A2 sociology religion

revision cards for sociology

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  • Created by: michaela
  • Created on: 19-01-12 11:34

what is religion?

Social constructionists

how members themselves define religion... not possible to produce a single definition of religion to cover all cases

 Substantive definitions

 to be a religion, a set of beliefs must include belief in god or the supernatural

Functional definitions

Emile Durkheim (1915) defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration

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marxism and idelogy

Max saw society as divided into two opposing classes, the ruling class and the working class. The ruling class exploited the working class by employing them but not paying them the full value of their labour.

(Grimsci calls this hegemony)

Marx saw one of the main instruments of ruling class ideology as religion because it taught people that god had created the society the way it was and they should accept it.


Karl popper says that this ideology cannot be tested to see if it is true or false. 

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feminism and ideology

They argue that almost all almost all societies throughout history have been male dominated. Many world religions have not only excluded from education women from key positions but have also justified male domination as being ‘normal’.


It is an ideology itself. Feminism is a set of ideas and beliefs which is closed to external criticism and which can ignore evidence that challenges it. 

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science as a belief system

Many scientists claim there is a clear distinction between science and other ways of viewing the world.  

Popper sees science as distinct from ideologies because it is an open belief system. By this it is open to questioning, testing and falsifying by others. Contrasts to closed belief systems because they rely on faith rather than facts.

Can science be used as a belief system like religion?

Polanyi suggested that a belief system was made up of three factors. Science can be viewed as fitting this model.

It includes: a circulatory of beliefs-each idea within the belief system is explained in relation to others, supporting explanations are given for different situations and no alternative belief system can be tolerated 

Michael lynch said that science is far less objective than scientists claim it is. 

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religion and gender


Miller and Hoffman-suggest that gender socialization means females are brought up to be more submissive, passive, obedient and nurturing then males.

Davie- women associate god with love comfort and forgiveness and women 

Life expectancy

Women live longer than men, and this means they are more likely to be widowed and living on their own as they grow older. They then therefore turn to religion as a source of support and comfort

Status frustration

Status frustration may be experienced by some women, who lack personal fulfilment or status as a result of being confined to the home by the constraints of housework and childcare 

Compared to men, women are more likely:

To express greater interest in religion and have stringer personal faith 

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religion and class

Middle class people are more likely to describe themselves as ‘regular attendees’ and working class more likely to say they never attend

Middle-aged middle-class people are more likely to join cults. This group has too much of stake in society to join a sect, which may require them to withdraw from the world.

Finke and stark- religious affliction now relates to individual person identities rather than collective social identities. Weakening of class associations and with increased religious pluralism. This shows why social class no longer correlates closely with affiliation

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religion and age

Older people

1.      Disengagement, Religious socialization-older people more likely to have greater emphasis put on religion,  Ill-health and death- more friends and family dying so more alone

     Younger people

Declining attraction of religion- religious organization are very unattractive to most young people.

Expanding spiritual marketplace-lynch young people turning away from conventional ideas of religion ‘expanding spiritual market’

Privatisation of belief- believing without belonging-mix and match

Declining religious education- in 2000 1 in 25 children go to Sunday school compared to over half a century ago. 

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religion and ethnicity

An important element of the identity of minority ethnic groups in the UK is their religious faith. Britain is now characterized by religious pluralism, with a diversity of religious faiths and forms of religious practice

·         Community cohesion and identity- Davie suggests that higher levels of religiosity help to maintain tradition, group cohesion and community solidarity.

      ·         Family structures are much tighter lit in Asian communities, with strong extended families. So pressure to follow religious values and behaviours.

·         People may turn to religion as a secure and solid source of identity, status and community which they find lacking in mainstream society. 

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religion as a force for social change

Weber and ‘protestant ethic’

Weber believed that protestant beliefs started the conditions from which capitalist emerged

Rapid accumulation of capital and emergence of a Calvinist capitalist class=end of feudal era

Calvinists believe in: hard work, thrift, modesty and rejection of pleasure

Sombart says that weber was mistaken

Marxists say capitalism pre-dated calvinism

Modern examples:

Us civil rights movement- religion is an ideological resource where believers could draw upon motivation and support.

