Beliefs In Society

HideShow resource information


Institutions perform different functions but religion maintains value consensus order and Solidarity

Substantive Definition (Must have Supernatural Belief) and Functional Definitions (Must have function for believers)

Durkheim - Basic Catagories, Origin of Human Thought and Science, Totemism, Sacred vs Profane. No sharp division, Fragmented Collective Conscience, Small Scale Societies

Parsons - Source of Meaning, Ultimate Questions, Create and Legitimates Norms

Malinowski - Unpredictable Outcomes = Provides Answer, Promotes Pscyhological Functions, Life Crises

Bellah - Civil Religion, Sacralises Society Overcomes Division with Overarching Beliefs

Evaluation - Ignores source of Division and Conflict in Pluralism, Neglects Negative Aspects

Opposing Views - Marxist, Feminist, Social Change

1 of 17


Relgion = Feature of a class divided society, unnecessary for classless society, used to exploit

Ideological Weapon (Marx and Lenin) - False Clas Consciousness, Legitimate suffering as Inevitable, God Given and Virtuous, Opium of the Masses, Spirtiual Gin

Alienation (Marx) - Alienation occurs due to lack of control, Religion is product of Alienation, Religion is Consolation for lack of control

Evalutation - Doesn't Necessarliy Function as Control (Abercrombie and Turner), Ignores Positives (Functionalism), Originates from poor groups and is used by the upper classes, alienation is unscientific and based on romantic idea that we have a true self (Althusser)

Opposing Views - Functionalism, Feminism, Social Change

2 of 17


Structuralist theory inspired by Marxism

Maduro - Final resort against dominant class, can be Revolutionary force for Change, Liberation Theoglogy (50's/60's Latin America - Religious justification for the liberation of oppressed people)

Gramsci - Hegemony = use of Ideas to maintain Control, creates a Working Class Consciousness, Has Dual Character = if made Aware of their Oppression in church they can Challenge Hegemony and make Change

Engels - Religion can both inhibit change and encourage it

Opposing Views - Functionalist, Marxist, Feminist

3 of 17


Religion is a patriarchal institution that insues the dominance of men over women

Armstrong - Monothesitic Religions show single god but in Early Religions women are at the centre. Religious Organisations exclude Women from Priesthood. ( CoE now allows female priests since 1992)

Bevoir - Women portrayed closer to god if they're passive and obidient

Holm - Places of Worship segregate the sexes e.g. females behind screens, Taboos of menstruation, preganancy etc prevents participation and devalues women, Texts show male gods and prophets whilst showing Eve causing the fall from grace and expulsion from Eden. Menstruating women cannot touch the Qu'ran

Woodhead - The Islamic Veil is a religious form of feminism and is used to resist oppression to escape the confines of the home and enter employment or education and liberates them from losing their culture in the public sphere.

Evaluation - Position of women is changing, can now become priests, religious forms of feminism  Opposing Views - Functionist, Marxist, Social Change

4 of 17

Social Change

Weber - Modern Capitalism is based on systematic and efficient pursuit of profit showing inconscious similarities to Calvinist Beliefs and Attitudes (reinvested into business) which brought major change in form of capitalism in Northern Europe. Calvinists work for gods graces, do not spend on themselves but reinvest and created the spirit of capitalism.

Evaluation of Weber - Debate with Marx's ghost, overestimates the role of ideas instead of economic factors, capitalism preceded rather than follows capitalism (Kautsky), tech change not religion creates birth of capitalism (Tawney), Scotland had large calvinist group but slow capitalism but lacked the culture and materials for capitalism (Marshall)

Bruce -   Religion and social protest movements

  • New Christian Right - politcal and moral convervative, potestant, fundamentalist movement campaigning for traditional family values, gender roles and creationism. But they go against American Liberal Values so didn't succeed. (15% support at most)
  • Black Civil Rights - 50's and 50's changing segreation in America. Christianity and Martin Luther King gained public support by clergy shaming whites into changing whilst churches are safe meeting places.

Opposing Views - Functionalist, Marxist, Feminist

5 of 17

Religious Organisations (New Age)

Wallis - New Religious Movements

  • World Rejecting - reject societies norms and values (Jim Jones, Moonies)
  • World Accommodating - choose to neither accept nor reject societies values (Neo-Pentecostalists)
  • World Affirming - accept the world and offer success in mainstream goals (Scientology)

(not clear on teachings or beliefs, real NRM's rarely fit typology, shouldn't have typologys (S+B))

Sectarian Cycle (Stark and Bainbridge) - schism in organisation, leader takes charge, second generation more disinterested, sect becomes more world accepting to ease tension and radical members start new sect with a more original message.

