Beliefs Overall Summary

  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 28-03-15 22:49

Functionalist theories of religion

It creates & maintains value consensus (norms and values), order and solidarity.

  • The sacred: Durkheim believed that religion was not about a belief in God, spirits or the supernatural but a focus on the sacred (things that are powerful), found in all religions.
  • The profane: are ordinary things that have no special significance. 
  • Rituals in relation to the sacred, that are performed by social groups (collective)
  • Collective conscienceCollective conscience refers to the shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge that bring society together (social solidarity/intergration).  Religion also performs a function for individuals – making them feel part of something greater than themselves.
  • Cognitive functions of religion:  Durkheim sees religion as the source of intellectual and cognitive abilities – helping people to reason and think conceptually.
  • Malinowski: Psychological Functions: Where the outcome is important but uncontrollable and uncertain people turn to religion. At times of life crisis e.g. birth, puberty, marriage and death.
  • Parsons: It creates and legitimates society's basic norms and values. It provides a source of meaning, anwering 'ultimate' questions.
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Marxist theories of religion

Marxism sees religion as a feature of a class-divided society, and in a classless society there would be no need for religion.

Ideology and false consciousness

  • Ideology is a belief system that distorts people’s perception of reality in ways that serve the interests of the ruling class. He sees religion as an ideological weapon, used by the ruling class to justify the suffering of the proletariat as something inevitable
  • Religion misleads the poor into believing that there is a purpose for their suffering, and they will be favoured in the afterlife
  • These ideologies distort reality and prevent the proletariat from acting out to change their position in society, helping them accept it (False Consciousness)

Religion and Alienation

  • In the dehumanising conditions, the exploited turn to religion to console them.
  • Religion acts as a drug (like opium) to mask the pain of oppression, hiding the problem by promising afterlife rewards, distracting attention from the true source of oppression
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Feminist theories of religion

Feminists believe religion is a patriarchal institution and the religious beliefs function as a patriarchal ideology that legitimates female subordination.

  • Religious organisations: Mainly male dominated – males have a high position of authority in the hierarchical structure (male priests) E.g. Judaism and Catholicism, women are forbid to become priests. Karen Armstrong argues that women’s exclusion from the priesthood is clear evidence of marginalisation
  • Places of worshipSome places of worship segregate the sexes, in favour of the man, marginalising women. For example; - In Islamic mosques, women are seating at the back behind screens, while men occupy the central and more sacred seats. 
  • Sacred texts:Sacred texts largely focus on men – male gods, prophets. They are usually written and interpreted by men.  For example;- not being allowed to preach or read sacred texts, including taboos such as not being able to touch the Qur’an when menstruating.
  • Religious lawsMany religious laws that give women fewer rights than men. For example- marriage laws (Spouses they marry, denied divorce, decision making, dress codes (Islamic women must not show their face)  Many religions also legitimate the traditional domestic and reproductive role of the woman. For example - Catholic church bans contraception and abortion
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Religion as a Conservative Force

  • Traditional e.g. defending traditional customs, institutions or moral views
  • Conservative because it functions to conserve things as they are, maintaining  the status quo.

Most religions conserve traditional beliefs about moral issues and oppose changes that allow individuals more freedom. E.g. the Catholic Church forbids divorce, abortion and contraception.

  • Capitalism: Religion as a conservative ideology that prevents social change. Stops Rebellion
  • Patriarchy: Religion legitimates patriarchal power and maintains women's subordination in the family and society.

Calvinist beliefs

  • Predestination: God predetermines who will be saved "the elect" and individual can do nothing to stop this
  • Divine transcendence - God is so far beyond us that no human being can understand his will
  • Asceticism - abstinence, self-discipline and self denial
  • The idea of a vocation - constant methodical work in an occupation
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Religion and social protest

The American civil right movement - Bruce sees religion in the black civil rights movement as an ideological resource. Religious organsiations are well equipped to support protest and contribute to change by:

  • Taking the moral high ground - pointing out the hypocrisy of white clergy who supported racial segregation
  • Channeling dissent - Martin Luthur Kings's funeral was a rallying point for the civil rights cause
  • Acting as honest broker - because they are respected by both sides as conflict and seen as standing above "mere politics"
  • Mobilising public opinion by campaigning for support

The New Christian Right (NCR)

