Organisations, Movements and members


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  • Created on: 14-01-10 12:48


Troeltsch distinguishes between two main types of religious organisations


  • born into it through formal rituals to signify membership
  • open to all and easily obtained
  • seeks to be universal and all-inclusive


  • complex, formal hierarchy made up of professional clergy

worship and ritual

  • worship tends to be restrained
  • based on traditional rituals
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sense of legitimacy

  • claim a monoply of the truth - only their teachings offer the absolute truth, they provide the only legitimate R

relationship to wider society

  • generally accept the norms and values of wider society
  • often closely linked to society's major institutions

involvement and commitment

  • no compulsion to participate or to have regular attendance, although encourage it
  • those who show low levels of involvement and commitment are still regarded as members
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  • highly exclusive - erect strong boundaries between themselves and wider society
  • membership has to be earned by personal merit- not a right


  • lack a professional clergy and no complex hierarchy
  • depend on leadership

worship and rituals

  • little use of ritual
  • worhsip typically emotional and expressive
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sense of legitimacy

  • claim a monopoly of the truth and believe they are the only true R

relationship to wider society

  • critical to wider society
  • no contact with non-,e,bers unless attempting to convert

involvement and commitment

  • demand high standards of behaviour and commitment
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Niebuhr identifies two other types of religious organisations

- lies midway between a church and a sect


  • not universalistic - doesnt seek to make members of the whole population
  • membership open to all
  • tend to be disproportionately MC


  • have a professional clergy but no complex hierarchy
  • laypeople play a more direct role

worship and ritual

  • relatively formal
  • less ritual than a church but less spontaneous than in a sect
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sense of legitimacy

  • dont claim an exclusive monopoly of the truth
  • more tolerant of alternative beliefs and less demanding
  • more readily to cooperate with other

relationship with wider society

  • explicity separate from state
  • dont reject the state or wider society

involvement and commitment

  • dont put pressure on potential recruits to commit themselves to a particular set of beliefs, to attend regularly or to membership
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  • open to all and welcome them with a sympathetic interest
  • no concept of membership - people can join and drop out as they wish
  • hihgly indivudalistic


  • loose- least organised
  • may be charistmatic leader, hierarchies are dicouraged

sense of legitimacy

  • dont claim a monopoly of the truth, so more tolerant
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relationship to wider society

  • no common orientation to wider society
  • followers generally expect to live in the world and cult-related activity is likely yo be part time

involvement and commitment

  • do not demand high levels of commitment
  • dont demand acceptance of their teachings
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Similarities and differences

  • Roy Wallis highlights two characteristics when summing up the similarities and differences:
    • how they see themselves - churches and sect claim that their interpretation of the faith is the only legitimate or correct one, denominations and cults accept that there can be many valid interpretations.
    • how they are seen by wider society - churches and denominations are seen as respectable and legitimate, whereas sects and cults are seen as deviant
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From cathedrals to cults

  • sociologists argue that some descriptions of religious organisations do not fit todays reality
  • for example, Bruce argues that Troeltschs idea of a church as having religious monoploy only applies to the Catholic Church before the 16th C Protestant Reformation.
  • since then, sects and cults have flourished and religious diversity has become the norm.
  • in todays society, churches are no longer truly churches in Troeltsch's sense because they have lost their monpoly and been reduced to the status of denominations competing with all the rest.
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New Religious Movements

  • since the 1960s, there has been an explosion in the number of new religious and organisations, such as the Moonies or the Children of God.
  • this has led to new attempts to classify them
  • Roy Wallis categorises these NR<s into three groups based on their relationship to the outside world, whether they reject the world, accomodate to it or affirm it.
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World-rejecting NRMs

  • grew in the 1960s when there was a lot of freedom for people, but also uncertainty. it was a period of radicalism (changes in society) with lots of alternative views
  • they cut themselves off from society - similar to sects
  • very critical of wider society and are often in conflict with the state
  • require total commitment. they demand significant lifestyle changes
  • members often turn away family and fiends
  • developed a reputation for brainwashing members
  • have conservative moral code, for example about sex
  • example - the Unification Church aha Moonies
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World - affirming NRMs

