamic fundamentalists to repel the then communist Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Under Huntingtons new order, religiosity determines enemies and allies.

SEE ALSO Fundamentalism; Religion


Anderson, Allan. 2004. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Berger, Peter. 1967. The Sacred Canopy. New York: Anchor Books.

Casanova, Jose. 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Davidman, Lynn. 1991. Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Huntington. Samuel P. 1997. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Touchstone.

Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby, eds. 1991. Fundamentalism Observed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tony Tian-Ren Lin

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re·li·gious / riˈlijəs/ • adj. believing in and worshiping a superhuman controlling power or powers, esp. a personal God or gods: both men were deeply religious, intelligent, and moralistic. ∎  (of a belief or practice) forming part of someone's thought about or worship of a divine being: he has strong religious convictions. ∎  of or relating to the worship of or a doctrine concerning a divine being or beings: religious music. ∎  belonging or relating to a monastic order or other group of people who are united by their practice of religion: religious houses were built on ancient pagan sites. ∎  treated or regarded with a devotion and scrupulousness appropriate to worship: I have a religious aversion to reading manuals. • n. (pl. same) a person bound by monastic vows. DERIVATIVES: re·li·gious·ly adv. re·li·gious·ness n.

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religiosity In The Religious Factor (1961), Gerhard Lenski analyses variations in orientations to economic and political issues, highlighting the differences between Jews, Protestants, and Catholics, partly in terms of an influential typology of the dimensions of ‘religiosity’—which he identifies as orthodoxy or belief, association (or religious attendance), devotion (dealing with such aspects as prayer), and communality (the degree of segregation of the religious group).