Sociology Unit 3: Beliefs

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Unit 3 Sociology; Beliefs in Society
Different theories of Ideology, Science and Religion
An Ideology is a closed set of beliefs that reject other views. A Belief is a framework of
ideas through which an individual makes sense of the world. They are generally connected to
a religion and based on faith with no evidence needed. Science is based on evidence,
factual, objective and regarded as the truth. Religion is based on faith, not truth. It is a fixed
view of how the world is and claims to be the truth.
Theories of ideology
Marxists believe that the ideas that people hold are formed by their position in society, and
ideology is seen as the ideas of particular social groups reflecting their interests. The Marxist
view is associated with the view that there is a Dominant Ideology (the set of ideas and
beliefs of the most powerful groups in society ­ ruling class). Althusser suggested the
dominant ideology was spread through a series of Ideological State Apparatuses (agencies
[media, religion, education etc] that spread the dominant ideology and justify the power of
the dominant social class). Gramsci developed the concept Hegemony (dominance in society
of the ruling class's set of ideas over others, and acceptance of and consent to them by the
rest of society).
Pluralism is a view that sees power in society spread among a wide variety of interest
groups and individuals, with no single one having a monopoly on power. A Pluralist Ideology
is the set of ideas reflecting the pluralist view of the distribution of power with the prevailing
ideas in society reflecting the interests of a wide range of social groups and interests.
Feminist writers speak of the Patriarchal Ideology which is a set of ideas that supports and
tries to justify the power of men.
Theories of Science
Kuhn argues that scientists work in a Paradigm (the framework of accepted ideas in which
scientists operate and guidelines for the conduct of research). Gomm argued that the
theories scientists produce are in part a product of their Social Context, and that scientists
tend to try and prove rather than falsify their theories. He gave Darwin's theory of evolution
to explain it. Popper's principle of Falsification suggests researchers should aim not to
prove their hypothesis true, but to falsify them, or prove them wrong. This is because no
hypothesis can finally be proven true as there is always the possibility of future exception.
The more a hypothesis stands up to such attempts the more likely it is `scientific truth'.
Bruce argues that it is the scientific method rather than specific scientific discoveries that has
provided the greatest challenge to religion as a belief system. This challenge occurred as
society moved towards Modernity (the period of the application of rational principles and
logic to the understanding, development and organisation of human societies).
Theories of Religion
Functionalists see religion as Maintaining Harmony and Social Cohesion. Religion is
something that inhibits change and helps keep society as it is. This is however a positive role
as it creates Social Order based on Value Consensus. Marx said religion helps to Oppress
Workers and Inhibits Social Change. Weber said that religion can create a Capitalist Work
Ethic. Feminists point out the Sexism within religion.

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The Relationship between Religious Beliefs, Social Change and Stability
Functionalist perspective sees religion as mainly a conservative force, promoting social
harmony, social integration and Social Solidarity (integration of people into society through
shared common values) through the reinforcement of the Value Consensus (widespread
agreement around the main values of a society). The functionalist perspective is essentially
concerned with analysing the role of religion in meeting the Functional Prerequisites (basic
needs that must be met in order to survive).…read more

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The pain of oppression was eased in three main ways according to a Marxist; 1)
Religion promises an eventual escape from suffering and oppression with life after death. 2)
Religion sometimes offers hope of supernatural intervention to solve problems on earth. 3)
Religion provides a religious explanation and justification for inequality. There is something
stopping the working class from uniting and overthrowing the ruling class. The working class
are in a state of False Class Consciousness (unaware of how unfair society is).…read more

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Religious fundamentalism is seen by its followers as a return to the basics or fundamentals of
religion. Usually it involves a literal interpretation f religious texts and strict moral codes of
behaviour. It's a particularly Conservative Form of religion (looks backwards, rejects many of
the changes in modern society and tries to return to a former time). On the other hand they
could be considered not conservative because they actively seek to change the existing
society.…read more

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NRM's. The projected total over
50 years of church goers in Britain is declining considerably with elder people more likely to
attend church. Weber uses Disenchantment (process whereby magical and mystical
elements of life are eroded) to comment on the decline of church attendance, Science has
replaced religion as to what people are now believing in due to statistical changes.…read more

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Social Deprivation ­ lack of status or
power like that seen by the working class. 2) Marginality ­ where some are pushed to the
edges of society by poverty or lack of education and face social exclusion. 3) Theodicy of
Disprivelege ­ religious explanation and justification for social inequality and social
deprivation, explaining the marginalization of believers, often used as a test of faith with the
promises of compensating rewards in a future after death.…read more

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Wallis and Bruce see cults differing from sects in that, whereas sects are very tightly knit,
closed groups with strong demands on the commitment of members and strong internal
discipline. Cults are often loosely knit groupings, open to all and highly individualistic.
Giddens suggest that the focus on the self, and self-expression and experience, and they
are the main features distinguishing a cult from a sect.…read more

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The Relationship between different Social Groups and Religious/Spiritual
Organisations and Movements, Beliefs and Practices
Gender and Religion
Most Feminists focus on the way in which many existing religions are patriarchal, with writers
like de Beauvoir and El Saadawi seeing religion and religious ideology playing a part in
maintaining the male domination over women that is found in many aspects of contemporary
social life.…read more

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Muslim communities in Britain and some Islamic countries can be interpreted as a form of
resisting patriarchy, by providing an independent female identity and freeing women from
male harassment.
Women are more likely than men to have religious belief and to practice their religion.
Compared to men women are more likely to: express a greater interest in religion, involve
themselves more in religious rituals and worship, see private prayer as important and to
practice it, and join or involve themselves in NRM's and NAM's (Bruce).…read more

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Marginality and Status Frustration ­ people may turn to religion as a secure and solid
source of identity, status and community which they find lacking in mainstream society.
Family Pressures ­ in Asian communities the family structure is much closer with a very large
extended family in the background for support. This may result in pressure to conform to
religious values and behaviour. Social Identity ­ religion provides individuals with many
markers of identity, like customs, dress and food.…read more


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