You are on page 1of 19

Beliefs in Society

Definitions of Religion - Substantive, Functional and Social constructionist.

Substantive - Focus on the content or substance of religious belief, such as

belief in God or the supernatural. Exclusive as they draw a clear line
between religious and non-religious belief.
Functional - Define religion through the social or psychological functions it
performs. Inclusive as allow us to include a range of beliefs and practices
that perform functions.
Social constructionist- Interpretivist approach that focuses on how
individual members of society themselves define/construct religion and
religious belief. Not possible to produce a single universal definition
because different people mean different things by religion. Do not
assume religion always needs belief in God or the supernatural.

Functionalism and Religion

Society is a system of interrelated parts. Different institutions (the media,
religion, education system) perform certain functions in society to help
maintain value consensus and social solidarity needed within all societies.
For Functionalists, religion plays a big part in creating and maintaining
value consensus, order and solidarity.
Sacred and the profane (THINKER: DURKHEIM) Key feature of religion was
not a belief in God or the supernatural, instead it was the distinction made
between the sacred and profane found within society.
Sacred things set apart, special, inspire feelings of awe and wonder.
Profane things that have no special significance, ordinary or mundane.
The fact that sacred things evoke such powerful feelings in believers
suggests to Durkheim that this is because they represent something of
great power. This, in Durkheim's opinion, could only be society itself. So,
when members of society are worshipping sacred symbols, they are
merely worshipping society and all that it stands for, thus uniting society's
members into a single, moral community.
Totemism - Gave the example of Australian Arunta Aboriginal clan system,
and how the totems they worshipped represented the tribe, its origins and
identity. Meaning that they worshipping society, even if they were
unaware of the fact.
Durkheim and Mauss - Argue that religion provides basic categories such
as time, space and causation. Thus for Durkheim, religion is the origin of
human thought, reason and science.
Criticisms of Durkheim - No sharp division between the sacred and the
profane, all of which are culturally relative.
Durkheims theory may apply better to small scale societies with a single
religion, very difficult to apply to large scale communities where two or
more religions are in conflict with one another, as it does nothing to help
promote order, value consensus and social stability.
Increasing diversity has fragmented the collective conscience, so there is
no longer a shared value system for religion to reinforce.
Psychological Functions of Religion - Thinker: Broinslaw Malinowski Agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes social solidarity, but in his
view this solidarity is achieved by performing psychological functions for

individuals - by helping them cope with the emotions and stress that
would otherwise undermine social solidarity.
1) When the outcome is unpredictable or uncertain. (Troibrand islanders
Fishing in lagoon = safe, so no need for ritual. - Fishing in the ocean =
dangerous, need for canoe magic.
2) At times of life crises. Birth, marriage and especially death mark major
and disruptive changes in social groups, and religion helps minimise
disruption. For example, funeral rituals reinforce a feeling of solidarity
among the survivors, while notion of immortality gives comfort to the
bereaved. (He argues death was the main reason for religious belief.)
Functionalism - Parsons - Religion creates and legitimises societys basic
norms and values by sacralising them. Gives the example of USA, in which
Protestantism has sacralised the core American values of individualism,
meritocracy etc. Of which serve to promote value consensus and therefore
social stability
Functionalism Civil Religion THINKER: BELLAH - What unifies American
society is an overarching civil religion a belief system that attaches
sacred qualities to society itself.
While no individual church or denomination can claim the loyalty of all
Americans, civil religion can, as it is the American way of life. It is
expressed in various symbols and rituals, such as the American flag and
singing the national anthem.
Evaluation of Functionalist Theories of Religion - Emphasises the positive
functions religion performs, but it neglects the negative aspects, such as
religion as a source of oppression of women and the poor.
Ignores religion as a source of division and conflict, where there is religious
pluralism (i.e. Northern Ireland), making it hard to see how it can unite
Civil religion overcomes this to some extent by suggesting societies all
share overarching belief systems, but can this really be classed as
religion? (No belief in God or the supernatural.)