  • developed as a means of coping with identity crisis in more successful groups such as the MC. they try to unlock human potential as a means of solving their problems.
  • Bruce claims that they're a response to rationalisation of the modern world where it is hard to find satisfaction from work
  • tolerant of other beliefs - similar to cults
  • similar to self-help and therap groups - they try to unlock spiritual power
  • seek wide membership
  • do not require especially high lovels of commitment
  • examples - Scientology

in general, world affirming NRMs have been the most successful of the movements Wallis studied.

For example, Scientology had about 165,000 members in the UK in 2005, as compared with only 1,200 Moonies

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World - accomodating NRMs

  • appeals to those who are dissatisfied with existing R's but still maintain similar beliefs and disciplines
  • traditionally religious - similar to denominations
  • often come from traditional religions
  • then try to discover spiritual purity lost in traditional R's
  • allow people to carry on with their existing lifestyle
  • example - Pentecostalism isa movement within Christianity than aims to bring the Holy Spirit back into worship
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  • Wallis offers a useful way of classifying the NRMs that have developed in recent decades
  • however, some argues that it is not clear whether he is categorising them according to the movements teachings, or individual members beliefs.
  • he also ignores the diversity of beliefs that may exist within an NRM
  • Wallis himself recognises that real NRMs will rarely fit neatly into his typology and some, such as 3HO (Healthy Happy Holy Organisation), may have features of all three types.
  • nevertheless, many sociologists find such typologies useful as a way of analysing and comparing the significant features of NRMs
  • however, Stark and Bainbridge reject the idea of constructing such typologies altogether
  • instead, they argues that we should distinguish between religious organisations using just one criterion - the degree of conflict or tension betweenthe religious group and wider society
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Sects and cults

  • Stark and Bainbridge identify two kinds of organisations that are in conflict with wider society- sect and cults.
    • sects result from schisms - splits in existing organisations. they break away from churches usually because of disagreements about doctrine
    • cults are new Rs, such as Scientology and Christian Science, or ones new to that particular society that have been imported, such as TM
  • in general, S & B see sects as promising otherworldy benefits to those suffering conomice deprivation or ethical deprivation.
  • by contrast, cults tend to offer this worldly benefits to more prosperous individuals who are suffering psychic deprivation and organismis deprivation.
  • S & B subdivide cults according to how organised they are:
    • audience cults - least organised and do not involve formal membership or much commitment, there is little interaction between members and participation may be through the media. examples - astrology and UFO cults
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    • client cults - based on ther relationship between a consultant and a client, and provide services to their followers. examples - homeopathy and Spiritualism
    • cultic movement - the most organised and demand a higher level of commitment than other cults. the movement aims to meet all its members religious needs and unlike followers of audience and client cults, they are rarely allowed to belong to other religious groups at the same time. example - the Moonies and Doomsday
  • S & B make some useful distinctions between organisations. however, their ideas of using the degree of conflict with wider society to distinguish between them are similar to Troeltschs distinction between the church and sect.
  • in addition, some of the examples they use do not fit neatly into any of of their categories.
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Explaining the growth of religious movements

  • since the 1960s, there has been a rapid growth in the number of sects and cults, and in the number of people belonging to them.
  • sociologists have offered three main explanations for this trend
    • marginality
    • relative deprivation
    • social change
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  • as Troeltsch noted, sects tend to draw their members from the poor and oppressed.
  • similarly, according to Weber, sects tend to arise in groups who are marginal to society. such groups may feel that they are disprivileged
  • in Webers view, sects offer a solution to this problem by offering their members a theodicy of disprivilege - that is, a religious explanation and justification of their suffering and disadvantage
  • this may explain their misfortune as a test of faith, for example, while holding out the promise of rewards in the future for keeping the faith
  • historically, many ects, as well as millenarian movements, have recruited from the marginalised poor.
  • since the 1960s, this sect-like world-rejecting NRMs such as the Moonies have recruited mainly from more affluent groups of often well-educated young MC whites.
  • however, Wallis argues that this does not contradict Webers view, because many of these individuals had become marginal to society.
  • despite their MC origins, most were hippies, dropouts and drug dealers
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Relative Deprivation

