Religion Summary - theories, social change, secularisation and renewal

  • Created by: haleskaur
  • Created on: 22-08-17 16:26

Beliefs in society – Summary


Theories of religion

  • Sociologists define religion in substantive, functional and social constructionist terms.

  • Functionalism sees religion performing positive functions for society and individuals. These includes solidarity and integration; provision of values and meanings, and psychological functions. Functionalists also identify functional alternatives such as civil religion.

  • Marxists see religion as dulling the pain of class exploitation {“opium of the masses”] and as fostering false consciousness. They see religion as a form of ideology and a response to alienation.

  • Feminists see religion as an instrumental of patriarchy – a set of beliefs and practices responsible for women’s subordination. Some feminists argue that religion is not always patriarchal.

Religion and Social change

  • Some sociologists argue that religion does not always maintain the status quo. Weber argues the Protestant ethic contributed to the birth of capitalism. Marxists such as Maduro, who gives liberation theology as an example, argue that religion has potential to bring about change. Religious organisations have actively supported campaigns for change. Some such as the US civil rights movement have succeeded. Others such as the New Christians Right have failed to gain popular support. Millenarian movements have been forerunners of anti-colonial political parties.


  • Secularisation refers to the decline in the social significance of religion. Statistics show church attendance in the UK falling. The number of baptisms and church weddings has declined. Meanwhile opinion polls show that religious belief is declining.

  • Reasons include rationalisation, social, structural differentiation, social and religious diversity. Counter-trends are cultural transition and defence; for example, where religion may be focal point for preserving…


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