Within the functionalist view of religion, there are several different perspectives that need to be
considered. Overall functionalist see religion as performing key functions within society to ensure
other parts in society work in harmony. Some of the functions religion is said to have is to help us
understand life and death, give us a set of rules to live by and uniting people together as a
community, without which we would be living in a state of anomie or normlessness. This is
known in sociology as a consensus theory. Yet within this definition there are several
perspectives, coming from a range of different sociologists, to the exact functions that religion
provides. These are from sociologists such as mile Durkheim and his theory of religion and
social solidarity, to Bellah and his suggestion of civil religion. There are also works from
Malinowski and Parsons that need to acknowledged. However many of these views have been
criticised as some explanations are believed to be too simplistic or out of date. Others are said on
be based on studies with little reliability. These are aspects to analyse throughout the essay.
One functionalist perspective of the functions of religion comes from Durkheim (1912). Durkheim
said religion created a sense of social solidarity. He stated it did this by making a distinction
between sacred and profane items. Sacred items, such as the cross for Christianity, are objects,

rituals, and people of special significance who are set apart and above us that inspire feelings of
awe, things become sacred when they symbolise something. Profane items are objects, activities
and people who hold no special significance. Through this religion maintains a vital value
consensus (something we all agree on), order and solidarity. To develop his argument Durkheim
studied the Arunta tribe, an aboriginal tribe from Australia, and looked at the role religion played
in their society. Through this he discovered totemism. He found that this society used totem poles
which, is at once the symbol of God and of their society., and that by performing rituals to these
totem poles is brings the tribe together as a community reinforcing a sense of belonging and
social solidarity. This means that religion is acting as what Durkheim called social cement
bringing a community together under a collective consciousness of the same morals norms and
values. A key overall conclusion that Durkheim came to is that society is more powerful than the
individual and that by worshipping a god you are in fact worshipping society. Here Durkheim is
clearly showing that religion has a key function of joining people together within a community to
avoid a state of anomie.
However, Durkheims theories have been heavily criticised. Many critics have noted that
Durkheim only used a small number of Aborigines tribes in his research. This is make it hard to
generalise his findings to larger societies in more developed countries such as the United States
or the United Kingdom. Other sociologists also argue that Durkheim overstated his case. Further,
as Durkheim created his theory over a century ago, it can be said that it is no longer relevant to
modern times, which are far more multicultural. This view is stated by Hamilton (1995) who
claimed that the emergence of religious pluralism and diversity within a society is, of
course, something Durkheims theory has great difficulty dealing with., this is a view widely
shared amongst postmodernists. Additionally, there a certain religions that do not have sacred or
profane items. In Hinduism it is stated that you should view everything- whether it be pebbles,
stones or gold- as the same., so saying no certain items hold any significance over others, and
that as a result we should treat all items, object and people with the same amount
respect. Therefore showing that there are clear divisions to what is believed to be the true
functions of religion, as different religions state different functions.
Another functionalist theory of religion comes from Malinowski (1954) and his explanation of the
psychological functions of religion. Malinowski agreed with Durkheim in the sense that religion
promotes social solidarity, but he develops this point by saying it provides this solidarity through
performing psychological functions for the individuals. The first way in which it does this is when
the outcome is important but uncontrollable and uncertain. An example Malinowski used for this
was his study of the Trobriand islanders, where when fishing in the ocean, which is dangerous
and uncertain, used a ritual called canoe magic- to keep them safe in their expedition. He said
this belief or religion gave people a sense of control which eases tension of these uncertain
times, further emphasised as when the islanders fished in the much safer lagoon they performed
no ritual. The other psychological function that Malinowski says religion provides is dealing with
times of life crisis. These are often rites of passage events such as birth, puberty, marriage and