  • this refers to the subjective sense of being deprived. this means that it is perfectly possible for someone who is in reality quite privileged nevertheless to feel that they are deprived or disadvantaged in some way compared to others.
  • thus, although MC people are materially well off, they may feel they are spiritually deprived, especially in todays materialistic, consumerist world.
  • as a result, Wallis argues, they may turn to sects for a sense of community
  • similarly, S & B argue that it is the relatively deprived who break away from churches to form sects
  • S & B argue that world-rejecting sects offer to the deprived the compensators that they need for the rewards they are denied in this world.
  • by contrast, the privileged need no compensators or world-rejecting R
  • they are attracted to world-accepting churches and express their status and bring them further success in achieving earthly rewards.
  • this distinction is very similar to Wallis' two main types of NRMs.
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Social Change

  • Wilson argues that periods of rapid change disrupt and undermine established norms and values, producing anomie or normlessness
  • in response to the uncertainty and insecurity that this creates, those who are most affected by the disruptiong may turn to sects as a solutiong.
  • for example, the dislocation created by the industrial revloution in Britain in the late 18th and ealry 19th C led to the birth of Methodism which succeeded in recruiting large numbers of the new industrial WC
  • similarly, Bruce sees the growth of sects and cults today as a responce to the social changes involved in modernisation and S.
  • in Bruce's view, society is nore secularised and therefore people are less attracted to the traditional churches and strict sects, because these demand too much commitment
  • instead, people now prefer cults because they are less demanding and require fewer sacrifices
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The growth of NRMs

  • World-rejecting NRMs -
    • Wallis points to social changes from the 1960s impacting on young people, including the increased time spent in education.
    • this gave them freedom from adult responsibilites and enabled a counter-culture to develop
    • also, the growth of radical political movemetns offerede alternatives in this context because they offered young people a more idealistic way of life
    • Bruce argues that it was the failure of the counter culture to change the world that led to disillusioned youth turning to R instead
  • world-affirming NRMs -
    • Bruce argues that their growth is a responce to modernity, especially to the rationalisation of work
    • work no longer provides meaning or a source of identity - unlike the past, when Protestant ethic gave work a religious earning for some people
    • yet at the same time, we are expected to acieve, even though we may lack the opportunities to succeed.
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The dynamics of sects and NRMs

    • world-affirming NRMs provide both a sense of ifentity and techniques that promise success in this world
  • wallis also note that some movements of the middle ground such as the Jesus Freaks have grown since the mid-1970s.
  • these have attacted dillusioned former members of world-rejecting NRMs because they provide a halfway house back to a more conventional lifstyle

The dynamics of sects and NRMs

  • while churches such as the Cath Church and the Church of Eng have a history stretching over many centuries, sects by contrasts are often short lived organisations, frequently lasting only a single generation or less.
  • sociologists have therefore been intereste to understand the dynamics of sect development
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Denomination or death

  • Neibuhr argues that sects and world-rejecting organisations that come into existence because of schisms - splitting from an established churchbecause of a disagreement over religious doctrine.
  • Neibuhr argues that sects are short lived and that within a generation, they either die out, or they compromise with the world, abandon their extreme ideas and become a denomination.
  • there are several reasons for this:
    • the second generation - they are born into the sects and lack the commitment and fervour of their parents, who had consciously rejected the world and joined voluntarily
    • the Protestant ethic effect - sects that practice asceticism tend to become prosperous and upwardly mobile. such members will be tempted to compromise with the world, so they will either leave or it will abandon its world rejecting beliefs.
    • death of the leader - sects with a charismatic leader either collapse on the leaders death or a more formal bureaucratic leaderhsip takes over, transforming it into a denomination
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The sectarian cycle

  • S & B see religious organisations moving through a cycle

stage 1 - schism, there is tension between the needs of the deprived and privileged members of a church, deprived members break away to find a world rejecting sect

stage 2 - is one of initial fervour, with a charismatic leader and great tension between the sects beliefs and those of wider society

stage 3 - denominationalism, the Protestant ethic effect and the coolness of the second generation mean the fervour disappears.

stage 4 - establishment, this sees the sect become more world accepting and tension with wider society reduces

final stage - further schism results when less privileged members break away to find a new sect true to the original message.

