Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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A group, whether human or otherwise, is distinguished by its members' possession of an interrelationship of some kind; the members of groups, properly speaking, each have something "in common," if only their relationship to each other. A category, by way of contrast, is the "grouping" by an outside agent of a number of otherwise discrete phenomena. Thus groupings are aggregates that are distinguished by a common attribute.

The student of religion (especially if understood in the broadest sense: of "spirituality") will be universally concerned with groups in the stricter sense (their identities, spirit)—whether "religious" or "secular." The social scientist, on the other hand, is equally concerned with formulating categories.

This distinction is reflected in the classification of groups. Thus Cooley distinguished "primary" from "nucleated" groups; Tönnies distinguished Gemeinschaft from Gesellschaft; Redfield, folk from urban society; Maine, societies of status and of contract; Durkheim (with unhappy appellations), mechanical solidarity from organic solidarity. The greater cohesion, content, and specificity of the type cases clustered at the first end of the spectrum, compared with the need to impose the grouping at the other end of the spectrum, echoes the common distinction between that which is of the esse of human life (and therefore religious) and that which is comparatively accidental or contingent (and therefore secular).

Edward I. Bailey


C. H. Cooley, Social Organization (Chicago: Free Press, 1956 [1902]).

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