death. Malinowski states that religion helps to minimise disruption that these events may cause in
life. For example funeral rituals give closure to the survivors and reinforces a feeling of
solidarity, as everyone as a group are uniting together to mourn. He has clearly demonstrated key
functions that religion possesses in society.
On the other hand, there are also several criticisms of Malinowskis work. Much like with
Durkheims study, Malinowski has been criticised for using a small tribe that cannot be
generalised to larger societies, which is, therefore, not representative. Furthermore, some
sociologists have suggested that Malinowski exaggerates the importance of religious rituals in
helping people to cope with situations of life crisis and uncertainty. A particular function or effect
that religion sometimes has, Malinowski has mistaken for a feature of religion in general. Also, as
a consequence of Malinowski being so involved with the group he was studying, Malinowskis
judgements could be subjective and lack reliability. Therefore showing potential weakness in
Malinowskis theory, whilst also showing a clear differences to Durkheims functionalist
perspective religion, as Durkheim does not explicitly state any psychological functions of religion.
In addition to Malinowskis perspective of religion, there is also the view presented by Parsons
(1967), which develops on Malinowskis psychological functions of religion. Following
Malinowskis agreement with Durkheims theory of social solidarity, Parsons agrees with
Malinowskis contribution of the psychological functions of religion. But Parsons states there are
two other key functions of religion. These functions are that it legitimises a societies central
values. By this he means that religion gives us guidelines and moral codes for how we live our
lives, for example in a Christian society the 10 commandments governs peoples behaviour. One
of the commandments thou shalt shalt not kill, would, for example, affect how a person drives a
car or a persons views on euthanasia. The second function Parsons said religion possesses is to
be a primary source of reasoning. Religion helps us to deal with the Ultimate Questions, such as
what happens after death? By helping to give answers to these questions Parson says that
people can go back to their own business without particular strain, so religion helps to cope with
the uncertainty of life, therefore keeping social order and stability, a state of nomos.
However, as with the perspectives presented before Parsons although there are areas in which
the perspectives agree, they largely differ from each other. Unlike Durkheims theory, Parsons
does not state anything about sacred or profane item or rituals, a key aspect of Durkheims
theory. Also although Parsons does agree with Malinowskis psychological functions of religion, it
does not focus on this particular aspect, rather the social and moral codes it sets. Yet, one aspect
of sociology does attempt to form these views together to show a functionalist perspective on
how religion benefits society. This is Bellahs (1970) theory of civil religion. Through developing
Parsons Observations he found that Americas political and social system was heavily based on
protestant values. Although the USA is a multi-faith country, this socio-political system created a
civil religion of Americanism to which all citizens can abide by, no matter what beliefs they had.
By looking at this developed country, something of which the other perspectives failed to do,
Bellah found that what unites people through Americanism is sacred traditions, rules, words and
objects that tie all Americans together, such as the flag (the stars and stripes), and the liberty

