beliefs in society: Religion and Social Groups - Ethnicity


functions of religion for minority groups 1

Religion may be a mark of identity through practicing customs, rituals and dress codes. This identity allows the individual to feel status in a foreign country where it might otherwise be difficult to achieve. Taken to its extreme, this may explain why young male Muslims turn to Fundamentalism.  Watson (1994) examined the veiling of Islamic women.  This practise is seen by many non-Muslim writers as a form of social control. Watson argues that veiling can have advantages for women in that it can reduce, or allow them to cope with, male oppression.  For example, it reduces the possibility of sexual harassment and allows Muslim women to be judged by what they are rather than what they look like.  However, Watson’s observations were only based on three women; she appears to have made no attempt to find Muslim women who felt they were forced into wearing the veil against their will by men or patriarchal society. 

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Functions of religion for minority groups 2

In Marx’s terms, religion can act as an opiate or a compensator for minority groups who are poor and marginalized. Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are the poorest in Britain.

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functions of religion for minority groups 3

Religion can act as a barrier against prejudice. If you have pride and commitment in your beliefs, hurtful words do not have such impact.  Ramjifound that Islam gives young males a degree of status which they cannot achieve in other ways due to racial discrimination. 

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functions of religion for minority groups 4

    Religion can be an instant source of community. By attending the local mosque, temple, or synagogue, you meet others like you and this can be particularly important for new immigrants. Once these groups are assimilated, however, religion may lose its role as it did with Irish Catholics. Sociologists have suggested that the offspring of immigrants are not as religious as their parents.  For example, Modood (1994) claims that many second-generation Muslims flout the ‘no alcohol’ rule.  One of the reasons for this is because they have been socialised into wider culture and their ethnic identity is not as important to them.  According to Knott, young Asian women often clash with parents demands over how they dress, while young Muslim women object to ‘veiling’.

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functions of religion for minority groups 5

Religion can be a source of welfare just like it was in Britain in the past. Immigrants may get housing, jobs, language lessons, cultural assimilation lessons etc. from their local place of worship. Pryce found that this was particularly important for Afro Caribbean’s settling in Bristol. Pentecostalism gave them a kind of protestant ethic which enabled them to succeed through encouraging self-reliance and thrift. Rastafarianism, however, preached a rejection of British values rather than assimilation into them.

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functions of religion for minority groups 6

For Bruce, religion can act as a cultural defence (see functionalism), whereby maintaining your faith and commitment to a religious organisation is a way of keeping your cultural roots alive. This is particularly true for Jews who keep their religious customs such as circumcision and food rules despite the fact that they may not have strong beliefs in God. Knott states that when elderly Asian women first came to Britain they felt isolated and found comfort in their religions.  Durkheim claims that religion helps to maintain social solidarity. Collective worship gives immigrants a point of contact with fellow immigrants and is a way of reinforcing cultural identity.

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It has been suggested that Britain being a multi-faith society means that we have religious pluralism. However, Johal (1998) argues that this is far from the case. Religious pluralism would mean that all religious belief systems are seen to be equally valid.  However, the overwhelming majority of the population identify themselves as Christian.  

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