theories of religion

  • Created by: brown153
  • Created on: 19-11-19 11:27

What is religion?

  • Substantive definitions – belief in God or a supernatural being. Weber (1905) defines religion as belief in a superior or supernatural power that cannot be explained by science. They believe a religion must have a belief in God or supernatural. However defining religion in this way leaves no room for beliefs and practices that share similar functions to religion but do not have a belief in God/supernatural.

  • Functional definitions – define it in terms of the social or psychological functions it performs for individuals or society. Durkheim (1915) - defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration. 

  • Constructionist definitions- they take an interpretivist approach that focuses on how members of society themselves define religion.

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Functionalist theories of religion

  • Durkheim on religion- religious institutions play a central part in creating and maintaining value consensus, order and solidarity.

  • The sacred and the profane – Durkheim (1915; 1962) the sacred things are set apart because they evoke such powerful feelings. While profane are things that have no special significance.

  • Totemism- Durkheim studied a clan society. He used studied of the Arunta, an Aboriginal Australian tribe with a clan system. They had a sacred totem threy worshipped. 

  • The collective conscience – the shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between individuals.

  • Cognitive functions of religion – Durkheim sees religion not only as the source of social solidarity, but also of our intellectual or cognitive capacities (our ability to reason and think conceptually).

  • Criticisms – Mestrovic (2011) argue that Durkheim’s ideas cannot be applied to contemporary society, because increasing diversity has fragmented the collective conscience, so there is no longer a single shared value system for religion to reinforce.

  • Psychological – Malinowski (1954) agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes solidarity.  However in his view it does so by preforming psychological functions for individuals. To situations in which religion performs this role:

  1. Where the outcome is important but is uncontrollable and thus uncertain.

  2. At times of life crises.

  • Parsons: values and meaning -Parsons (19676) sees religion helping individuals to cope with unforeseen events and uncontrollable outcomes. In addition, Parsons identifies two other essential functions that religion performs in modern society: it creates and legitimates society’s central values. It is the primary source of meaning.

  • Functional alternatives – non-religious beliefs and practices that perform functions similar to those of organised religion.

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marxists theories of religion

  • Religion as ideology – for Marx, ideology is a belief system that distorts people’s perception of reality in ways that serve the interests of the ruling class. Religion operates as an ideological weapon used by the ruling class to legitimate the suffering of the poor as something inevitable and God-given.

  • Religion and alienation -   Alienation involves becoming separated from or losing control over something that one has produced or created. Alienation exists in all class societies, but it is more extreme under capitalism.

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femisist theories of religion

  • Evidence of patriarchy – religion often stress equality between the sexes, there is considerable evidence of patriarchy within many of them.

  • Religious organisations are mainly male-dominated despite the fact that women often participate more than men in these organisations.

  • Places of worship – often segregate the sexes and marginalise women, for example seating them behind screens while men occupy central and more sacred spaces.

  • Sacred texts – largely feature the doings of male gods, prophets etc, and usually written and interpreted by men.

  • Religious laws and customs – may give women fewer rights than men.

  • Armstrong (1993) argues that early religions often placed women at the centre. For example earth mother goddess.

  • While religion may be used to oppress women, Nawal El Saadawi (1980) argues that it is not the direct cause of their subordination. It is rather the result of patriarchal forms in society.

  • Religious forms of feminism- Woodhead (2009) criticises feminist explanations that simply equate religion with patriarchy and the oppression of women.

  • She argues that there is religious forms of feminism – which women use religion to gain greater freedom and respect.

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