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Studies of conversion, religious schisms, and secularization utilize social network theory to understand the influence of community and networks on the religious life of individuals, groups and societies. In his classic study of suicide, Emile Durkheim used religion as an indicator of how well or poorly a society was socially integrated; other research indicates that religion actively builds social networks. (Durkheim 1897, Stark and Bainbridge 1981, Bainbridge 1987, Bainbridge 2006)

Religion may produce strong social networks, but it also depends upon them. Thus religion may feature as either independent or dependent variable in studies related to this theoretical perspective. Here are some studies of social networks where religious vitality is the result of levels of social integration. (Bainbridge 1990, Stark and Bainbridge 1980, Bainbridge 1989)


a.) Bainbridge, William Sims. 1987. Sociology Laboratory. Belmont, California: Wadsworth.
b.) Bainbridge, William Sims. 1989. "The Religious Ecology of Deviance," American Sociological Review 54: 288-295.
c.) Bainbridge, William Sims. 2006. God from the Machine: Artificial Intelligence Models of Religious Cognition. Walnut Grove, California: AltaMira.
d.) Bainbridge, William Sims. 1990. "Explaining the Church Member Rate," Social Forces 68: 1287-1296.
e.) Durkheim, Emile. 1897. Suicide. New York: Free Press [1951].
f.) Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge. 1980. "Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation," Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion 4: 85-199.
g.) Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge. 1981. "Suicide, Homicide, and Religion: Durkheim Reassessed," Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion 5: 33-56.

    Related Concepts  
The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.
Social Distance

Positive or negative feelings an individual holds about members of another group, such as members of a different religion, expressed in terms of the common distance metaphor of feeling close to someone.

A battery of social distance items can be found in Glock and Stark (1966).

Social Encapsulation

The situation when a high fraction of friendships or other social relations of members of a religious group are with fellow members rather than outsiders.

The Glock and Stark Northern California study included a question about how many of the respondent's five best friends belonged to his or her congregation.

Social/Religious Ties

Also referred to as interpersonal bonds. These connections between individuals are vitally important for maintenance of group.