A2 Sociology, theories of religion.

These revision cards are a brief summary of the A2 Sociology textbook (AQA) on Religion. Specifically, theese cards cover the first chapter: theories of religion. 

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  • Created by: Mizgin
  • Created on: 27-12-11 16:38

Definitions of Religion

Substantive definitions: belief in God or the supernatural. Cannot be explained scientifically. Exclusive, accused of western bias. WEBER

Functional definitions: Social or psy functions for individuals or soc. E.g. Durkheimà social integration rather than specific belief in God.

Social constructivist definitions: intptvst approach: focus on how members of soc define rel, not poss for single universal definition.

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Functionalism: soc is an organism, basic needs to survive, needs met by diff instits.

Durkheimà sacred and profane (collective sacred things actually rep soc so ppl worship soc), totemist (study, worshipping sacred totems so soc), collective conscience (shared ns&vs etc, ppl bind together e.g. rituals. Strengthen individs e.g. face trials etc) cog functions (reason and think conceptually, categorise time etc). ‘cult of man’  - soc not seen as supreme, self is more imp – commit time to self.

CriticismsàDurkheim’s theory is hard to apply to large soc’s bec there’s conflict between them. Postmodernist Mestrovic: inc diversity in contem soc so no single shared valiue system for rel to enforce.

Psychological functionsàMalinowski: life crises and when outcome is unknown e.g. fishermen study.

Parsons: values and meaning: rel creates and leg’s soc’s basic ns&vs by sacralising them e.g. Protestantism & American values. Also rel as source of meaning e.g. ultimate Qs, explanations.

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Functionalism continued

Civil religion: Bellah – rel unifies e.g. America, “Americanism”, civil rel integrates soc e.g. flag, national anthem etc)

Functional alternatives: non rel beliefs performs similar functions. Plus civil rel doesn’t always unify e.g. Soviet Union had secular political beliefs & rituals to unite soc.  But functional alt’s ignore what makes rel different = belief in supernatural.

Criticismsàto Malinowksi: some ppl turn away from rel after crisis, to Parsons: sci provides answers now aswell, to Bellah: doesn’t consider conflict in America.

General criticisms: func ignores negative aspects of rel such as oppression to poor & women. Also ignores rel as source of conflict in complex soc’s. 

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Marxism:rel is feature of class div in soc, in a classless soc, rel will disappear.

Rel as ideology: used to leg suffering of poor as inevitable & God-given, afterlife, false consciousness preventing poor from acting. Zenin: ‘spiritual gin’ – intoxicant confuses masses and keeps them in place. ‘mystical fog’ obscuring reality. Rel leg’s power and priv of ruling class by making position appear divinely ordained e.g. 16th Century ideas of King, Hindu caste-system etc.

Rel & alienation: MARX & ENGELS: rel as product of alienation (becoming separated from or losing control over something that one has produced or created). Capitalism: workers don’t own what they produce etc – dehumanising conditions – so ppl turn to rel as consolation.

Rel is ‘opium of the people’, dulls pain and masks problems. Promises of afterlife, dependency on supernatural (social control!), rel is man-made, discouraging realisation that social change is possible, missionaries=’false consciousness’.

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Marxism continued

Dawkins: rel “discourages independent thought, is divisive and dangerous”. Govts try to limit criticism of rel thru laws (e.g. Blair supporting faith schools). Abusing childhood innocence e.g. images of ‘hell’, separatism – drilling hatred into them e.g. NI.  

Criticisms:ruling class go church, to Engels: some missionaries are ppl who really have faith and not necessarily the bourg. Ignores positive functions.

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Neo-Marxism:rel can be a tool of resistance against ruling class.

Gramsci: Need proletarian action by w/c intellectuals, can help shape w/c consciousness. This has happened e.g. MLK.

Maduro: in soc’s where rel is dominant, social change can only be achieved if there’s change in the churches anyway. Need to take discontent to churches, where voiced by mems of clergy.

Liberation Theology: only escape from poverty is that engineered and struggled for by the poor themselves. 

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Feminist:Rel leg’s female subord.

Rel orgs are male dominated e..g Orthodox, Judaism and Catholicism, forbid women to become priests. Places of worship seg sexes, womens pptcn may be limited e.g. Islam – not allowed to touch Qur’an when menstruating – women seen as polluting. Sacred texts feature doings of male prophets etc, stories often reflect female stereotypes. Rel laws and customs: may give women fewer rights e.g. number of spouses. Rel influences cultural norms e.g. women punished for sexual transgressions, unequal treatment.

Women haven’t always been subordinate e.g. until about 6000 yrs ago in Middle East, female priesthoods, eath mother goddesses, fertility cults etc.

El Saadawi: rel not directly oppressive. Patriarchy influenced and reshaped rel, men’s interpretations. Rise of monotheism leg power of men over women.  “Hidden faces of Eve”.

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Feminism continued

Things now changing: e.g. 1992: abt a fifth of priests in COE female, Wright: reform Judaism – female rabbis since 1972, Watson: veiling may be beneficial, Badawi: positive aspects of Islam such as keeping name.

De Beauvoir: rel deceives women into thinking they’re equal, belief in compensation.

Miller & Hoffman: women more rel bec of socialisation, structural location & risk.

Saira Shah: ‘Beneath the Veil’ – Taliban in Afghanistan – female oppression. 

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