Belief Essay

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Belief is a key psychological and biographical phenomenon within sociological frames of religion. Thomas O’Dea (1966) pivots Max Weber’s ”process of rationalization” as essential to understanding belief and belief patterns surrounding religious experiences. With the historic dismissal of certain fantastical and mystical traditions as ”irrational,” rational theologies were developed to maintain the power of religious institutions. Rationalized theologies – developed via rationalization processes, i.e., ”from mythos to logos’ (p. 46) – are not necessarily philosophically or mathematically logical. However, these rationalization processes are legitimated via leadership role-play, i.e., clergy, clerics, priests, rabbis, and so on.

While O’Dea focuses on the structure – power -dimensions of belief, Peter Berger (1969) focuses on the social psychological dimensions. Within modern – as opposed to traditional – societies, religion transforms into a ”free subjective choice, therefore losing ”its intersubjectively obligatory character (pp. 166-7). As this occurs, religious experiences no longer remain ”external to the individual consciousness. Rather they are also experienced ”within consciousness” (p. 167). Berger refers to this as the ”consciousness of believers, i.e., belief.

Uniting both structural and social psychological perspectives, Weber (1993) defines belief as a committed seriousness to the ”cognitive validity of and ”practical commitment   to a set of ideas, even at the expense of personal interests (p. xliii). As implied, this cognitive validity and practical commitment emerge through rationalization.


  1. Berger, P. L. (1969) The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Doubleday, New York.
  2. O’Dea, T. F. (1966) The Sociology of Religion. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  3. Weber, M. (1993) The Sociology of Religion. Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

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