SCLY3 Beliefs in Society

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Definitions of Religion:
1) Substantive: Focus of the content or substance of religious belief as a belief in God or the
supernatural. Weber defines religion as a belief in a superior or supernatural power that is above nature
and cannot be explained scientifically.
2) Functional: Social or psychological functions that religion may perform for individuals or society.
Durkheim defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration, rather than a
specific belief in the supernatural. Often seen as inclusive, thus allowing us to include a wide range of
beliefs and practices that perform functions such as integration.
3) Social Constructionist: Takes an interpretivist approach that focuses on how members of society
themselves define religion. They argue that it is not possible to produce a single universal
definition of religion to cover all cases, since in reality different individuals and groups mean very
different things by religion.
Durkheim: Believed religion binds people together. Religion created collective conscience: shared
beliefs and values which direct and control behaviour and contribute to social solidarity. Placing
these values in the context of the sacred makes it likely that we will abide by the related social
norms. Religion is therefore a key instrument of secondary socialisation.
Durkheim studied the Australian Aboriginal tribes. He established how social order was created and
maintained in society, and found that religion was the source of all harmonious social life. He
believed that religious symbols like totems arose from within society, not outside it. The totem
symbolised both supernatural (being or beings, power or force beyond the laws of nature) powers and
the social life of the clan. He established totenism: the worship of an object (plan/animal) that has
a divine significance. The totemic rituals reinforced the group's solidarity and sense of belonging. He
believed that worshipping these totems they were worshipping society itself. He also argued that all
societies are divided into sacred (symbols and ceremonies that have a holy meaning) and profane
(everything that makes up our ordinary everyday lives). He also sees religion as the source of our
intellectual/cognitive abilities. Religion is the origin of the concepts and categories we need for
reasoning, communicating and understanding the world.
Criticisms: Ignored the importance of individual religious experience he had a static view (no
explanation of new religions/religious leaders). His work was based on a smallscale preliterate
society workings do not explain how it works for complex, religiously diverse modern society thus
making it hard to generalise.
Malinowski: Emphasised more on psychological functions for the individual. He accepted that
religion played a central role in promoting social solidarity but developed as a response to the
needs of the individual, in situations which evoke anxiety, uncertainty and tension that threaten
social life. He identified two events where religion is involved Life crises (births, deaths, puberty,
marriage) that are potentially disruptive and involve a religious ritual. Situations where the outcome
is uncertain and uncontrollable creating anxiety and stress, e.g. Trobriand Islanders (found rituals
associated with fishing in open sea but not when sailing in the lagoon (safer). Tension generated by
fishing was threat to community stability).
Criticism: Work was done in a preindustrial society (these rituals are now seen as odd).
Parsons: He saw religion as the primary source of meaning for members of a society. It also
provides and legitimises the core values of a culture and thereby promotes social solidarity and
stability. Religion provides meaning by furnishing answers to the eternal questions about humanity
and the world such as those concerning suffering, justice and death. Often there appears no natural
justice in such happenings and they threaten to undermine people's sense that life has meaning. Yet
religion offers answers. Suffering test people's faith punishes them for their sins and gives dignity
for those who struggle in the face of adversity villains receive their comeuppance in the
afterlife. By providing explanations of events, particularly those which threaten our sense of meaning,
religion makes sense of the apparently meaningless, helps people adjust to their situation.

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Religion also provides core values and norms, which it sacralises and legitimises. Parsons argues
that values derived from and sacralised by, Protestantism in USA, such as democracy,
selfdiscipline and upward mobility. Religion also sacralises and supports the norms like universal
access to legal rights and life changes and the formal separation of the state and religion. Hence, by
establishing and legitimising values and social norms, religion further promotes social consensus
which Parsons argues as a pre requisite for order and stability in society.…read more

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Criticisms: Ignores aspects of religion (like meanings of suffering, life and death) to oversimplify a
complex phenomenon. Ideological manipulation can only explain why it takes certain emphasis
and interpretations. It isn't a comprehensive analysis of religion.
Tend to agree with Marxists that religion is a force preventing change and maintaining the power
of the most powerful group in society (but men not ruling class). See religion as patriarchal, male
dominated and serving the interests of men.…read more

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He was aware that churches were supporting ruling class interests but didn't believe it
was inevitable. He saw religious beliefs/practices could develop that would guide challenges to
the ruling class as the church is not being directly under their control. The working class could
challenge the dominant class through radical ideas. He argued that at different historical times,
popular forms of religion had emerged which expressed and supported the interests of oppressed
classes.…read more

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Pattern of religious militancy by which selfstyled true believers attempt to arrest the erosion of
religious identity and create viable alternatives to secular institutions and behaviour.
Fundamentalists often return to the beliefs of an original text which their religion is based on,
claiming that other followers have strayed away from the original teachings. It is often seen as a
response to a secularisation. Also can be seen as a response by religious individuals and groups
to the uncertainties of the postmodern world.…read more

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Liberation Description of religion being used as a The movement since then lost influence
Theology revolutionary force. Catholic priests' since 1980's. Casanova: liberation theology
stood up against ruling class to help played an important role in resting terror
the poor in countries and bringing about democracy in Latin
Growth of rural poverty, abuse of human American countries. Maduro: believes
rights and growing commitments religion can be a revolutionary force for
among catholic priests to an ideology change (religiously inspired social change).…read more

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Secularisation: Process of becoming less religious. Secularisation thesis: claim that social change
(industrialisation/scientific knowledge) would lead to the weakening/disappearance of religion.
Comte 3 stages of human history, each characterised by intellectual beliefs: 1) Theological religious
beliefs were dominant in society 2) Metaphysical emphasis on the importance of philosophy 3)
Positive characterised by the dominance of science and rational thought resulting in the eventual
disappearance of religion.
Woodhead and Heelas >Disappearance thesis: Claim that religion will decline on a societal and
individual level.…read more

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But religious enthusiasm is a blip in the overall events.
trend to secularisation. Secularisation theorists tend to focus on
Changes in Society: In the last decade we are mainstream religion (churches and
able to buy things like alcohol on Sunday was denominations). They ignore newer religions
inconceivable in the 19th century. that have been gaining for followers in recent
Based on teleological assumption and the
product of Marxist/rationalist ideology.…read more

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Criticisms: Voas and Crockett: surveys from 19832000 show both church attendance/belief in God are
declining, it should have shown high levels of belief. Bruce: if people don't invest time in church
then this reflects their declining strength in beliefs.
Spiritual Shopping: HervieuLegar> cultural amnesia (loss of collective memory) children used to be
taught religion and parish church but now few parents teach their kids about religion and let them
decide what to believe.…read more

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Europe and America.
Norris and Inglehart found high levels of participation in catholic countries but low in countries of
religious pluralism. Beckford sees this theory as unsociological as it assumes people are
`naturally' religious and fails to explain the reasons why the make such choices.
Existential Security Theory
Norris and Inglehart: reject religious market theory as it fails to explain the variations in religiosity
in different societies.…read more



really helpful resource, easy to read and simple but effective layout. would recommend to anyone studying sociology!


Very usesful notes, thanks alot!



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