Religion, science and ideology


What is ideology?

Ideology is a set of ideas that legitimate the power of a particular group.

Different conceptions of ideology

Pluralist ideology

A set of ideas that reflect the the pluralist view (power in society is spread among a wide range of social group, with no individual group having a monopoly of power) of the distribution of power, with no one particular ideology able to dominate others, and with the prevailing ideas in society reflecting the interests of a wide range of competing social groups and interests.

Marxism: dominant ideology and hegemony

The dominant ideology is a set of ideas which justifies the social advantages of the bourgeoisie (wealthy, powerful and influential) and justififes the disadvantages of the proletariat (lack wealth, power and influence).

Feminist: patriarchal ideology

Feminists identified the patriarchal ideology which is a set of ideas tht supports and justifies the power of men, with women seen as more suited to childcare and family tasks rather than responsible positions outside of the home.

What is religion?

Sociological approaches to defining religion can be divided into three broad categories:

Substantive definitions

This definition attempts to explain what religion actually is, it also involves supernatural beliefs.

  • Tylor (1903) defined religion as 'belief in spiritual beings'
  • Berger (1971) views religion as a 'scared canopy' which provides an explanation for the occurence of events which are beyond everyday experiences. He therefore adopts a 'shield providing supernatural protection against meaningless events'

However, this view has been criticized for ignoring religious practices.

Functional definitions

This defintion attempts to state what religion actually does in its uses and purposes for individuals and societies. 

  • Yinger (1970) Religion is a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life
  • Durkheim (1915) Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden - beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral commuity called a church all those who adhere to them.

There is an element of functionality in the defintions which therefore sees religon as being definied in terms of its contributions to society.

Polythetic definition

This definition attempts to list possible characteristics which make up a religion.

Southwold (1978) lists the possible factors:

  • Beliefs: in godlike beings and in the sacred.
  • Theology: Sacred texts and oral traditions
  • Practice: a series of rituals and practices
  • Institutions: links with a moral community with a priest or some form of other religious elite.
  • Consequences: an ethical code based on those beliefs.

This approach doesn't attempt to…


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