The Nature and Forms of Irreligion

  • Colin Campbell
Chapter
Part of the New Perspectives in Sociology book series

Abstract

The claim of the sociology of irreligion to be accepted as an important and viable sphere of study clearly cannot be admitted until its specific subject of investigation has been outlined. Irreligion itself must be identified, delineated and defined and its various forms described. This itself is a difficult task and may even prove to be a thoroughly daunting one, if the experience of the sociology of religion is anything to go by. Since irreligion is defined primarily by reference to religion, the notable lack of success in defining the latter term is hardly a good omen for success in defining the former. On the other hand, it is possible that the attempt to define irreligion may itself help in some way to provide a solution to this perennial and thorny problem. Whatever the accompanying expectations, the attempt must be made, for without even a provisional delineation a sociology of irreligion cannot exist. At a popular level the specification of irreligion seems straightforward enough; one thinks immediately of such phenomena as atheism, agnosticism, total indifference to religion, anti-clericalism and the like. By contrast, the sociological specification of irreligion is formidable indeed, because in addition to the familiar problems associated with defining religion one has additional ones arising out of the quality of rejection which the prefix ‘ir-’ implies.

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Notes

  1. 1.
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    This fear is well illustrated by Harrison’s reaction to Congreve’s move in forming a positivist church when Positivism had hardly begun to establish itself in England. Harrison feared that this would necessarily create a sect and he fervently disliked the ‘small-town pettiness’ of sects. Thereafter he consistently referred to the members of Congreve’s church as ‘the brethren’. W. M. Simon, ‘European Positivism in the Nineteenth Century: An Essay in Intellectual History’ (Cornell U.P., Ithaca, N.Y., 1963) pp. 57–8.Google Scholar

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© Colin Campbell 1971

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  • Colin Campbell

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