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3 main ways to define religion; substantive, functional and social constructionist.

Substantive definitions
Focus on the content or substance of religious belief, such as belief in God or the supernatural.

Max Weber defines religion as belief in a superior or supernatural power that is above nature and
cannot be explained…

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S.Cs do not assume that religion always involves a belief in God or the supernatural, or that it
performs similar functions for everyone in all societies. Their approach allows them to get close to
the meanings people themselves give to religion. However, this makes it impossible to generalise
about the…

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Durkheim: when clan members worship totems, they are really worshipping society ­ even
though themselves are not aware of this. The totem inspires feeling of awe because it
represents the power of the group on which the individual is "utterly dependant".

The collective conscience

The sacred symbols represent society's collective…

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Malinowski agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes solidarity. However, in his view, it
does so by performing psychological functions for individuals, helping them cope with
emotional stress that would undermine social solidarity. Malinowski identifies 2 types of
situation in which religion performs this role:

1. Where the outcome is important…

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argues that some other belief system could perform the functions, eg. USSR had secular
political beliefs.

However, it ignores what makes religion distinctive and different ­ its belief in the

Evaluation of functionalism
Emphasises the social nature of religion & the positive functions it performs, BUT it
neglects negative…

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Because religion is a distorted view of the world, it can offer no solution to earthly misery.
Instead, its promises of the afterlife create an illusory happiness that distracts attention
from the true source of the suffering, namely capitalism.

Marx sees religion as the product of alienation. It arises out…

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- Woodhead criticises feminist explanation that simply equate religion with patriarchy and
the oppression of women.

- Woodhead argues that there are "religious forms of feminism" ­ ways in which women use
religion to gain greater freedom and respect.

- Some Muslim women choose to wear the hijab to escape…


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