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Established Sects

  • Wilson argues that not all sects follow the sectarian cycle.
    • conversionist sects - such as evangelicals, whose aim is to convert large numbers of people, are likely yo grow rapidly into larger, more formal denominations
    • adventist sects - such as Jehovahs Witnesses await the secong coming of Christ. to be saved, they believe they must hold themselve separate from the corrupt world around them. this separatism prevents them from compromising and becoming a denominaton
  • Wilson goes on to argue that some sects have survived over many generations, such as Adventists and Pentecostalists.
  • instead of becoming denominations, these groups become eastablised sects.
  • contrary to Niebuhrs predictions, many of them have succeeded in socialising their children into a high level of commitment, largely by keeping them apart from the wider world.
  • however, Wilson argues that G will make it harder in future for sects to keep themselves separate from the outside world.
  • on the other hand, G will make it easier to recruit in the Third World, where there are large numbers of deprived people for whom the message of sects is attractive, as the success of Pentecostalism has shown.
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The growth of the New Age

  • the term New Ade covers a range of beliefs and acitivites that have been widespread since at least the 1980s
  • Heelas estimates that there are about 2,000 such activities and 146,000 practioners in the UK.
  • many of them are very lossley organised audience or client cults.
  • they are extremely diverse and eclectric, they include belief in UFOs and aliens, tarot, crystals, various forms of alternative medicine and pscyhotherapy, yoga, mediation magic etc.
  • however, accorind to Heelas there are two common themes that characterise the New Age
    • self-spirituality
    • detraditionalisation
  • beyond thse common featues, New Age beliefs vary
  • for example, they include world-affirming aspects that help people succeed in the everyday outer world, as well as world-rejecting elements that allow individuals to ahcieve enlightenment in their inner world.
  • however, Heela argues that most New Age beliefs and organisation offer both
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Postmodernity and the New Age

  • several explanations for the opportunity of the New Age have been offered.
  • for example, Drane arhues that its appeal is part of a shift towards postmodern society.
  • one of the features of postmodern society is a loss of faith in meta-narratives or claims to have the truth.
  • science promises to bring progress to a better world, but instead it has given us what, environmental destruction and global warming.
  • as a result, people have lost faith in experts and professional such as scientists and doctors, and they are disillusioned with the churches failure to meet their spiriual needs.
  • as a result, they are turning to the New Age idea that each of is can find the truth for ourselves by looking within.
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The New Age and modernity

  • Bruce argues that the growth of the New Age is a feature of the lastest phase of modern society, and not Postmodernity
  • modern society values individualism, which is also a key principle of New Age beliefs
  • it is also a particularly important value among those in the expressive professions concerned with human potential, such as social workers or artists - the group to whome the New Age appeals most
  • Bruce notes that New Age beliefs are often softer versions of much more demanding and self-disciplined traditional Eastern R's such as Buddhism.
  • this explains why New Age activities are often audience or client cults, since these make few demands on their followers
  • Bruce sees the New Age eclecticism or 'pick and mix spiritual shopping' as typical of R in late modern society, reflecting the consumerist ethos of capitalist society
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  • Heelas sees the New Age and modernity as linked in four ways:
    • a source of identity - in modern society, the individual has many different roles but there is little overlap between them, resulting in a fragmented identity. New Age beliefs offer a source of authentic identity
    • consumer culture - creates disatisfaction because it never delivers the perfection that it promises. the New Age offers an alternative way to achieve perfection
    • rapid social change - in modern society this disrupts established norms and values, resulting in anomie. the New Age provides a sense of certainty and truth in the same way as sects.
    • decline of organised R - modernity leads to S, thereby removing the traditional alternatives to New Age beliefs.
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Religiosity and social groups

there are important differences between social groups in their religious participationg and in the types of beliefs they hold

as we have seen, different social classes are likely to be attracted by different organisations and ideas - lower classes towards world-rejecting sects and higher classes towards world-accepting churches and cults

