Theories of Religion

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  • THEORIES OF RELIGION
    • Functionalist
      • They believe that societies most basic need is social solidarity and social order through value consensus- without it, individual selfishness would cause social disintergration
        • Durkheim
          • Sacred and Profane
            • Durkheim believes that the key feature of religion is the distinction between these two things
              • Religion involves practices and rituals in relation to the sacred, and these are collective
                • This is essential for society as it is reaffirming their support for shared values and beliefs
                  • He believes that the things labelled as sacred are what evoke the powerful feelings in believers as they see it as a symbol of great power
                    • In this view, the most powerful things that can evoke these feelings is society itself, so when people are worshipping, they are worshipping society itself
                      • Criticisms of Durkheim
                        • There is no sharp division between the sacred and profane as some clans share the same totems (Worsley)
                        • Applies better to small-scale societies where there are usually only single religions
                        • His ideas cannot be applied to contemporary society a there is a fragmented collective conscience (Mestrovic)
          • Totemism
            • In this view, the most powerful things that can evoke these feelings is society itself, so when people are worshipping, they are worshipping society itself
              • Criticisms of Durkheim
                • There is no sharp division between the sacred and profane as some clans share the same totems (Worsley)
                • Applies better to small-scale societies where there are usually only single religions
                • His ideas cannot be applied to contemporary society a there is a fragmented collective conscience (Mestrovic)
            • Durkheim also argued that 'higher forces' are mistakenly attributed to totems of Gods when they are really the influence of the collective over the individual
              • Because of this, he studied the Arunta Clan and noted that the totem gave each member a sense of awe and belonging
                • He believed the feelings of awe was actually a reflection of the power of the group, and so were technically worshipping the clan/society
          • Cognitive Functions
            • Durkheim believes that in order to share out thoughts to gain VC, we must use the same categories as others, such as time space etc.
              • He says that religion is the origin of these concepts and categories that we need for reasoning and understandingof the world
      • Malinowski
        • Psychological Functions
          • Malinowski agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes solidarity
            • However, in his view, he believes religion does this by performing psychological functions for individuals which helps them cope with stress that would otherwise undermine social solidarity
              • He identifies two types of situation in which religion performs this role
                • Where the outcome is important but uncontrollable and thus uncertain
                  • To show this he contrasts Lagoon fishing (safe and certain) to ocean fishing (dangerous)
                    • This gives people a sense of control and confidence reinforcing social solidarity
                • At times of life crisis
                  • Helps minimise disruption during times like puberty or death
                    • E.g. funerals reinforce social solidarity among the survivors while the idea of immortality that many religions hold provides comfort to the bereaved
      • Parsons
        • Theory of Values and Meaning
          • Parsons sees religion as helping individuals to cope with stress and unforeseen events and uncontrollable outcomes (like Malinowski)
            • He identifies two other functions that religion performs in modern society
              • Creates and legitimises societies central values by sacralising them
                • E.g. in the USA, Protestantism has sacralised the core American values of meritocracy and individualism, promoting VC
              • It is the primary source of meaning
                • Gives answers to ultimate life questions, such as why the good suffer, enabling people to adjust to adverse events to maintain stability
                • Intepretivists
                  • Berger
                    • Religion has lost its theodicy but provides a sacred canopy which relieves pressures that could break down social solidarity
      • Bellah
        • Civil Religion
          • Bellah argues that civil religion intergrates society in a way that Americans many churches and denominations cannot
            • It is  belief system that attaches sacred qualities o society itself, e.g. Americanism unifying America
              • It binds together people from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds
          • A belief in God isn't always a requirement, as long as the beliefs perform the same function
          • Is this really a religion if it is not based off beliefs in the supernatural?
