Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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One of the most complex problems in social science, with particular significance for the study of religion, is "the problem of meaning." It is of special difficulty because the act of defining meaning ("the meaning of meaning") is self-referential (" 'Meaning' means . . . ").

In Max Weber's sociology of religion, meaning (Sinn) is given central place. He writes that the task of the sociology of religion is "to study the conditions and effects of a particular type of social action," namely, religious behavior, which can be understood "only from the subjective experiences, ideas, and purposes of the individuals concerned—in short, from the viewpoint of the religious behavior's 'meaning' " (1978: 399). This viewpoint has characterized all subsequent "action" sociologies of religion—that is, all approaches to religion that treat religion as reflecting choice-making behavior, although there have been considerable divergences among action sociologists about the foundational presuppositions of these choices (the relative rationality or nonrationality of action).

See also Max Weber

William H. Swatos, Jr .


H. G. Blocker, The Meaning of Meaninglessness (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1974)

C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning (New York: Harcourt, 1930)

M. Weber, Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

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