Beliefs in society - Sociological theories of religion

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Neo Marxists and Religion

Engles - Religion as a radical force: Engles recognised the active role religion played in in effecting revolutionary social change. He compared some of the early Christian sects that opposed Roman rule to communist and socialist political movements. Thus while Christianity origionated as a way of coping with exploitation among oppressed groups, it could become a source of resistance to the oppressors and so a force for social change.

Gramsci: Argued that at differet historical times, popular forms of religion had emerged which expressed and supported the interests of the oppressed classes. He accepted the possibility that religious beliefs and practices could develop and be popularised particularly by working class intellectuals, to challenge the dominant ruling class ideology and support working class consciousness and liberation.

Maduro: Social liberation can only be achieved in a religious society if significant change occurs within the churches. This could occur if the oppressed, who find all possible forms of protest are bloked by central power, take their dicontent to the churches whereby their anguish and aspirationd may be reflected and voiced by members of the clergy. E.g. Martin Luthar King.

Turner: Argues than in modern capitalist societies religion is no more than an optional extra, as property has become depersonalised - most wealth is concentrated in the hands of organisations rather than that hands of the individual like it was in the past where property was passed to heirs.

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Feminism and Religion

Armstrong: Argued that in early history women were considered centre to religion.

Holm: Gives ways in which women are subordinate or exploited in contemporary religions. In Christianity the Virgin Mary (portrayed as virginal, caring and self sacrificing) and Mary Magdelene (portrayed as a prostitute, temptress and seductress) are the two central women, which promote inequality as these are stereotypical roles.

De Beauvoir: Religion can be used by the oppressors (men) to control the oppressed (women). In modern societies women are decieved by religion into making them feel equal to men. In some ways religion makes women feel closer to God and so gives women the false belief that they will be compensated for their suffering in heaven.

El Saadawi: Female oppression is not essentially due to religion but due to the patriarchal system  that has long been dominant. Men distort religion to serve their own interests, to help to justify or legitimate the oppression of women.

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Feminism and Religion

Watson: The veil has been depicted as a symbol of female oppression, however Watson states that wearing the veil can be used in a positive way by Isamic women in a globalised world. She argues that it gives women the ability to show that they are proud of their religion, and also have the freedom to communicate with people without being on show and can avoid the male gaze.

Miller and Hoffman: Identify two main explanations in the differences in religious participation. These are 'Differential socialisation' whereby the females are taught to be passive and obedient, these traits are compatible with religiosity; and 'Differential roles' whereby women have lower rates of paid employment giving them more time for church related activities.

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Postmodernism and Religion

Bunting: Religious belief is becoming a 'DIY Cocktail'. She argues that people are dipping in and out of different beliefs and taking from them what appeals the most. People are turning away from the traditional religions and seeking advice from elsewhere. It is more about the quality of the experience than the belief of truth of the doctrine.

Lyon: Religion is becoming disembedded from the church by the media and technology and is relocating to a different sphere; the sphere of consumption. Religion is now a cultural resource that we can draw upon and adapt to our own purposes.

Berger and Luckmann: Explain that society is socially constructed. They argue that religion is a very significant institution that categorises the world into the 'sacred and secular' and the 'moral and evil'. Religion provides people with a set of beliefs or ethical codes which become part of their subjective understanding, he describes this as 'the universe of meaning' (shared set of moral values). This 'universe of meaning is socially constructed and arised from the myths, customs, values and beliefs of the society.

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Postmodernism and Religion

Stark and Bainbridge: Came up with the idea of a religious economy which is a marketplace of different religions that are on offer to potential believers. The market nature of these competing religious products means that promoter seek to give them maximum customer appeal. Stark and Bainbridge argue that religions that do 'sell' are the ones that offer a future reward to compensate for the lack of rewards in their current lives.

Norris and Inglehart: Disagree with Stark and Bainbridge and suggest that you need to look at how religion offers a feeling of security and how it attends to different levels of need in varying societies, this is why religion is bigger in poorer societies.

Davie: Argues that religion is not declining, it is just changing and becoming completely personal and individualistic. She comes up with the idea of 'believing without belonging' which means that people are still religious/spiritual but church attendance is no longer an obligation and that there is no social stigma attached to not going to church. She argues that in times of natural crisis people still go to church.

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Functionalism and Religion

Durkheim: Used the religion of vairous groups of Australian Aborigines to develop his theory of totemism. He argues that the totem is bothe the symbol of God and the symbol of society. He suggests that in worshipping God what people are really doing is worshipping society. Durkheim also believes that one of religions major functions is to socialise societies members into the 'collective conscience' and example of this is the 10 commandments in Christianity. Durkheim also believes that religion strengthens social solidarity. He emphasizes the importance of collective worship, as together its members express their faith in common values and beliefs.

Bellah: Has the theory of 'civil religion' where sacred qualities are attributed to aspects of the society itself. He sees concept in America, where civil religion' unites the nation. He sees this in phrases like 'In God we trust' and 'God bless America'.

Malinowski: Sees religion as having a psycchological function as it can be used for dealing with life crises and providing confidence. He uses data from small societies in the Trobriand Islands where events such as fishing were surrounded by religious ritual.

Parsons: Argues that the major function of religion is to make sense of all experiences no matter how meaningless or contradictory they appear e.g. the death of a child. This allows intellectual and emotional adjustment, promoting order and stability in society.

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Marxism and Religion

Marx: Marx suggests that religion acts as an 'opiate to dull the pain of oppression'. He says that religion can do this by promising a paradise of eternal bliss in the afterlife and making poverty more tolerable by offering a reward for suffering by offering justice in the afterlife./
Marx also suggests that religion can act as a mechanism of social control by maintaining the existing system of exploitation. He argues that religion helps to produce a false class consciousness that blinds members of the subject's class to their true situation. Evidence of this is that 80% of Bishops were educated at public schools and Oxbridge and so has an upper class base.

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