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Topic 1
Theories of religion…read more

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What is religion? · Substantive definitions- These focus on the
Understanding beliefs is content or substance of religious belief, such as belief
in God or the supernatural. Weber defines religion as
central to sociology belief in a superior or supernatural power. Substantive
because beliefs shape the definitions are exclusive, they draw a clear line
way we see the world and between religious and non religious beliefs.
influence how we live. · Functional definitions- define it in terms of the
Sociologists are interested social or psychological functions it performs for
in the social role of individuals or society. Durkheim defines religion in
terms of the contribution it makes to social integration
religion. In Topic 1, we rather than any specific belief in God or the
investigate the functions it supernatural. Yinger identifies functions religion
performs for individuals, performs, such as answering ultimate questions about
groups and society. the meaning of life. They are inclusive allowing us to
include a wide range of beliefs and practices that
There are three main ways perform functions such as integration.
in which sociologists define · Social constructionist definitions- take an
religion: Substantive; interpretivist approach that focuses on how members
functional and social of society define religion. They are interested in how
constructionist. definitions of religion are constructed. They do not
assume that religion always involves a belief in god or
the supernatural.…read more

Slide 3

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Functionalist theories of religion
· For functionalists, religious institutions
play a central part in creating and
maintaining value consensus, order and
solidarity. The first functionalist to
develop this idea was Emile Durkheim.…read more

Slide 4

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Durkheim on religion
The sacred and profane.
o The key feature of religion was not a belief in Gods or the supernatural Further more, a
but a fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane religion is never
found in all religions. simply a set of
beliefs, it also
o The sacred are things that are set apart and forbidden. involves definite
oInspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder. rituals or practices
oSurrounded by taboos and prohibitions. to be sacred, these
rituals are
oThe profane are things that have no special significance. collective-
oThey are ordinary and mundane. performed by
social groups.…read more

Slide 5

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Durkheim on religion
· Durkheim believed that the essence of all religion
could be found by studying its simplest form, in the
simplest type of society- clan society.
Durkheim studies an Australian aboriginal tribe
with a clan system. These clans consist of bands
of kin who come together to perform rituals
involving worship of a sacred totem.
Durkheim believes, when clan
members worship their totemic
animal, they are in reality
worshipping society, even though
they themselves are not aware of
this fact.…read more

Slide 6

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Durkheim on religion
The collective conscience
In Durkheim's view, the sacred symbols
represent society's collective conscience
The collective conscience is the shared norms,
values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life
and cooperation between individuals possible.
Regular shared religious rituals reinforce the
collective conscience and maintain social
Participating in rituals binds individuals
together, reminding them they are part of a
community.…read more

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