bell. This also shows support for Durkheims theory of sacred and profane items creating a value
consensus, meaning it brings the community together under one set of moral codes.
Yet, there are still conflicting views for this perspective. For example Bocock believes that it is not
just religion that provides a way to reinforce our social and cultural values. There are civic rituals
such as sporting events, the cinema and even shopping can create the sense of belonging to
society, of which Durkheim presents in his study. Therefore this point can be interpreted to
undermine the importance sociologists, such as Durkheim, Malinowski, Parsons and Bellah put
on their perspectives of religions function as the main source for cultural norms and values as
today these can be replicated without the use of anything related to religion. However, in his
theory Durkheim did recognise that in the future there would be civic rituals that could replace
traditional religious rituals as society changes and becomes more secular.
In conclusion, it is clear that there is no one stand out correct functionalist perspective on religion.
Alone they may somewhat lack in methodological validity and aspects of explanation that other
perspectives provide, such as Durkheims explanation being added to by Malinowski with his
psychological functions. However, when we compare and join these different perspectives of
religion together we get an informed, detailed view for functionalisms overall perspective of how
religion performs a function for society. Yet there are still criticisms of this view as a whole. These
criticisms come from other aspects of sociology such as postmodernism which states that society
is more fragmented and that people are more likely to be Spiritual shoppers. They see religion
as being more of a pick and mix concept in todays society as we pick the parts of different
religion that suits our lifestyles. This view is emphasised by Mestrovic (1997) who said in
reference to Durkheims theory, that it is no longer relevant due to increasing diversity in
society. This is further emphasised by a trend postmodernists see as the privatisation of religion.
This means that a clear distinction has been drawn between a persons religion and their culture.
People are still free to believe in whatever religion they like. But this new spirituality deals only
with a persons individual issues and experiences, rather than issues with society as a whole. An
example of this privatised religion can be shown by a recent survey in Australia that showed
80% of people believed there was a God and prayed, however only a small percentage in
comparison attended church every Sunday. Therefore, demonstrating how religion can be
perceived as providing more functions for the individual rather than the entire of society, as the
functionalist perspectives on religion have stated.

Marxism and Religion

Marxism sees religion as a feature of only a class divided society, as it is
used by the bourgeoisie or ruling class to legitimate and exploit the
suffering of the proletariat.
There will be no need for religion in a classless society, meaning it will
Religion as an Ideological Weapon - Thinker: Marx - Religion is an
ideological weapon used by the ruling class to legitimate the suffering of
the poor as something inevitable and God-given. Religion misleads the
poor into believing that their suffering is virtuous. For example, in

Christianity, the Bible states it is easier for a camel to pass through the
eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Such
ideas create false class consciousness a distorted view of reality that
prevents the poor form truly seeing and therefore not being able to
change their situation.
Lenin Describes religion as spiritual gin = an intoxicant doled out to the
masses by the ruling class in order to confuse and dull their senses as to
the ways in which they are being exploited. Also legitimates the power and
authority of the ruling class though making their positions seem divinely
ordained .i.e. Kings and Queens were believed to be Gods representative
on earth.
Marx describes religion as the Opium of the masses in the sense that it
dulls the pain of exploitation, masking the pain rather than treating its
TO SUMMARISE: Religion acts as an ideology that legitimates both the
suffering of the poor and the privileges of the ruling class.
Evaluation of Marxism and Religion - Marx ignores the positive functions
religion can have, such as the psychological benefits it may bring to
believers etc.
In many cases it could be argued that religion usually originates from
oppressed or poorer groups from which capitalism then takes these ideas
to reinforce their own ideas to the masses.
Religion does not necessarily function effectively as an ideology to control
the population.

What is the Marxist theory similar to and different from?

Similar - Feminism, other conflict theories + other theories promoting religion as
a conservative force.
Different - Functionalism, Post-modernism, theories promoting religion as a force
What did Marx see religion as being a part of?
Marx saw religion as being part of the "dominant ideology". Religion helps to
shape people's view of the world ad re-create a false class conscience.
What are Marx's two main functions of religion?
It acts as the "opium of the people", cushioning the pain of oppression and
exploitation within society.
It legitimises and maintains the power of the ruling class.
What is the name of the classless society in which there would no longer be any
Communism. In this type of society, religion would cease to be an agent of
control and would disappear.
In Marx's view, how does religion operate?
As an ideological weapon that is used by the ruling class to justify the suffering
of the poor as inevitable and "god-given".
What does Marx see religion as a product of?
Alienation, becoming separated from or losing control over something one has
created. The workers in the capitalist system are alienated as they do not own

