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Theories of Religion
Substantive Definition: religion can only be defined in the belief in
God or the Supernatural. This shows Western Bias as it disregards
those religions that do not believe in God such as Buddhism
Functional Definition: religion is defined in terms of its contribution
to social integration. It does not necessarily have to be the belief in a
higher being.
Social Construct: religion has different meanings for different people
and societies. There is not one universal definition of religion.…read more

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Functionalism and Religion
· Religion maintains order stability and value
· He identifies the differences between the
sacred and the profane. The sacred are things
that inspire a feeling of awe and cannot be
explained whilst the profane are things that
have no special significance and are mundane
or ordinary. He argues when we worship the
sacred in reality we are worshipping society. Parsons:
· Durkheim's study of Totemism: The
Australian Aboriginals worshipped the sacred Parsons argues religion answers
Totem which represented their origins, in those ultimate questions of life and is
reality they were worshipping society. the primary source of meaning. For
· Durkheim states religious rituals reinforces example people may question why
collective conscience (shared norms, values there is suffering in the world,
and beliefs), social solidarity and a sense of religion provides the answer by
belonging. He also suggests religion is the
origin of concepts, human thought and
stating people will be rewarded for
understanding of the world. their suffering in heaven. Therefore it
maintains stability and Social order.…read more

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Malinowski suggests religion
Agrees with Durkheim that religion
provides support during times of life
maintains social solidarity but argues
crisis. Events such as birth, puberty,
religion also provides psychological
functions. marriage and death are all disruptive
in Society. However he implies that
In his study of the Trobriand Islanders
religion fixes this disruption. A
he witnessed the difference between
religious funeral after death
Ocean fishing and Lagoon Fishing.
reinforces sense of belonging and
Lagoon fishing was safe and certain
therefore no ritual or magic was social integration among the
performed before the trip, however survivors.
ocean fishing was dangerous and
uncertain so the Islanders performed
`canoe magic' to ensure a safe and
successful journey.
This ritual reinforced cooperation
among the Islanders and gave them a
sense of belonging.…read more

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Evaluation of Functionalism
· Postmodernist argue Durkheim's
Bellah-Civil Religion theory cannot be applied to
contemporary society where
there is religious diversity
resulting in fragmented
Civil religion unites and unifies collective conscience.
society and has the same functions · Functionalist theory cannot be
of traditional religion. applied to large scale society
where there are different
America: Case Study conflicting interpretations of the
Civil religion in America claims the truth therefore it can not
loyalty of all Americans from all promote social solidarity.
ethnicities and backgrounds.
It involves the belief in
Americanism or the American way
of life.
They practice different rituals such
as the pledge of allegiance and
singing the national anthem.…read more

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Marxism and
Religion and Alienation:
Marx infers that religion was formed through
alienation of the working class. They are alienated
by the ruling class and therefore have lack of
control over their lives and turn to religion for Religion as an Ideology:
comfort and support.
He calls this the opium of the people: religion dulls Marx argues religion legitimates the
the pain of exploitation temporarily without fixing suffering of the poor by saying they will
the real cause of the pain which is class be rewarded in heaven. This creates false
exploitation and Capitalism. consciousness which prevents the
Therefore religion prevents the working class from proletariat from revolting against the
changing their position to create a classless bourgeoisie.
society. He suggests that religion also justifies the
privileges and power of the dominant
Evaluation: class. For example in the 16th Century it
Althusser argues Marxs idea of Alienation was believed that the King was sent by
and religion is unscientific. God, any disobedience to the King was a
Marxism ignores the positive functions of sin. This ensured that the poor did not try
to overthrow the monarch.
religion (functionalism) also Gramsci
suggests the Church can actually help the
working class bring about a classless society.…read more

Slide 6

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Feminism and Religion
Feminist argue that religions are patriarchal institutions that promote
the subordination of women by men.
Beauvoir: Women are oppressed by men, men are the oppressors and
women are the oppressed.
Evidence of patriarchy in Religion:
Religious organisations ­ they exclude women from religious
hierarchy and higher positions for example in 2012 it was voted
against Women bishops in the Church of England in fact almost half
the lay members who voted against female bishops were women.
Religious Practice ­ some religions exclude women from practice and
segregate the sexes. For example in Islam women cannot pray or
touch the Qur'an if they are menstruating, also they are separated
from men whilst praying.
Religious sacred texts ­ only focus on male Gods and prophets for
example in Christianity all of Jesus' disciples were men.
Armstrong: not all religions were patriarchal, early religions placed
women at the centre. E.g. 6000 years ago Female priesthoods existed,
it was only until 4000 years ago when monotheistic religions
developed the concept of an all male God.
El Saadawi: monotheistic religions encouraged patriarchal attitudes.
Woodhead: argues not all modern day religions are patriarchal, for
example in Islam women who wear the Hijab say it is liberating and
rejects oppression. Also in the Church of England women are allowed
to become Vicars.…read more


Ibrahim - Team GR


Super resource on Theories of religion! Thank You.



You're welcome, I hope it helped :D

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