Sociology Religion - Full set of notes (Topic 1-7)

  • Created by: Beth
  • Created on: 20-08-14 15:26

Definitions of religion:

·         Substantive – exclusive, belief in supernatural e.g. God or holy texts.

·         Functional – what religion does for individual/society, inclusive.

·         Social constructionist – How people define religion/definitions change, inclusive, Interpretivist.

Functionalist theories of religion:

·         Society as a system of interrelated parts with needs met by institutions e.g. religion, media.

Durkheim on religion:

·         Sacred and profane – Sacred (things surrounded by prohibitions/taboos and create feelings of awe – powerful feelings from sacred represent greater power e.g. society) and profane (ordinary things).

·         Totenism – Study of Arunta rituals around totems e.g. reinforcing solidarity of group = totem represents power of society that individuals rely on.

·         The collective conscience – Sacred symbols/rituals = society’s collective conscience, reinforcing integration, binding people together reminding them they’re part of a group.

·         Cognitive functions – Religion the source of our ability to reason/think conceptually = religion allows us to think of/share ideas of time, space.

Criticisms of functionalist theories of religion:

·         Worsley = No clear division between sacred and profane.

·         Explains integration within communities but not conflict between them.

·         Postmodernists = Increased diversity = fractured collective conscience.

Malinowski: Psychological functions of religion:

·         Helps those cope with stress, promotes social solidarity.

Study of Trobriand Islanders:

1.       When outcome is uncertain (fishing in lagoon =no rituals as situation safe, when fishing in ocean = rituals as dangerous situation).

2.       Life crisis → death/birth/marriage = brings people together, gives peace of mind.

Parsons: Values and meanings:

·         Helps people cope with uncertainty, answers unanswerable questions e.g. what happens after death, creates society’s values/morals to follow.

Functional alternatives:

·         Non-religious practices perform same functions as religion e.g. school, collectivism.

·         Bellah → Civil religion = attaches sacred qualities to society, integrates society in a way that religion can’t e.g. loyalty to nation state/belief in God e.g. being a ‘true American’.


·         Ignores religion as a source of conflict/oppression.

·         Emphasises social nature of religion.

Marxist theories of religion:

·         Society = two classes e.g. Bourgeoisie and Proletariat (working class) → religion dividing society.

Religion as ideology:

·         Religion as a justification of inequality and suffering.

·         Religion distorts perceptions of reality to benefit ruling class.

·         Creates false consciousness therefore preventing revolution.

·         Makes ruling class’s position in society look predetermined.

Religion and alienation:

·         Religion = product of alienation.

·         Workers = alienated e.g. no freedom to express true nature.


·         Shows how religion could be used as tool for oppression.

·         Ignores positive aspects of religion.

·         Neo-marxists = some religions promote social change.

Feminist theories of religion:

·         Society and religion is patriarchal.

Evidence of patriarchy:

·         Religious organisations = Male dominated e.g. male bishops, popes, priests.

·         Places of worship = gender segregation e.g. women participation restricted.





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