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Gender and religiosity

  • there a clear gender differences in religious beliefs and participationg
  • while the priesthoods of most Rs are male, more women then men participate in religious activities and believe in God, sin, evil, the Devil and life after death.
  • Miller and Hoffman found that women express greater interest in R, have a stronger personal commitment to it and attend church more.
  • this applies to all ages and all religious organisations and faiths.
  • for example, Bruce estimates that there are twise as many women as men involved in sects
  • similarly, Heelas and Woodhead found that 80% of the participants in the holistic milieu in Kendal were female
  • these differences may also be connected to differences in the way men and women see God - as the God of power and control, or as the God of love and forgiveness.
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Reasons for gender differences

secularisation and gender role

  • according to Miller and Hoffman, women are more religious because they are socialised to be more passive, obedient and caring.
  • these are qualities valued by most Rs, so it follows that women are more likely then men to be sttracted to R. interstingly, men who have these qualities are also more likely to be religious
  • Miller and Hoffman note that women are more likely than men to work part time or to be full time careers, so they have more scope for organising their time to participate in religious activites.
  • women are also more likely to be attracted to the church as a source of gender identity, and Greeley argues that taking care of other family members increases womens religiosity because it involves responsibilty for their ultimate welfare as well as their everyday needs.
  • similarly, Davie argues that womens closer proximity to birth and death brings them closer to ultimate questions about the meaning of life that R is concerned with
  • this also fits with differences in the way men and women see God
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women and the New Age

  • as women are more often associated with nature and a healing role, they may be more attracted than men to New Age movements in particular.
  • for example, Heelas and Woodhead found that 80% of the participants in the holistic milieu in Kendal were female. this is because such movements often celebrate the natural and involve sults of healing, which gies women a higher status and sense of self-worth.
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  • Bruce argues that womens experience of child rearing make them less aggressive and goal orientated, and more cooperate and caring - where men wich to achieve, women wish to feel.
  • in Bruce's view, this fits the expressive emphasis of the New Age
  • women may also be attracted to the New Age because it emphasises the importance of being authentic rather than merely acting out roles-including gender roles.
  • women may be more attracted than men by this, as they are more likely to perceive their ascribed roles as restrictive.
  • for example, Brown argues that New Age 'self'Rs - those that emphasise subjective experience rather than external authority- appeal to women's wish for autonomy and sttract women recruits
  • on the other hand, however, some women may be attracted to fundamentalism because of the certainities of traditional gender role that it prescribes for them
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compensation for deprivation

  • Glock and Stark and Stark and Bainbridge argue that peple may participate in R because of compensators for social, organismis and thical deprivation that it offers.
  • Glock and Stark argue that these forms of deprivation are all more common among women and this explains their higher levels of sect membership:
    • organismic deprivation - this stems from physical and mental health problems. women are more likely yo suffer ill health and thus to seek healing through R
    • ethical deprivation - women tend to be more morally conservative. they are thus more likely to regard the world as being motal decline and be attracted to sects, which often share this view.
    • social deprivation - women are more likely yo be poor. this explains why there are more women than men in sects, since these attract poorer groups
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Ethnicity and religiosity

recent trends

  • despite the traditonal gender differences in participation, there is evidence that women are now leaving the church at a faster rate than men.
  • for example, Brierley notes the drastic decline in churchgoing among the women aged 30-45, with a 16.4% fall in sunday church attendance between 1990-2005
  • he suggests that this may be because pressures of home, family and work are very intense for these women.
  • they are likely to have young family, and sunday working is particuarly high (1 in 3) among women of this age, leaving little time for church
  • Brown argues that since the 1990s, women have begun to reject traditional subordinate gender roles,because Christiainity was closely bound up with these traditional roles, womens rejections of subordination have led them to reject traditional R at the same time
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Ethnicity and religiosity