      • Evaluation
        • Ignores religion as a source of division and conflict, especially in complex modern societies where there is more than one religion, e.g. Northern Ireland
        • Emphasizes the positive functions,neglecting negative aspects such as oppression of the poor and women
          • Feminism
            • They argue that religious beliefs function as a patriarchal ideology that legitimises femal subordination
              • Evidence of patriarchy
                • Religious Organisations - mainly male-dominated even though women often participate more
                  • e.g. Orthodox Judaism forbid women to become priests
                    • Armstrong sees this as evidence of women's marginalisation
                    • Woodhead - womens exclusion from priesthood shows the churches unease about women
                • Places of worship - often segregate women and seat them behind screens while men occupy sacred areas
                • Laws and Customs - may give women fewer rights than men, e.g. how they dress/how many spouses they have
            • Evaluation
              • Religion can actually empower women, e.g. women wearing the hijab is seen as oppressive in Western society when actually it can be liberating for them
              • Watson - practices that appear oppressive may have other meanings
              • Religious groups, such as Quakers, are committed to gender equality
              • Women can actually use some rules in religion to gain more status
        • Marxists point out how religion can be dysfunctional for society
          • Marxism
            • There would be no need for religion if society was classless
              • Marx
                • Believes religion is an institution maintaining the capitalist rule by distorting peoples perception of reality to serve the needs of the capitalist society
                  • He believes the ruling class controls both economic production, but also the production and distribution of ideas in society
                    • Religion acts as an 'ideological weapon' for the RC to legitimise the suffering of the poor as something inevitable
                      • Religion therefore misleads the poor into thinking their suffering is needed to get into the afterlife which then prevents the poor from rebelling to change their situation
                        • Lenin describes religion as a 'spiritual gin' confusing the WC to keep them in their place and stop them from trying to overthrow the RC
                • He also views religion as a product of alienation which is more extreme under capitalism
                  • Bceause of this alienation, the WC turn to religion as a form of consolation
                    • Religion acts as the 'opium of masses'
                      • Helping individuals deal with the pain and stress by distorting their beliefs
                        • e.g. promising afterlife
                        • e.g. justifying social order
                          • The Hindu Caste System shows this as it allows for no movement between castes (classes)
                        • e.g. giving the hope of supernatural intervention to solve problems on earth
            • Evaluation
              • Engels noted how religion didn't always benefit the ruling class
              • Ignores the positive functions
              • Neo-Marxists see the forms of religion as assisting, not hindering class consciousness
                • Neo-Marxists
                  • Builds on Marxism by making is applicable to today's society
                  • Disagrees with Marx that religion is under control of the RC as RC domination is more effective when not involved with religion
                  • Gramsci
                    • Economic factors alone cannot maintain the dominance of the RC
                      • To keep a strong hold on society, the RC has to persuade the masses of society that everything is fair for everyone
                        • Religion can develop to support the WC and guide their challenges of the RC
              • Church Of England only recruits from upper classes, showing a loss of contact with ordinary people (Leach)
        • Western societies are becoming more secular which means religion may not be so influential over CC that it used to be
    • Marxism
      • There would be no need for religion if society was classless
        • Marx
          • Believes religion is an institution maintaining the capitalist rule by distorting peoples perception of reality to serve the needs of the capitalist society
            • He believes the ruling class controls both economic production, but also the production and distribution of ideas in society
              • Religion acts as an 'ideological weapon' for the RC to legitimise the suffering of the poor as something inevitable
                • Religion therefore misleads the poor into thinking their suffering is needed to get into the afterlife which then prevents the poor from rebelling to change their situation
                  • Lenin describes religion as a 'spiritual gin' confusing the WC to keep them in their place and stop them from trying to overthrow the RC
          • He also views religion as a product of alienation which is more extreme under capitalism
            • Bceause of this alienation, the WC turn to religion as a form of consolation
              • Religion acts as the 'opium of masses'
                • Helping individuals deal with the pain and stress by distorting their beliefs
                  • e.g. promising afterlife
                  • e.g. justifying social order
                    • The Hindu Caste System shows this as it allows for no movement between castes (classes)
                  • e.g. giving the hope of supernatural intervention to solve problems on earth
      • Evaluation
        • Engels noted how religion didn't always benefit the ruling class
        • Ignores the positive functions
        • Neo-Marxists see the forms of religion as assisting, not hindering class consciousness
          • Neo-Marxists
            • Builds on Marxism by making is applicable to today's society
            • Disagrees with Marx that religion is under control of the RC as RC domination is more effective when not involved with religion
            • Gramsci
              • Economic factors alone cannot maintain the dominance of the RC
                • To keep a strong hold on society, the RC has to persuade the masses of society that everything is fair for everyone
                  • Religion can develop to support the WC and guide their challenges of the RC
        • Church Of England only recruits from upper classes, showing a loss of contact with ordinary people (Leach)
  • El Saadawi
    • Argues that the direct cause of womens subordinationwas the introduction or patriarchal forms of society, not just religion
      • e.g. men misinterpreting religious beliefs to favour patriarchy
    • Feminism
      • They argue that religious beliefs function as a patriarchal ideology that legitimises femal subordination
        • Evidence of patriarchy
          • Religious Organisations - mainly male-dominated even though women often participate more
            • e.g. Orthodox Judaism forbid women to become priests
              • Armstrong sees this as evidence of women's marginalisation
              • Woodhead - womens exclusion from priesthood shows the churches unease about women
          • Places of worship - often segregate women and seat them behind screens while men occupy sacred areas
          • Laws and Customs - may give women fewer rights than men, e.g. how they dress/how many spouses they have
      • Evaluation
        • Religion can actually empower women, e.g. women wearing the hijab is seen as oppressive in Western society when actually it can be liberating for them
        • Watson - practices that appear oppressive may have other meanings
        • Religious groups, such as Quakers, are committed to gender equality
        • Women can actually use some rules in religion to gain more status

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