Explanation for Growth of NRM - Marginality (Troelstch), Relative Deprivation (Stark and Bainbridge), Social Change (Wilson and Bruce)

New Age Movements (Heelas) - collection of beliefs prominent since 1980's, Seek the spiritual side of religion over external religions, rejects authority of traditional sources e.g priests, link with source of identity, consumer culture, rapid change, decline in organised religion, growth is due to postmodernism and growth in metanarratives

6 of 17

Religiosity (Gender and Age)

Gender - Twice as many women than men involved in sects (Bruce), Mostly females in NAM's due to positive image and association to healing and nature(Heelas and Woodhead), women more religious or spiritual, religion is an extension of the family role, links housewives to wider society, 1.8 million churchgoers are women (2005), passive and obidience valued by religion is socialised to women (Miller and Hoffman). (NAM more freeing, rejecting subordinate role and traditional religion)

Age - Young people still believe in religion but don't go to church (Davie), over 65 most religious, 15-19 least religious, middle aged are more spiritual, young people more likely to join sects as they have left to lose, The Aging effect states closer to death means closer interest to death and religion. The generational effect states the more generations gone through the least religious (Voas and Crockett)

7 of 17

Religiosity (Ethnicity and Class)

Ethnicity71% Christian, 2.8% Muslim, 15% No Religion. Majority of Christians are White and Black. Ethnic minorities come from countries with high religious belief and practice, used as a cultural defence to give sense of cultural identitiy in uncertain environments, provides transition into new culture (Bruce), second generation religions are more likely to find identity important.

Class - Working class use for solace and comfort but tend to go for world rejecting sects due to anger at the ruling class and their marginality. Middle Class tend to use for seeing their position as divinely ordained, go to churches, denominations and NAM and are likely to be spiritual shoppers.

8 of 17

Religion,Renewal and Choice

Spiritual Shopping (Herview-Leger) - decline in institutional religion as a result of cultural amnesia, individualism weakens collective institution, individual consumerism replaces collective tradition

Jesus in Disneyland (Lyon) - religion becomes deinstitutionalised, globalisation increases movement of religions and beliefs, media disembeds ideas from original context allowing the consumer culture to pick and mix elements of faiths.

Religious Market Theory (Stark and Bainbridge) - Churches operate like businesses and humans seek rewards of religions and try to avoid costs causing a competition of religious goods (televangelism), people are naturally religious as it suits their needs. (unsociological, doesn't explain the natural religiosity, stats show decline due to diversity,Bruce rejects that this causes more demand for religion)

9 of 17


Britain - 19th Century = the golden age for religiousity, now declined attendance (from 40% to 10-15%) and weddings with greater diversity. Methodist church will fall by 2030 and CoE will be small voluntary orgainsation (Bruce), long process of secularisation as religious beliefs and instituons lose social significance (Wilson), State took over areas run by church

America - Not abandoned the church but made religion superficial, More american way of life than religious belief

Explanations - Structural Differentiation (Specialised Institutions, Disengagement, Parsons, Spirituality), Modernisation (Decline in traditional thought,Rise of Rationality), Industrialisation (Breaks up small communities held together by religious beliefs), Social/Religious Diversity (different views undermines authority of religious institutions and credibility, Berger), Technological Worldview (Replace religious explanations with more scientific rational ones, Bruce), Globalisation. 

Evaluation of Explanations - Religion can be a Worldwide Identity, Some communitities are imagined and interact with global media, Berger changed his view and argues that diversity and choice stimulate interest and partcipation in religion, Beckford agrees with idea that diversity can cause questions and abandonment but its not inevitable

10 of 17

Religion, Renewal and Choice pt 2

Existential Security Theory (Norris and Ingleheart) - Differences in religiousity come down to degrees of security, religion meets the need for security therefore poor societies have greater risk and insecurity so have higher religion levels but this demand isn't constant and varies within societies. (Vasquez, 2007, accepts the offer of a valuable explanation of levels of religious participation globally, but argues that they only use quantitative data not person definitions of existential security, and only sees religion as a negative response to deprivation)

Believing Without Belonging (Davie) - More privatised, belief without attenadnce, vicarious religion with clergy for mass exists (Voas and Crocket found evidence that belief declines with attendance)

11 of 17

Global Religion (Fundamentalism)

Fundamentalism (Giddens) - Major area of the media. Fundamentalists are traditionalists who seek to return to the basics or fundamentals of their faith, taking the scriptures as literal and unfallible truths providing all answers. They believe theirs is the only true view of religion and wider worlds. Seems to have grown as the product of globalisation which undermines traditional norms. This is what Bauman sees as a response to post modernity due to the risks and uncertainity. Castells would catagorise this as the Resistant Identitity as a response to post modernity.

Cosmopolitatanism - Alternative to fundamentalism, tolerant of views of others and open to new ideas, constantly reflecting and modifying beliefs due to new info (Reflexive thinking). The Project Identity of Castells Responses to postmodernity.

