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what is religion

what is religion;

Weber - substantive definition;

- belief in the supernatural or superior power.

Durkheim - functional definitions;

- defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration.

social constructionist definitions; 

- focuses on how members of society define religion

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Functionalist Theories - Durkheim

key features of religion are the distinction between the profane and the sacred. 

profane are things which are found in everyday life.

sacred things are what inspire feelings of awe and wonder. 

Durkheim believed that the essence of religion could be found by studying its simplest form - totemism - when clans worship totems they are really worshipping society -  totems represent powers of the groups who are interdependent on one another.

shared religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and main social integration. 

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Durkheim Criticims

- evidence on totemism is unsound and based on flawed evidence

- misleading as to generalisable about aboriginal beliefs. 

- Worsley - no sharp division between the sacred and the profane. 

- the theory applies better to small scale, illiterate societies. 

mestrovic - study can not be applied to modern society because increasingly diversity has fragmented the collective conscience - no longer a single shared value. 

hamilton - the theory does not fit with the emergence of multi-faith in society. 

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Functionalist Theories - Malinowski

- religion promotes solidarity - religion helps people to cope with times of emotional stress that would undermine social solidarity - e.g. times of crisis such as death.                                                                                                             - His study of Trobriand islanders - contrasts lagoon fishing with ocean fishing - the lagoon is safe so no ritual performed - ocean dangerous and accompanied by canoe magic - giving people a sense of control and reinforces group solidarity 



- exaggerates the importance of religious rituals. 

- Tambiah - points out that rituals related to the maintenance of prestige in society

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Functionalist Theories - Parsons

sees religion as helping individuals to cope with unseen events. 

creates and legitimates societies central values

is the primary source of meaning

religion protects society's norms and values by sacralising them. 

answers the ultimate questions about the human conditions such as is suffering a test of faith 

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Functionalist Theories - Bellah

civil religion integrates society in a way religion can't.

in America, civil religion involves loyalty to the country and a belief in God. 

it is expressed via rituals, symbols and beliefs such as allegiance to the flag.

it sacralises the American way of life and binds together Americans from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. 

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Functionalsim evaluation

- emphasises the social nature of religion

- shows how religion can have a positive impact

- civil religion inclusive of all faiths

- Gives little consideration to hostility between groups

- in secular societies, there is a declining church attendance which suggests religion no longer an influential force. 

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Marxist Theories - Marx

religion acts as an ideological weapon used to legitimate the suffering of the poor.

religion leads to the poor into believing that their suffering will be rewarded later in life. 

the above ideas create false consciousness - a distorted view of society which prevents them from a revolution to change their situation. 

Lenin - describes religion as spiritual gin an intoxicant used to confuse the masses. 

religion legitimates the power and privilege of the dominant classes.

the 16th century - divine right of kings was the belief that the kings were gods representative on earth and so they must be followed. 

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Marxist Theories - alienation

religion is the product of alienation - involves becoming separated or losing control over something that one has produced. 

under capitalism workers become alienated and they lack the freedom to express their true nature as creative beings. - these conditions mean the exploited turn to religion as a form of consolation. 

religion acts as opium to dull pain of exploitation 

promotes an afterlife and creates an illusory happiness 

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Evidence to support Marx

- caste system f traditional India

- The 16th-century medieval belief of the divine right of kings

- Egyptian pharaohs combining god and king in one person

- slaveowners converting slaves to Christianity believing it to be a controlling and gentling influence.

bruce -new Christian right

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Evaluation of Marxism

supported by real-world application

ignores the positive functions of religion

Althusser - rejects the concept of alienation as unscientific and based on the romantic idea that humans have a true self. 

religion doesn't provide an ideology to control the population

abercromble - in pre-capitalist societies Christianity was a major element of r/c ideology but had limited impact on peasantry

does not take secularisation into account

the church does not always support the r/c in 80s Catholic church in Poland held to bring downfall of the communist regime

no evidence to support idea of false consciousness

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religious organisations are often male-dominated despite the fact women participate more - e.g. Orthodox Judaism forbids women to become priests

places of worship segregates the sexes and marginalise women - e.g. mosques.

taboo surrounds pregnancy and menstruation - e.g. women on periods can't touch Qur'an.

sacred texts largely feature males doing gods work.

stories reflect anti-female stereotypes - e.g. Eve being the reason for evil.

religious laws and customs often give women fewer rights than men - e.g. women can't work, must look after children as well as them being fully owned by husbands at marriage.

religious influences on cultural norms lead to unequal treatments - female genital mutilation.

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ARMSTRONG - Early religions often place women at the centre.

SAADAWI - religion is not the source of female oppression it is the result of patriarchal society reinterpreting beliefs.

WOODHEAD - there are religious forms of feminism - e.g. hijab may be used as a symbol of liberation.

evangelical Christians believe men should respect women.

position of women is changing - the church of England allowed women to become priests since 1992.

the veil may be seen as a reaction to the west rather than a form of liberation.

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