theories of religion


what is religion

substantive definitions.

  • content or substance
  • WEBER defines religion as a belief in a superior or supernatural power that is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically
  • substantive definitions are exclusive

functional definitions.

  • social or psychological  functions
  • DURKHEIM  contribution to social integration
  • YINGER answers ultimate questions.
  • inclusive

constructionist definitions

  • how members of society define religion
  • ALDRIDGE and Scientology
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Functionalist theories of religion


sacred and the profane sacred- set apart and forbidden- surrounded by taboos and prohibitions, a symbol of great power=society. profane- no special significance

Totemism studies clan society. totems reinforce the group's solidarity and sense of belonging- they are worshipping society

collective conscience shared norms and values that make social life and cooperation between individuals possible regular shared religious rituals reinforce this.

cognitive functions religion is the origin of the concepts and categories we need for reasoning, understanding and communicating

criticisms unsound evidence WORSLEY no sharped division between the sacred and the profane. hard to apply to large scale societies.

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Functionalist theories of religion 2


  • the outcome is important but is uncontrollable and uncertain- lagoon fishing and ocean fishing
  • at times of life crisis- religion helps to minimise disruption

PARSONS: values and meaning

  • creates and legitimates society's central values
  • a primary source of meaning

CIVIL RELIGION a belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself. it integrates society

functional alternatives non-religious beliefs it ignores what makes religion distinctive

evaluation neglects negative aspects, ignores religion as a source of division and conflict

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marxist theories of religion

religion as ideology

distorts peoples perception of reality. the ruling class controls religion. it misleads the poor and creates a false consciousness. LENIN- religion spiritual gin.  religion manipulates the masses. legitimates the power and privilege of the dominant class.

religion and alienation

seperated from or losing control over something that one has produced or created. religion is the opium of the people- it dulls the pain of exploitation. religion offers no solution to earthly misery.


ignores positive functions of religion

neo marxism- assisting not hindering

ALTHUSSER rejects the view of alienation

doesn't effectively control the population

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feminist theories of religion

evidence of patriarchy

  • male domination
  • segregation of sexes
  • male gods and prophets
  • fewer rights
  • ARMSTRONG women at the centre of religion
  • SAADAWI not the direct cause of subordination

religious forms of feminism

GILLIAT-RAY- hijab to gain parental approval. to gain status and respect for roles in private sphere

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