Brief notes on the beliefs in society topic, hope it helps :-)

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  • Created on: 21-03-14 22:08

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Berger points out that every culture has developed ways of dealing with big questions (e.g.
the taking of life) in order to prevent anxiety and social disruption. He refers to these beliefs
as a 'sacred canopy'.
What is religion?
Sociological approaches to defining religion can be divided into three broad categories:
1. Substantive definitions These attempt to explain what religion is.
2. Functional definitions These define religion in terms of its uses and purposes for
individuals and societies.
3. Polythetic definitions These define religion by creating a list of possible
characteristics (e.g. sacred texts) that make up a religion but accept that no one
example will share them all.
Types of religion
Totems are animals or plants that are believed to possess supernatural powers of some
Animism refers to the belief in ghosts or spirits. Spirits may be forces for good or evil and
can have a huge influence on human behaviour.
There are two types of theistic religions (religion that centre belief in a higher power):
1. Monotheistic religions These religions believe in one divine power e.g. Islam.
2. Polytheistic religions These religions focus on a number of separate gods e.g.
Ancient Rome.
Ideology, science and religion
Sociologists argue that ideologies often justify the position of power groups in society.
Thus, the idea that kings in medieval Europe were answerable only to God known as the
'divine right of kings' helped them justify their absolute power.
Science and religion as ideologies
Critics of science argue that its progress and priorities reflect the interests of powerful
groups e.g. drug companies.
Marxists claim that religion justifies inequalities in society and encourages passivity and
acceptance of the status quo.
Sociologists who have studied the role of religion in society often tend to fall into one of two
broad camps:
1. Those who see religion as a conservative force 'Conservative' means keeping things the
way they are. These sociologists see religion as a force for stability and order.

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Those who see religion as a force for social change Supporters of this position point to
the role of religion in encouraging societies to change.
Functionalists tend to see change as a 'good' thing whereas Marxists view it as a 'bad'
Functionalist approaches
Durkheim argued that totemism represents the most elementary form of religion. The
totem is believed to have divine properties leading to the worship of the totem which
serves to bring the tribe together and consequently to reaffirm group identity.…read more

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Church attendance is declining in most Western societies. It is difficult to see how religion
can be functioning to socialise the majority of society's members into morality and social
integration, if only a minority of people regularly attend church.
Some argue that Durkheim's evidence is flawed. He misunderstood both totemism and
the behaviour of aboriginal tribes themselves.
Religion can have a negative effect on societies it can be dysfunctional. Rather than
binding people, many of the world's conflicts have been caused by religion e.g.…read more

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Also, some traditional Marxists adopt the view that
religion can bring about social change.
Evidence to support Marxist views
Leach is critical of the Church of England because it recruits from what is essentially an
upper class base (80% of bishops were educated at public school or Oxbridge). The
Church is also extremely wealthy. Leach argues that, as a result, the Church has lost
contact with ordinary people. He suggests it should be doing more to tackle inequality
especially that found in inner cities.…read more

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The influence of religious leadership on social change
According to Weber, religious and other authority takes one of three forms:
1. Charismatic People obey a religious leader because of their personal qualities. Well
known charismatic leaders include Jesus and Hitler.
2. Traditional Those who exercise authority do so because they continue a tradition and
support the preservation and continuation of existing values and social ties. Those in
authority give orders because the office they fill gives them the right to.
3.…read more

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Where religion is central to the culture of a society, then anyone wishing to change that
society is more likely to use religion to help them bring about that change. In India, for
example, Gandhi used the Hindu concept of sarvodaya (welfare for all) to attack British
colonial rule, inspiring rural peasants and the urban poor to turn against the British.…read more

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Post modernity and organised religion
According to Lyotard, postmodern society is characterised by a loss of confidence in meta
narratives the 'grand' explanations provided by religions, politics, science etc.
This has led to what Bauman calls a 'crisis of meaning'. Traditional religions seem unable
to deal with this crisis. Take, for example, the social conflicts cause in the name of religion
and religion's inability to reconcile this with the claim to preach love rather than hate.…read more

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The emergence of new religious movements (NRMs)
It is estimated that there may now be as many as 25 000 new religious groups in Europe
alone, over 12 000 of whose members reside in the UK.
Difficulties in measuring affiliation to NRMs in the UK
Many of the organisations have a large number of followers who are not formally
registered in any way.…read more

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Research suggests that these are more common amongst middleaged, middleclass
groups often in people who are disillusioned and disenchanted with material values.
One example of worldaffirming groups is The Church of Scientology.
Worldrejecting groups
These organisations are usually sects, in so far as they are always highly critical of the
outside world and demand significant commitment from their members. They are
exclusive, often share possessions and seek to relegate members' identities to that of the
greater whole.…read more

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Audience cults involve little facetoface interaction. Members of the 'audience' are
unlikely to know each other. Contacts are maintained mostly through the mass media and
the internet as well as occasional conferences e.g. astrology.
2. Client cults offer particular services to their followers. They have led to a proliferation of
new 'therapists', establishing new relationships between a consumer and a seller e.g.
tarot reading.
NAMs seem to appeal to all age groups, but more to women.…read more



Thank u so much this was reallly useful! 5 stars

Aneela Bibi

Thanks! This is a great resource. Gave it 5 stars.

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