Sociology A2 Beliefs in Society - Topic 1: Theories of religion

Notes from the whole of topic 1 of beliefs in society

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Topic 1: Theories of religion
Definitions of religion
Substantive
Focus on the content of religious belief ­ Belief in the supernatural, holy texts etc.
Conform to the view that religion is a belief in God
Exclusive
Functional
What does religion do for individuals and society?
Doesn't conform to the view that religion is a belief in God
Inclusive
Social Constructionist
Interpretivist approach
How do individuals define religion?
Interested in how definitions of religion are created, changed and fought over
Don't conform to the view that religion is a belief in God
Inclusive
Functionalist theories of religion
Society is a system of interrelated parts
Society has needs which are met by different institutions - Religion, media etc
Durkheim
The Sacred and the profane
Sacred ­ Things that are set apart, are surrounded by prohibitions and taboos and create
feelings of awe
Profane ­ Things that are mundane and ordinary
The powerful feelings evoked by the sacred implies that it represents something of great
power ­ Society
Totemism
Believed that the essence of religion could be discovered by studying it in its simplest form in
the simplest society
The Arunta rituals around the Totem reinforce the group solidarity

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Topic 1: Theories of religion
The totem represents the power of the society that the individuals rely on
The collective conscience
Sacred symbols represent society's collective conscience
Rituals reinforce this and maintain integration
Rituals bind people together, reminds them that they are part of something bigger
Cognitive functions
Religion is the source of our ability to reason and think conceptually
Religion is the origin of shared categories ­ space, time etc.…read more

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Topic 1: Theories of religion
Provides a source of meaning: Religion answers unanswerable questions, helping people to
adjust
Bellah
Civil Religion
A belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society
Integrates society in a way that individual religion can't
Involves loyalty to the nation state and a belief in God = being a true American
Functional alternatives
Non-religious beliefs and practices that perform the same functions as religion ­ communism,
Nazism
Ignores what makes religion distinct
Evaluation
Emphasises the social nature of religion
Ignores religion…read more

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Topic 1: Theories of religion
Evaluation
Shows how religion may be a tool for oppression
Ignores positive aspects of religion
Althusser: The concept of alienation is unscientific
Neo-Marxists: Some religion helps to promote social change
Feminist theories of religion
Society is patriarchal
Evidence of patriarchy
Religious organisations: Mainly male dominated despite higher rates of female participation
Places of worship: Often segregate the sexes.…read more

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