what they produce. In these dehumanising conditions, the workers turn to

religion to seek consolation.
Explain the idea of "Opium of the people".
In this, Marx likens religion to acting like a hallucinating, pain-relieving drug. It
creates a distorted view amongst the oppressed and helps maintain the power of
the dominant class. It eases the pain created by living in an unequal society.
What evaluation of Marx does Leach give?
He supports Marx. He does this by stating 80% of bishops within the Church of
England have attended both public school + Oxbridge. He argues that this has
led to the church losing contact with ordinary people.
What evaluation of Marx does Hook give?
He supports Marx. He states that the Catholic church has very traditional
viewpoints. Their view on contraception is problematic in the developing world,
especially in Latin America where it is seen as a financial burden. Also, the
church on a whole is very wealthy, yet they do not use this money to help the
Give an example of a critique of Marx.
They ignore the positive functions of religion (e.g psychological adjustment to
ALTHUSSER - rejects the idea of Alienation. Is unscientific and relies on the
romantic idea that humans have a "true self".
Religion can be seen as a force for social change, not just a conservative force.
What critique does Althusser give to the subject of Alienation?
He rejects Alienation as unscientific and relies of the idea that humans have a
"true self".
Name the similarities between Marxism and Functionalism.
They both explain the origins and functions of religion in terms of social factors.
They both see religion as a human creation, rejecting any idea of the
They both see religion as a conservative force.
What is the definition of "ideology"?
A set of ideas or beliefs.
Name two sociologists who support Marx.
LEACH - 80% of bishops are from public school and Oxbridge.
HOOK - Catholic church is conservative. View on contraception is a financial
burden in the developing world.
Feminism and Religion
Many feminists see religion as a patriarchal institution that reflects and
enforces male domination and legitimates female subordination.
For example, all religious organisations are mainly male dominated. Many
religions exclude women from the priesthood, i.e. Catholicism.
Armstrong sees women's exclusion from the priesthood of most religions
as evidence of their marginalisation.

Places of worship can often segregate the sexes and thus marginalise
women, for example placing them behind screens whilst men occupy the
central spaces.
Sacred texts largely feature the doing of male Gods and are usually
written and interpreted by men.
Armstrong argues that early religions placed women at the centre. For
example earth mother goddesses. Only about 4000 years ago the rise of
monotheistic religions saw the establishment of a single, ale omnipotent
Some may argue that in Islam, the Hijab worn by women is evidence of
their oppression under Islam. Many others, including Woodhead suggest
that is in fact liberating for women, giving them access to the public
sphere of society without having to tolerate the patriarchal male gaze .
Bevoir Women are sometimes portrayed in religion as being closer to
God, but only if they are passive and obedient.
Holm Bible written exclusively by men, God, Jesus and Prophets all men.
Even made From Adams rib.
Even in Sikhism, the most equal of religions, most important roles within
the religion filled by men.
CRITICISM of feminist theories of religion: It should be noted that the
position of women within some religions is changing. For example, the
Church of England has permitted women to become priests since 1992,
and now about a fifth of all its priests are female.

Religion and Social Change

Religion as a Conservative Force - Conservative in two different senses: 1.
Conservative in the sense of being traditional (Customs, morals). Upholds
traditional beliefs about how society should be. 2. Conservative because it
functions to preserve things as they are stabilises society and maintains
the status quo.
Most religions have conservative beliefs on moral issues, quite restrictive
for some individuals.
For example the Catholic Church forbids divorce, abortion, gay marriage
Another example is Hinduism, wherein it endorses male domestic
authority and the practice of arranged marriage.
Religions Conservative Functions - Preserves and maintains the status
Functionalism and Religion conservative because it maintains social
stability and prevents society from disintegrating.
Marxism and Religion conservative force because it uses ideology that
prevents social change through promoting false class consciousness.
Feminism and Religion see religion as a conservative force because it
acts as an ideology that legitimates patriarchal power and maintains
women's subordination.
Religion as a Force for Change - THINKER: MAX WEBER - Weber argues that
it is the protestant Calvinist work ethic that helped bring about major
changes in the form of capitalism in Northern Europe. Modern capitalism is
based on the systematic, efficient pursuit of profit for its own sake, rather
than consumption. He argues that this has an elective affinity or
unconscious similarity to Calvinist beliefs and attitudes. Did not spend
their money on luxuries, instead reinvested in their own businesses,