  • the UK today is a multi-ethnic, multi-religiosu society.
  • althought the biggest religious group are those describing themselves as Christians, there are significant numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
  • there are clear ethnic patterns in religious participation, with higher than average rates for most minority groups
  • Muslims, Hindus and black Christians are consdierably more likely than white Christians to see R as important
  • among Christians, balcks are more likely than whites to be found in the Pentecostal churches.
  • however, while minorities have higher participation rates, Madood et al found some decline in the importance of R for all ethnic groups and that fewer were observant especially among the second generation
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Reasons for ethnic differences

  • several reasons have been suggested for ethnic differences in religiosity.
  • one is the idea that most ethnic minorities originate from poorer countries with traditional cultures, both of which produce higher levels of religious belief and practices
  • on arrival in the UK, them and their children maintain the pattern they brought with them from their country of irigin.
  • however, this disregarded the impact of their experience as immigrants and minorities in a new society, and how this may give R's a new role as cultural defence and cultural transition

cultural defence

  • Bruce argues that R in such situations offers support and a sense of cultural identity in an uncertain or hostile environment.
  • as Brid notes, R among minorities can be a basis for community solidarity, a means of preserving ones culture and language, and a way of coping with oppression in a racist society
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Age and religious participation

cultural transition

  • R can also be a means of easing the transition into a new culture by providing support and a sense of community for minority groups in their new environment
  • this is the explanations Herberg's gives for high levels of religious participation among the first generation of immigrants.
  • Pryce's study of African Caribbean community in Bristol shows both cultural defence and cultural transitions have been important.
  • he argues that Pentecostalism is a highly adaptive R of the oppressed that provided migrants with values appropraite to the new world in which they found themselves.
  • Pentecostalism helped African Caribbeans to adapt to British society, playing a kind of Protestant ethic role in helping its members succeed by encouraging self-reliance and hrift
  • it gave people mutual support and hope of improving their situation
  • on the other hand, Rastafarianism represented a different response from African Caribbeans radically rejecting the wider society as reacist and exploitative
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Age and religious participation

  • the general pattern of religious participationg is that the older the person is, the more likely they are to attend religious services
  • however, there are two exceptions to this pattern - the under 15's and the over65's
    • the under 15's are more likely to go to church than other age groups because they may be made to do so by their parents
    • the over 65's are more likely yo be sick or disabled and thus unable to attend. higher death rates also make this a smaller group, whcih also reduces the total number available to attend
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Reasons for age differences

  • according to Voas and Crockett, there are two main sort of explanations for age difference in religious participation:
    • the aging effect - this is the view that people turn to R as they get older. for example, using evidence from the Kendal project, Heelas argues that people bcome more interested in spirituality as they get older
    • the generational effect - this is the view that as society becomes more secular, each new generation is less religious than the one before. thus,there are more old people than young people in church congregations today, not because they are more attracted to R as they get older, but simply because they grew up at a time when R was more popular
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  • Voas and Crockett argue that the generational effect is the more significant of the two explanations for age differences in religious participation.
  • they claim that each generation is half as religious as their parents
  • if so, we can expect a continuing rise in the average age of churchgoers as the young become less willing to attend
  • meanwhile, about 30% of churchgoers are now over 65.
  • Bruce predicts that this trend will continue and that it wont be long before the over 65's become the majority.
  • the only exception of this trend is the Pentecostal churches, whcin continue to attract younger members
  • Gill notes, children are no longer receiving a religious socialisation, and those brought up without religious beliefs are less likely yo become churchgoers later in life.
  • if so, it is likely that within two generations, a small minority will only hold Christian beliefs
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Nice and detailed. awesome.



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Excellent **

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