Afghanistan and Taliban- one of the most extreme forms of religious change. Women  forced to dress themselves head to foot, children forbidden to fly kites, music banned etc. 

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religion as a conservative force

Functionalism- Force that promotes social harmony, integration and solidarity through the reinforcement of value consensus

Durkheim- argued that the practice of worshipping sacred objects totem represent religion in its basic form

Parsons- religion underpins core values of any culture. These effect everyday behaviour of believer and non-believers

Evaluation- Religion can promote social change-establishment of a Islamic republic in Iran in 1979

Conflicts in the same religion-protestant and catholic 

Marxism- Religion promises an eventual escape from suffering and oppression. Can offer hope of supernatural intervention to solve problems on earth. Provides a religious explanation and justification for inequality

Evaluation- Force for social change? 

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religion as a conservative force 2


Religion is a patriarchal institution that reflects and perpetuates this equality

Religious organisations male dominated despite women participating more

Karen Armstrong- sees women’s exclusion from the priesthood of most religions as evidence of their marginalisation


woodhead criticises traditional feminist explanations. There are ‘religious forms of feminism’ – ways in which women use religion to gain greater freedom and respect

women also use religion to gain status and respect

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Wilson says that secularisation is the process whereby religious thinking, practices and institutions lose their social significance. 

Key processes of modernisation that have undermined the role of the church

Fragmentation of social life- religious institutions have withdrawn or been pushed out of many parts of social life

Disappearance of community- community replaced by society. Religion a focus of choice and not social obligation.

Rationalisation- society more organised and rational. Religion doesn’t play a part anymore (question things more)

Rodney stark says secularisation is not taking place

1.       Church attendance on usa has trebled, Middle ages was ‘age of faith,   It was never that popular anyway 

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During twentieth century:

Church attendance fell from almost 30% to 10% of the population

Number of children attending Sunday schools fell from 55% to 4% of the population

Number of full time clergy dropped by 25%


Total church attendance has changed from 5,201,300 in 1980 to 3,355,100 in 2005.

Steve Bruce argues that before very long Christianity in Britain will decline past the point of no return

 Grace Davie who argues that many of us may not belong to a religion but may still cling to religious beliefs

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religious organisations


This is a stable, formal organisation with a hierarchy and bureaucracy of paid officials and widely accepted beliefs and values. 


A sect is an organisation whose members join of their own free will. It may be led by charismatic leader and sect members tend to believe in the superiority of their group. 


The organisation also has beliefs and values which are widely accepted, but it has no formal connection with the state. Worship is less formal.

new religious movementsWorld-rejecting, world-accommodating, world-rejecting 

new age movements-Loosely organised audiences or client cults. They believe in stuff like: ufos, aliens, yoga, meditation, magic etc.

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religion and globalisation

Globalisation has brought rapid economic growth and has seen India become a more important player in the world political stage. 

Steve bruce sees ne function of religion in todays world as that of cultural defence, this is where religion serves to unite a community against an external threat. In such situations religion has special significance for its followers because it symbolises the group or societies collective identity. 

Anthony giddens- Traditionalists who seek to return to the basics or fundamentals of their faith, Fundamentalists believe theirs is the only true view of the world. They are intolerant and refuse to engage in dialogue with others, and they justify their views by reference to dogma and sacred texts rather than rational argume 

Evaluation- Beckford criticises giddens and says they are too fixated on fundamentalism and ignore orher important developments like how globalidsation is also affecting non-fundamentalist religions such as Catholicism 

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religion and globalisation

  • In recent years religion has been the centre of a number of global conflicts including 9/11.
  • Samuel Huntington says such conflicts have intensified since the collapse of communism in 1989 and are symptoms of what Huntington sees as wider clash of civilisations
  • This is because in today’s globalised world religious differences have now become a major source of identity. For 3 reasons: fall of communism=less political differences between nations, globalisation made nation-states less significant so religion taken its place and globalisation makes contact between civilisations easier
  • Casanova argues that Huntington ignores important religious divisions within civilisations he identifies
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hey michaela thanks for uploading this, you are a good person :)



Thanks a lot! 

Really clear to understand


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