causing them to grow and prosper. In Webers view, this is the spirit of
modern capitalism. Calvinism thus brought capitalism as we know it into
the world.
Religion as a Force For Change Social Protest - THINKER: STEVE BRUCE Uses two case studies to compare the role of religiously inspired
movements in America that tried to change society.
1. The American civil rights movement Black civil rights movement of the
1960s an example of religiously motivated change. Bruce describes the
black clergy as the backbone of the movement, giving moral legitimacy to
civil rights activists. Church provided a meeting place and sanctuary from
the threat of white violence, and prayer and hymn singing helped unite
people in the face of oppression. Ideological resource provided beliefs
and practices that protesters could draw on for support.
2. The New Christian Right
Marxism, Religion and Change - Marxist are often thought of as seeing
religion as a conservative ideology, however this is not always the case.
Many Marxists recognise that ideas, including religious ones, can have
relative autonomy. As a result, religion can have a dual character and can
sometimes be a force for change as well as stability.
For example, even Marx himself does not describe religion in entirely
negative terms. He describes religion as the heart of a heartless world
able to provide comfort, even if it is only illusory.
ENGELS although religion can prevent social change, it also can
challenge the status quo and encourage social change. For example,
religion sometimes preaches liberation from slavery and misery.
LIBERATION THEOLOGY: A movement that emerged within the Catholic
Church in Latin America at the end of the 1960s .
OTTO MAUDRO: In the case of liberation theology, religious ideas
radicalised the Catholic Church in defence of peasants and the poor,
changing their theology to support their liberation, making them see that
serving the poor was part of their Christian duty. The Liberation Theology
movement did not succeed in redistribution of wealth to the poor, but it
did help bring about democracy in some countries, therefore still providing
a source of social change.
Summary of religion as a force for change/ conservative force - Some
sociologists would argue that religion does not always uphold traditional
beliefs and function to maintain the status quo. For example, Weber
argues the Protestant ethic contributed to the birth of rational capitalism,
bringing about economic change in society. Weber is criticised by Marxists,
who may suggest that economic factors were the main cause for this
change. In this view religion reflects but does not cause change.
Other Marxists such as Maudro, who gives liberation theology as an
example, argue that religion has potential to bring about change.
Religious organisations have actively supported campaigns for social
change, examples of this including the US civil rights movement have
succeeded. Others such as The New Christian right have failed to gain
Unlike functionalists, who see religion as only a conservative force, most
others would argue that whether religion helps to bring about or inhibit
social change varies according to social or historical conditions.


