beliefs in society: religion and social groups-social class


social class and religion

Social class and religion

In the past, church attendance was associated with respectability and church pews at the front were reserved for the wealthy. Second sons of wealthy families who didn’t run the family estate became vicars instead so there is a long history of the Catholic and C of E churches being mainly associated with the MC. More recently, membership of cults is almost exclusively MC because they are the ones who have the money and time to indulge themselves in self-improvement.

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Belief and practice

Beliefthere are little significant class differences in beliefs surrounding ideas such as:

* God/Gods/supreme being.

* Prayer: slightly more middle class people believe in praying.

Practice: in terms of attendance at religious services:

* Regular attendees: approximately three times more of the middle classes classify themselves in this way.

* Never attend: the working class are slightly more likely to ‘never attend’.

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social class and religious practice

In relation to denominations, in both the recent and more distant past there was a fairly clear cult relationship between social class and religious practice.  The middle classes showed the most voluntary commitment to religious practice, while the working class showed the least commitment.

The relationship between social class and religion has become more fragmented, but it is still possible to see a clear class basis to religious practice. A number of broad patterns of behaviour are evident:

* Roman Catholicism is overwhelmingly a working class religion.

* The more conservative protestant denominations tend to appeal more to the middle classes.

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O’Beirne (2004) notes that people affiliated to particular faiths share certain socio-economic experiences and characteristics. He looked at explanations for the relationship between religious affiliation and social class:

  • status
  • identity
  • deprivation
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Status– in the past religion was a source of status for both the upper and middle classes; upper class in terms of their positions within powerful religious institutions such as the Church, middle class in terms of using things like church attendance as a synonym  for ‘respectability’.  It is arguable whether either of these class functions of religion applies any more.

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Identity– the decline, noted by Bruce (2001), in the significance of religion as a source of group (as opposed to individual) identity is important in terms of ‘the uses of religion’ for things like status and social control.  O’Beirne found little evidence of religious belief and practice forming a significant part of self-identity, with only 20% of respondents considering religion as an important part of their personal description.

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Deprivation– with one major exception, O’Beirne’s respondents with religious affiliations lived in places with low to moderate levels of area deprivation – something that suggests both the changing nature of class relationships and the changing nature of established religions: they no longer represent the source of hope for the most deprived in our society.  The exception is the Muslim faith with the highest levels of deprivation.

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Social class and NRMs and gender- Weber

Social class and NRM’s (and gender)

Weber believed that sects were more likely to have a WC following because they wanted the ultimate escape from the world which was marginalising them. Although this was true for the People’s Temple, the rule does not apply to the more MC Moonies. Many of the reasons for the growth of NRM’s link to this section.

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social class and NRMs and gender-Bruce

Social class and NRM’s (and gender)

Bruce (1995) claims that the New Age appeals to the middle classes working in ‘expressive professions’ who have an interest in human potential.  Many aspects of the New Age are based on ‘watered down’ versions of Eastern religions such as Buddhism.  Men and women interested in New Age therapies are usually middle class.  


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Finke and Stark (2004) have suggested that religious affiliation now relates to ‘individual personal identities’ rather than the ‘collective, social identities’ of the past.  The weakening of ‘traditional class associations’ coupled with increased consumer choice, explains why social class no longer correlates very closely with affiliation.

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