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About Theories, Concepts & Measures:

Theories, Concepts & Measures links major Theories to Concepts and Measures from available datasets.

We have listed the predominant social theories of religion with a brief description of each. Key concepts which are commonly used in discussions of particular theories are linked. Concepts can be linked to multiple different theories. Measures provide a means of quantifying concepts using datasets available on the ARDA. Any particular concept may have several potential ways to measure it.

The site organizes articles in four categories:

We hope this site will provide users with many resources in conducting research or writing scholarly articles, policy briefs, or general information for public consumption. Here are a few of the many uses:

1) Enhance your citations and knowledge of the literature: Our pages include citations which refer users to major works which utilize the theory, concept or measure in question.
2) Improve your measurement of concepts: Explore the variables researchers commonly utilize in measuring complex concepts.
3) Draw links between theoretical orientations: Explore how many concepts and measures are shared across theoretical orientations.
4) Move seamlessly from theory to research: This site allows users to trace theoretical hypotheses to specific quantitative indicators and back again. Along the way citations to key research help to further clarify this process.

On theorizing about religion:

Social scientists observe that the world of religion consists of regularities and anomalies, seeking explanations for both. A theorist suggests a set of ideas to explain one aspect of religious behavior, hopefully in terms of a few clear statements using words that can be defined unambiguously. Ideally, it will be possible to derive logical consequences of the ideas that can be stated as formal hypotheses. The concepts in a hypothesis must be operationalized in terms of specific measures for which data can be collected in an empirical study. Consider this example of a theoretical argument:

1. Religion compensates people psychologically for deprivations they suffer in life.
2. Some people are relatively deprived in terms of wealth and status.
3. Relatively deprived people will gravitate to religious groups that compensate them for their deprivations.
4. The religions of relatively deprived people need to provide more compensation than do the religions of people who are not relatively deprived.
5. The religions of relatively deprived people must provide compensatory social status.
6. Therefore, the religions to which relatively deprived people belong will tend to:

a. Be more emotionally intense than other religious groups.
b. Assert that special honor comes from the mere act of belonging to the particular religious group.
c. Have social relations that are somewhat encapsulated from the wider society.

Of course this argument could be stated in much greater detail. But, given that it is familiar in the social science of religion, consider what is needed to test it. Key terms must be defined operationally, for example so that questionnaire items can be written or selected to represent them in an empirical study:

1. Relative deprivation could be operationally defined as individuals below medium income, or individuals who respond to attitude questions as being relatively powerless or lacking respect in society.
2. Compensatory social status could be measured through questionnaire items about religious exclusivity such as feeling that only members of one’s own groups are saved, or describing their group with terms like “the chosen people,” or rejecting some status-related values of the wider society such as saying that the rich are corrupt.
3. Emotional intensity might be operationalized in terms of specific behaviors, such as expressions of joy during religious services, or subjectively in terms of whether a respondent rates their religious experiences as intense versus peaceful.
4. Social encapsulation can be measured by what proportion of a person’s five best friends belong to his or her own congregation.
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