  • NCRs aim is to make abortion, homosexuality and divorce illegal and take the USA "back to god"
  • The NCR believes in traditional family and gender role, campaign for the teaching of "creationism" and wants to ban sex education in schools.
  • Bruce argues they are unsuccessful because they have never had support from a vast majority.
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Marxist, religion and change

  • Ernst Bloch:the principle of hope
    • Religigion often inhibits change by also inspires protest and rebellion. Inspires our dreams for later life with images of a "utopia"
  • Liberation theology
    • This is a movement that emerged from the Catholic Church with a strong commitment to the poor and opposition to the military dictatorships that then ruled most of the continent.
  • Millenarian Movements
    • They desire to change things here and now. Worshley (1968) argues that they expect total imment transformation of this world by supernaturak means (heaven on earth)
  • Gramsci: religion and hegemony
    • Hegemony - ideological domination or leadership of society. The Catholic Church helped to win support for the facist regime. However it may help the ruling class hegemony and some clergy may act as organic intellectuals
  • Religion and class conflict
    • Billings applied Gramsci ideas in a case study comparing class struggle in two communities. (Coalminers and textile workers). The miners were much more militant struggling  for better conditions.
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Secularisation is defined as: ‘the process whereby religious beliefs, practices and institutions lose social significance’

  • Church attendance has fallen, from 40% in the mid-19th century to 10-15% by the 1960s, and has further halved to 6.3% in 2005.
  • An increase in the average age of churchgoers
  • Fewer marriages, 2006  weddings occured only a third, compared with 3 fifths in 1971.
  • Fewer baptisms, fell from 55% in 1991 to 41% in 2005
  • A decline in the numbers holding traditional Christian beliefs, Gill et al found that only 23% of people said they held no religious beliefs in 1950, but in 1996 this had increased to 43%
  • Greater religious diversity 


  • Rationalisation - Disenchanment from religion beliefs
  • Structural Differentiation - many specialised institutions develop to carry out the different functions previously  performed by a single institutions, such as church.
  • Social and Cultural Diversity - indusrialisation creates diverse beliefs, values and lifestyles.
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Religion, Renewal and Choice (Postmodernism)

Davie - Believing without belonging - People no longer no to church because they feel they have to so although churchgoing has declined, this is because attendence is now a matter of personal choice rather than obligation.

Hervieu-Leger - Spiritual Shopping - Cultural amenesia - a loss of collective memory.  Religion continues through individual consumerism. Religion is now individualised. We have develop our own do-it-yourself beliefs.

Lyon: 'Jesus in Disneyland' - Religious consumerism - postmodern society involves the idea that we now construct our identities through what we consumer.  The rolecation of religion - there is an increased movement of religious ideas across national boundaries. Re-enchantment of the world with the growth of unconventional beliefs and practices.

Religious market theory - Stark and Bainbridge - They criticise secularisation theory for its 'distorted view' of the past and the future. There was no past 'golden age' of religion, it is unlikely everyone will be an athist in the future. People make rational choices based on costs and benefits.

Existential Security Theory - When people feel insure they have a high level of demend religion.

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Religion in a Global Context

According to the secularisation theory, development undermines religion, modern science and technology to destroy belief in the supernatural.

  • God and globalalisation in India: Nanda (2008) examines the role of hinduism, the religion of 85% of the population, in legitimates the rise of a new hindu ultra-nationalism.
  • Hinduism and consumerism: The prosperous, scientifically educated, urban middle class are the people who are likely to adopt a secular worldview. However surveys show that indians are becoming increasily more religious.
  • Pentecostalism in Latin America: Like Calvinism, Pentecostalism demands an ascetic (self-dening) way of life emphasising personal descipline and hard work. This encourages its members to prosper and become upwardly mobile.
  • Religious fundamentalism: Giddens defines fundamentalists as traditionalists who wish to return to the fundamentals of their faith and who have an unquestioning belief in the literal truth.
  • Cultural defence: Bruce argues that religion unites a community against a external threat.
  • The 'clash of civilisation': Global conflicts e.g. 911 islamic attacks in the USA. Religious differences are creating a new set of hostile 'us and them' relationships, with increased competition between civilisations for economic and military power.
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  • Churches: Large organisations with millions of members (e.g Catholic Church), Run by a hierarchy of priests, Universalistic (include the whole of society),Often appeal to upper classes because they are linked to the state, Place few demands on their members, Claim a religious monopoly of the truth
  • Sects: Small, exclusive groups, Break away from churches (often due to disagreements), Hostile to wider society, Expect high levels of commitment, Often appeal to poor and oppressed, Led by charismatic leader, Believe they hold religious monopoly of truth.
  • Denominations: (According to Niebuhr, denominations are midway between churches and sects), Do not expect a high level of commitment, Often fairly large organisations, Impose few demands on members, Don’t appeal to the whole of society (Methodism), Tolerant of other  organisations, Not linked with the state, Do not claim a religious monopoly of the truth
  • Cults: Highly individualistic, Group around shared themes and interests, Often without an exclusive belief system, Usually led by ‘therapists’ who claim special knowledge, Tolerant of other beliefs, Do not demand strong commitment, Often world-affirming, New religions
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Growth of Religious Movements

