Sociology of
Church Beliefs and Practices


Churches change all the time, in response to the religious cultural environment around them, especially with secularisation or modern implicit religion. In other words, beliefs in churches are more than purely theological but respond to sociological causality. The course systematically examines and classifies the range of beliefs across denominations, looks at the special case of modern day liberalised believing as well as traditionalisms, middle of the road positions and fundamentalism, and examines these as sociology. For people of all faith and none, the course requires two short essays, discussion and probably collaborative work, to gain a different insight into how churches function today.

Course aims and objectives

Examine the religious cultural environment and relevant history of Churches into the modern and postmodern period. Outline the theological positions of conversionism (evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic), traditionalisms (at least one per denomination), orthodox liberalism (incarnation and resurrection upholding theologies) and heterodox liberalism (non-realism, theism, exemplarism, gnosticism), relate these to sociological authority types with an ecclesiology to match each, and show how they respond to the religious cultural environment.


(Topics for one week can spill into the next according to need)

Week 1 Introducing students, their histories and biases for the course. Offering their existing belief, disbelief and knowledge. An outline of the course, books and work methods.
Week 2 Sociology and Theology. What each are. Different methods and causalities.
Week 3 Secularisation 1: Weber and Durkheim and two sociological backgrounds to understanding secularisation.
Week 4 Secularisation 2: How is one Church one religion different from many Churches many religions and mainly apathy and non-hostility?
Week 5 Secularisation 3: Is it the Churches fault? How class and history compares between the United States and Europe in the decline of Churches.
Week 6 Secularisation 4: Who remembers what of Christianity when out of touch? Looking at Longhill Estate, Hull, as an example.
Week 7 Secularisation 5: What do we know about the history of churches?
Week 8 Reviewing 1/4secularisation1/2 or other terms. Plus discussing case studies of choosing churches to consider - micro sociology.
Week 9 Old belief and authority types 1: Church/ denomination/ sect: Examples and what they mean. Plus ideal types.
Week 10 Old belief and authority types 2: How ideal types lose power to explain with reference to Church/ denomination/ sect.
Week 11 Belief and authority types 1: Robert Towler and criticism.
Week 12 Belief and authority types 2: Discussing two kinds of doctrinal belief: traditional and conversionist.
Week 13 Belief and authority types 3: Discussing two kinds of liberal belief and where Christianity is delineated?
Week 14 Belief and authority types 4: Introducing Weber's and others' authority types, using management theory.
Week 15 Belief and authority types 5 (detail of 4): Charismatic authority and conversionist believing. Traditonalism in authority and traditionalists' beliefs.
Week 16 Belief and authority types 6 (detail of 4): Bureaucratic authority and one liberalism, systemic authority and human relations authority and the other kind of liberal believing.
Week 17 Belief and authority types 7: Separating beyond the mainstream what is within it.
Week 18 Belief and authority types and culture 1: Bringing secularisation or otherwise into the belief and authority findings.
Week 19 Belief and authority types and culture 2: Models of ministry to suggest Churches of the future.
Week 20 Belief and authority types and culture 3: Trends, specialising and using ministry models to produce our own future churches.

Teaching methods

Student learning objectives

Assessment methods

EITHER: Each student hands in an analytical and critical observation of the working of a church. This would be by attendance at services or some other activities. It can be a group effort.

OR: One essay of about 1500-2000 words on any course area with negotiated titles (thus allowing for greater book study).

Also students are expected to make class contributions.

Recommended reading list

All books unless otherwise stated published in London. Some should be read and studied by each student.

BAILEY, E. (1977), The Religion of a Secular Society, Ph.D thesis.

Berger, P., Luckmann, T. (1984), The Social Construction of Reality, Pelican.

Cox, J. (1982), The English Churches in a Secular Society, Oxford: University Press.

Cupitt, D. (1989), Radicals and the Future of the Church, SCM Press.

Davie, G., (1994), Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging, Oxford: Blackwell.

The Doctrine Commission of the Church of England, (1981), Believing in the Church, SPCK

Forster, P. G. ed. (1995), Contemporary Mainstream Religion: Studies from Humberside and Lincolnshire, Aldershot, Avebury.

Gill, R. (1988), Beyond Decline: A Challenge to the Churches, SCM Press.

Hebblethwaite, B. L. (1980), The Problems of Theology, Cambridge: University Press.

Hill, A. (No date), A Liberal Religious Heritage: Unitarian and Universalist Foundations in Europe, America and Elsewhere, Unitarian Publications.

Kent, J. H. S. (1987), The Unacceptable Face: The Modern Church in the Eyes of the Historian, SCM Press.

Martin, D. (1967), A Sociology of English Religion, Heinemann.

Moss, ed. (1986), In Search of Christianity, Firethorn Press.

Niebuhr, H. R. (1957), The Social Sources of Denominationalism, New York: Meridan Books.

Robertson, R. (1970), The Sociological Interpretation of Religion, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Rudge, P. F. (1968), Ministry and Management: A Study of Ecclesiastical Administration, Tavistock Publications.

Russell, A. (1984), The Clerical Profession, SPCK.

Tiller, J. (1983), A Strategy for the Church's Ministry, CIO Publishing.

Towler, R. (1984), The Need for Certainty: A Sociological Study of Conventional Religion, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Troeltsch, E. (1931), The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, Allen and Unwin.

Wilson, B. R. (1982), Religion in Sociological Perspective, Oxford: University Press.

Worsfold, A. J. (1989), New Denominationalism: Tendencies Towards a New Reformation of English Christianity, University of Hull, unpublished Ph.D thesis.