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By Patrice Stephens
Our understanding of religion has been influenced by the contributions of sociological
theory. Functionalists view religion in terms of how religion contributes to society. Durkheim
claims that the one purpose that all religions serve is `the celebration of the social group'. A
religion is a way of fulfilling social cohesion and satisfying societies need for a community.
For example the aboriginal society, they were a community split in to tribes that worship a
particular totem. Durkheim claims that the function of the totem is to create a clan identity.
Members of the clan may have nothing else in common apart from their collective
conscience, which is their shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge. Therefore when the
clan refers to their religious symbol (e.g. God or the Totem), they are in fact worshipping
their society itself.
Islam is a good example of integration, for Muslims, their religion is the most important part
of their identity, nothing else (e.g. age, ethnicity, gender) is important. However this theory
may apply far better to small scale societies with a single religion. It is harder to apply it to
large scale societies, where two or more religious communities may be in conflict. Religion
can also be divisive, for example in a multicultural society where you have religious pluralism
there are bound to be clashes. Particularly among extreme fundamentalists and the
completely secular, this could lead to conflicts in society. Britain, particularly Greater London
is experiencing "a process of polarisation between energetic religious minorities and a
religiously apathetic or ignorant majority" James Beckford 2010. In this case the division is
not even necessarily between different religious groups but between the religious and the
secular. The secular society, represented by Richard Dawkins, are becoming more out
spoken, (e.g they posting quotes such as `there is no God" on the side of London buses)
this caused an uproar among the religious. Durkheim explains social integration within
communities but not the conflicts between them.
Marx refers to religion as `the opium of the masses', and argues that it serves only to
benefit the bourgeoisie by acting as a hegemony and keeping the proletariat in a state of
false consciousness. Marx said "God did not create mankind, mankind created God", in the
early 16th century phenomena was explained by religion, it acted as a meta narrative and
explained the otherwise unexplainable. The proletariats were `made to believe' that poverty
was `God given' and to change things would be ungodly. However they were given a hope
that they would receive their rewards in heaven, Ernst Bloch refers to this as the principle of
hope. This was important for the bourgeoisie in order to keep the proletariats content. Marx
points out that if the order of society were to change it would be those at the top that
would have the most to lose; this is known as the conflict of interest. The groups in the
stronger position seek to uphold supremacy and keep the working class in a position of
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Therefore the stronger group will gain at the expense of the lower group.
However religion justified their position and covered up their real power base, which is the
fact that they owned the means of production.
Marx suggests that religion blinds the `the people' (the proletariats) and gives the ruling
class the power over production and most crucially, ideas.…read more
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Lyons, writer of `Jesus in
Disney Land' explains the move toward post modernity in terms of two key social changes.
Firstly the spread of computers an information technology: this globalisation allows ideas to
travel throughout the world in a matter of seconds; the global flow of information makes it
harder for people to maintain a fixed and unchanging set of beliefs, as they are exposed to
various ideas far more often than ever before.…read more
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God'. According to Rosalind Miles, a radical feminist,
the very beautiful features of a woman that brought life into the world made women so
supreme and sovereign and is now used as justification for oppressing women. In some
religions women are made to hide their feminine features and cover their beauty, particularly
Islam where it is considered hiram (sinful) for a woman to embrace her beauty or decorate