For this weeks reflection post, I would like to go back in time a tad and ask a question that has been pressing on my mind as we categorize religious groups. I found, both through personal experience and theological study, that many groups may be identified into a category that they themselves may not agree with. For example, in Professor Spickard’s assessment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he illustrated a journey of the modern day Church from a sectarian identity to a more denominational identity. I as a Latter-day Saint, however, would not categorize the Church in the same way and believe that the Church maintains a more sectarian perspective. Another example from my theological studies would be with Catholicism. One theological belief of many members of the Catholic Church is that Catholicism is the only true religion on the face of the Earth, and that all non-Catholics are condemned to an eternity in hell. This sense of Catholic exceptionalism seems far more sectarian to me than denominational. My question then, is where does theology come into a sociological discussion? Does it ever?
Personally, I believe that one cannot properly categorize a religious group without first having an understanding of it’s theology. I also believe that the theological stance of a particular religion must influence the beliefs and practices of its members, does it not? If a church preaches that it is the only true church on the face of the Earth, then that church and its members automatically fall of the sectarian side of the spectrum, correct? Perhaps my perspective is incorrect, and I am approaching this subject from a far too theological standpoint and not enough of a sociological standpoint, but I do not believe that the two are inherently separate. I believe that the two influence each other, at least to some degree.