Refers to the decline in the importance of religion. There is much

disagreement among sociologists about whether or how far religion has
Secularisation in Britain
Church attendance figures are declining, which has lead many sociologists
to claim the 19th Century was the golden age of religiosity. Whether this
a fair description is open to much debate, but there has certainly been
some changes in religion in the UK since then.
FOR EXAMPLE: A decline in the proportion of the population going to
Fewer baptisms and church weddings
Greater religious diversity, including more non-Christian religions
Sociologists put forward different explanations of these trends and reach
different conclusions as to whether, and to what extent religion is
Bryan WILSON argued that western societies had been undergoing a long
term process of secularisation. Defines secularisation as the process
whereby religious beliefs, institutions and practices lose social
Church attendance in England and Wales = 40% of people attended
church in mid 19th century
Fallen to 10-15% in the 1960s CHURCH ATTENDANCE TODAY(ISH) Only
6.3% of adult population attended church on Sundays in 2005.
Religion Today - Opinion polls and attitude surveys show that: More people
claim they hold Christian beliefs than actually belong or go to church.
RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS: Not only have religious belief and practice
declined, but so too has the influence of religions as a social institution.
The state has taken over many areas previously run by the Church
For example, until the mid 19th century the churches provided education,
but since then it has been provided mainly by the state. Although there
are still faith schools, these are mainly state funded and must conform to
the states regulations.
BRUCE: a steady and unremitting decline. If the current trends continue,
the Methodist Church will fold around 2030, and the CofE will merely be a
small voluntary organisation.
Explanations of Secularisation
Varieties of theories and concepts to explain the theory of secularisation.
Common explanation is modernisation, involving the decline of traditional
society religious ideas, being replaced by modern scientific and rational
thought, leading to less religious belief and therefore meaning the church
and religions on the whole now hold much less importance to individuals
than it did before.
Industrialisation has broken up small communities once held together by
common religious beliefs.
Another major theme/factor could be considered the growth of social and
religious diversity
Growth of diversity has undermined both the authority of religious
institutions and the credibility of religious belief. AS A RESULT OPF THESE
Explanations of Secularisation a technological worldview BRUCE argues
that the growth of a technological worldview has largely replaced religious
or supernatural explanations as to why things happen. If a plane were to

crash, instead of blaming it on evil spirits or as Gods punishment of the

wicked, instead we look for scientific and technological explanations. A
technological worldview thus leaves little room for religious explanations
in everyday life, which only survive in areas which science and technology
is least effective (Link to God of the gaps theory). This worldview does not
make people atheists, but encourages them to take religion less seriously.
Structural differentiation Parsons
Specialised institutions now carry out functions that were previously
formed by a single institution.
Structural differentiation has lead to the disengagement of religion.
Religions functions are transferred to other state institutions and it
becomes thus disconnected from wider society.
Explanations of Secularisation: Social and Cultural Diversity
Diversity of religions, cultures and occupations undermines religion.
Even when people continue to hold religious beliefs, they cannot avoid
knowing that many of those around them hold very different view, has the
potential to weaken beliefs.
Explanations: Religious Diversity
BERGER: In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church held an absolute
monopoly on faith, As a result, everyone lived under a single sacred
canopy or set beliefs shared by all. Greater plausibility because beliefs
were left unquestioned.
This all changed with the Protestant Reformation, when Protestant
churches and sects broke away from the catholic Church in The 16th
No longer living under shared sacred canopy of values, leading to
diversity of religious beliefs.
A Spiritual Revolution?
Some sociologists argue that a spiritual revolution is taking place today,
in which traditional Christianity is giving way to Holistic Spirituality or
New Age Movements.
Increased interest in spirituality can be seen through the growth of a
spiritual market i.e. Crystal healing to meditation.
So are these spiritual alternatives a modern adaption of religion to suit our
needs and the times we live in?
WILSON = more part of American way of life now than of deeply held
religious beliefs. Claimed that America was a secular society, not because
people had abandoned the church, but because religion there had become
CRITICISMS of secularisation theory
Secularisation theorists put forward strong arguments with compelling
evidence, but can be criticised on several grounds: Religion is not
declining but simply changing its form Eurocentric = Religion may have
declined in Europe but not in America or globally, so secularisation is not
universal. Religious diversity doesnt cause decline, it simply increases
choice for members of society.
Religion, Renewal and Choice Three main alternatives to secularisation
theory: Theories of Late Modernity and Postmodernity Religious Market
Theory Existential Security Theory
Postmodernity and religion