Marginality - sects offer a solution to their lack of status by offering their members a theodicy of disprivilege

Relative deprivation - e.g. some middle-class people may feel spiritually deprived.

Social change and NRMs - Wilson (1970) argue that periods of rapid change undermine established norms, producing anomie (normlessness). Those most affected may turn to sects. Social change may also stimulate the growth of NRMs today.

The dynamic of sects and NRMs - Niebuhr (1929) argues that sects are world-rejecting organisations, that come into existence by splitting from an established church.

The growth of the New Age: Self Spirituality - New agers seeking the spiritual have turned away from traditonal 'external' churches and instead look inside themselfs to find it. Detraditionalisation: The New age rejects the spiritual authority of external traditional sources e.g. preists

Postmodernity: Heelas see the New Age and modenity are linked: A source of identity, Consumer culture, rapid social change and decline of organised religion.

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Religiosity and Social Groups

Gender and religiosity

  • Socialisation and gender role: women are socialised to be more passive, obedient and caring
  • Organismic deprivation: Women are more likely to suffer ill health and seek healing
  • Ethical deprivation: Women more morally conservative and thus attracted to conservatism
  • Social deprivation: Women more likely to be poor

Ethncity and religious

  • Country of origin: Most minorities orginate from countries with higher levels of religous practices
  • Cultural defence: Religious offers a cultural identity in a hostile enviroment. Oppression racisms
  • Cultural transition: Religion is a means of transitioning into a new cultural by proving support

Age and religious participation

  • Under 15s: more likely to go to church because they have been made to attend e.g. parents
  • Over 65s: more likely to be sick or disabled and unable to attend
  • The aging effect: people turn to religion as they get older. Dealth to afterlife
  • Generation effect: Churches are full of older people - they grew up when religion was popular
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Ideology and Science

Science as an open belief system

  • Popper (1959) claims science is an 'open' belief system, open to critisms and testing
  • The CUDOS norms Merton (1973) argues that science as an organised social activity has a set of norms that promote the growth of knowledge by encouraging openness. 
    • Communism Knowledge, Universalism (knowledge judged by universal, objective criteria), Disinterestedness (seeking knowledge for own sake), Organised Scepticism (open to criicism)

Closed belief system: Religion is closed belief system as it makes knowledge claims that cannot be overturned.

Science as a closed system: This tells scientists what reality is life, defining problems, methods, equipment and even likely research findings.

Marxism, feminism and postmodenism: Science serves the interests of dominant groups. Many scientific developments are driven by captialism need for knowledge to make profit. 

Ideology: The term often includes negative aspects e.g.beliefs tbat are false or offer biased view.

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New Religious Movements

World – rejecting NRMs: Similar to sects, Clearly religious organisations with a clear notion of God,  They are highly critical of the outside world and seek radical change, Members are expected to break away from their life, Members live communally, with restricted contact from the outside world, The movement controls their lives, and is often accused of ‘brainwashing’, They often have conservative moral codes, They can vary in size. For example, Branch Davidians and Moonies

World – accommodating NRMS: Often break away from existing churches or denominations, They neither accept or reject the world, Focus on other-worldly matters rather than worldly matters, Seek to restore the spiritual purity of religion, Members tend to lead traditional lives. E.g. neo-Pentecostalist – split from Catholicism as they want to restore the Holy Spirt.

World – affirming NRMS: Accept the world, Promise followers success in terms of mainstream goals and values (e.g careers and relationships), Non-exclusive and tolerant of other religions, Offer this-worldly gratification, Claim to offer specialist knowledge to enable followers to unlock spiritual powers and achieve success, Entry to the religion is often through training, Place few demands for members, Often lack traditional features of religion, such as collective worship. E.g. Scientology

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