Evaluation - Beckford criticises as; they distinguish too sharply between the two responses ignoring hybrids, they're fixated on fundamentalism and ignores other important developments, lumps all fundamentalism together and ignores the fact that reinventing tradition is also a modern reflexive activitity

Bruce - Main Cause of fundamentalism is the perception of religious traditionalists that todays globalising world threatens their beliefs and lifestyle so may adopt rigid rules when threatened. Confined to Monothesitic Religions.

12 of 17

Global Religion (Cultural)

Cultural Defence (Bruce) - one function of religion today is to be cultural defence, religion serves to unite a community against external threat and symbolises collective identity.  Examples:

  • Poland -- defence from external power of communist rule imposed by Soviet Union therefore Catholic Church was suppressed at the time but for many it remained to embody national identity.
  • Iran -- Defence in regard to Western culture and capitalism, Islam became more important as times got tougher.

Clash of Civilizations - Global conflicts including 9/11 and subsequent bombings in Madrid, Bali and London. Huntingdon argues these conflicts intensified since the collapse of communism (late 80's) and are symptoms of a clash of civilisations. Religion creates Cohesion within civilisation but can cause conflict between them. Sees history as a struggle of progress against barbarianism seeing the west as under threat from religions e.g Islam creating an emergence of anti-western military alliances (His work is seen as example of orientalism - western ideology stereotyping eastern nations as untrustworthy and fanatical)

13 of 17


Process of Rationalisation and Scientific Thought undermines religion and beliefs./ Sciences improvement of standard of living and economic productivity causes a widespread faith in science.

Open Belief Systems (Popper) - Science is an open belief system where all scientific theories are open to criticism and testing. Its governed by the theory of falsification where they try to deliberately disprove them. There is no sacred or absolute truth. (Kuhn)

CUDOS Norms (Merton) - Only thrives as an institution if it recieves support from other institutions so needs an ethos to serve the purpose of increasing scientific knowledge.

  •  Communism (Scientific knowledge isn't private property, it must be shared otherwise it cannot grow.)
  • Universalism (Scientific knowledge is judged as true or false using universal, objective criteria)
  • Disinterestedness (Being commited to discovery for its own sake)
  • Organised Scepticism (No knowledge is sacred, it can all be questioned, criticised and investigated)
14 of 17

Science pt 2

Closed Belief Systems - Scientific Knowledge is provisional and open to falsfication whereas religion claims to be sacred and absolute. If Questioned this is heresy. Horton sees science as open system whereas Religion, magic and other beliefs are closed.

Science as a Closed System (Kuhn) - science is a self-sustaining or closed system because a mature science e.g biology or physics is based on a set of shared assumptions known as a paradigm which sets out broad outlines the scientists must fill in the details for. This influences what can be researched and if outside of the paradigm scientists will be shunned e.g. Semmel Weiss. Knorr-Cetina argues new instruments allows the fabrication of facts.

Self Sustaining (Polanyi) - 3 devices to systain belief in contradictory situations: Circularity (explained by something else in the system and so on), Subsidary explanations (e.g oracle fails it is explained as incorrect use of the benge) and Denial of legitimacy to rivals (reject alternatives by refusing to grant any legitimacy).

Perspective view - See as far from pure truth but serves interest of dominant groups. Biology can be used to justify male superiority. Postmodernists (Lyotard) see science as another meta-narrative falsely claiming truth and it is another discource used to dominate people.

15 of 17


Ideology = set of basic ideas or worldview. Normally used to explain ideas to conceal interests of particular group or as a distorted flase idea of the world.

Marxism and Ideology - In workers interest to overthrow capitalism with classless communism but requires class consciousness. Capitalists produce ruling class ideology to maintain rule through flase class consciousness. Gramsci refers to this as hegemony. To develop ideas that challenge ruling class ideology they must have dual consciousness and use organic intellectuals with this class consciousness to spread the message.

Ideology and Utopia (Manheim) - belief systems are one sided thus there are two types of belief system. Ideological thought, that justifies preventing change reflecting ruling class ideology and maintaining status quo, or Utopian thought, justifies social change and reflects interest of underprivileged.

Feminism and Ideology - Gender inequality is the fundamental division of society and patriarchal ideology is key in legitimating this. Seperate and Included in many religions , embedded religious belief and practice to emphasise female subordination and reinforce inferiority. 

16 of 17

Religious Organisations

Denomination or Death (Niebuhr) - short life cycle due to second gen lacking commitment, protestant work ethic tends to cause members to compromise with the world and death of a leader causes collapse or bureaucratic leadership creating a denomination.

Established Sects (Wilson) - Become either Conversionist such as evangelicals whose aim is to convert large numbers, growing into a more formal, large denomination. Or Adventist such as Seventh Day Adventists that hold themselves seperate from the world. 

Some Sects do survive as established sects instead of denominations but globalisation will makeit harder in the future to keep seperate from the world but can make it easier to recruit from 3rd world.

17 of 17


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Religion and beliefs resources »