How to explain the interactionist perspective of religion

Updated March 23, 2017

According to the authors of "Sociology: The Core," sociological interactionists claim that humans communicate with each other through symbols, and that humans see meaning in people, objects and events, which dictate the way we act toward them. We understand religion through symbols as well, whether it is a higher power, a written work, an object such as a cross or rosary, an event such as a mass or a place such as a church or synagogue. This perspective can apply to all religions of the world.

Think of the symbols associated with a certain religion, starting with the ones that immediately come to mind. For example, in Catholicism, the obvious symbols include Jesus, Mary, the cross, rosary, bible, holy mass, church, holy bread, priest, nun and angel. Think deeper to discover the less obvious symbols, such as the priest's wardrobe, the cup of wine, the Nativity scene during Christmas, the psalms and prayers, the ashes on Ash Wednesday, the Apostles and holy icons.

Take those symbols and relate them to everyday life. How do they change the aspect of religion? Would our religion be the same without them? Think about the rituals associated with religion that take place either once a week or on holidays. How do such symbols help shape these rituals?

Connect these symbols to everyday life. Do you pray or believe in a higher power? Do you read the Bible, the Koran or another holy written work? Perhaps you wear a small cross or the star of David around your neck.

Explain to others that religion would not be possible without symbols. Each religion has to have a god or higher power that its followers believe in and seek answers from. There has to be written word as well that these followers can follow and understand, and there usually is some sort of object these followers can hold in their hands or place in their homes such as a Buddha, a Cross or a picture or figurine. According to "The Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach," symbolic interactionists focus on what religion means to its followers by examining religious symbols, rituals, beliefs, religious experiences and the sense of community. These symbols are the way people interact and connect with religion in a society.

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About the Author

Aleksandra Ozimek has been writing professionally since 2007 for a fashion blog, various online media and the "Queens Courier," in addition to interning at "Cosmopolitan" magazine. She completed her Bachelor of Science in journalism and photography from St. John's University, where she is completing her master's degree.