Theories of late modernity and postmodernity argue that religion is not

declining but merely changing as society develops. Therefore reject
secularisation theory. In this view, changes in religion are result of
changes in wider society, such as greater individualism and consumerism
or even as shift from modern to late modern or postmodern society.
GRACE DAVIE Argues that religion is not declining, but simply taking a
different, more privatised form churchgoing has declined simply because
they feel like they do not have to anymore. THIS LEADS TO Believing
without belonging: People hold religious beliefs but dont go to church.
Postmodernity cont. Vicarious religion - DAVIE notes a trend towards
VICARIOUS RELIGION, wherein a small number of the professional clergy
practice religion on the behalf of a much larger number of people, who
experience it second-hand. This Pattern is typical of Britain and Northern
Europe, yet in these societies many people still use the church for rites of
passage (Baptisms, wedding, funerals) despite low levels of attendance.
Similar finding in REGINALD BIBBYS Canadian survey, which found that
only 25% attended church regularly, however 80% identified themselves
as religious/with religious beliefs etc. DAVIE SEES VICARIOUS RELIGION
small commitment is actually a much wider one).
45. Davie argues that modernisation affects every society differently she
argues that there are multiple modernities. Her view is that religion and
science will continue to coexist. CRITICISM Voas and Crockett do not accept
Davies claim that there is believing without belonging. Evidence from the British
Social Attitudes surveys show that church attendance and belief in God are
declining. When people no longer belong, they no longer believe.
46. Postmodernity: Spiritual shopping HERVIEU-LEGER: there has been a
dramatic decline in institutional religion. This is partly due to what she calls
cultural amnesia or loss of collective memory. Nowadays we have largely lost
the religion that used to be handed down from generation to generation
Parents these days let their children decide for themselves what to believe. She
argues that individual consumerism has replaced collective tradition. People
now feel they have a choice as consumers of religion = they have become
spiritual shoppers. We choose the elements of religion that we want to
explore/that interest us. HERVIEU LEGERs view can be linked back to ideas of
late modernity: trend of individualism explains weakening of traditional collective
religious institutions.
47. Postmodernity and religion: Lyon Globalisation has lead to greatly increased
movements of ideas and beliefs across national boundaries. We live in a
postmodern, media saturated society that have led ideas to become
disembedded. media lift them out of original context . AS A RESULT,
Postmodern society also involves the growth of consumerism, especially the idea
that we construct our own identities through what we choose to consume. We
can pick and mix elements of different faiths to suit out tastes and make them
part of our identities until something more attractive of fashionable comes
are very critical of secularisation theory, which they see as EUROCENTRIC as it
focuses on the decline of religion in Europe, but fails to explain its continuing
vitality in America and elsewhere. Argue that there was no golden age of
religion, like secularisation theorists argue. Instead they propose religious market
theory, based on two assumptions: People are naturally religious religion
meets human need, therefore the overall demand for religion remains constant.

It is human nature to seek rewards and avoid costs, when people make
choices, they are weighing up the costs and the rewards. Religion therefore
offers us compensators = when real rewards are unobtainable, religion
compensates by promising supernatural ones
49. According to Stark and Bainbridge, churches operate like companies selling
goods in a market . While some sociologists see competition between religions
as undermining religion, religious market theorists would argue that this
competition leads to improvements of the religious goods on offer = churches
that make their product more attractive will gain more customers.
50. Criticisms of religious market theory: Statistics have shown that diversity
has been accompanied by religious decline in both Europe and America.
Unsociological because it assumes that people are naturally religious and fails to
explain why.
MARKET THEORY argues that it only applies to America. They argue that the
differences in religiosity all come down to different degrees of existential
security. Religion meets a need for security, and therefore societies where
people feel more secure have a low level of demand for security. POOR SOCIETES
= face high level risks, starvation, disease, drought = high level insecurity and
thus have high levels of religion. RICH SOCIETIES = less risk = higher levels of
security, less need for religion. Thus the demand for religion is not constant,
but varies within societies. THIS explains why poorer third world countries remain
religious, while western countries are becoming more secular.
52. Religion in a global context
53. Religious Fundamentalism In a global context, the issue of religious
fundamentalism has emerged ad a major area of media and political concern.
The term fundamentalist is applied to a variety of followers of different religions,
including Protestant Christians. GIDDENS fundamentalists are traditionalists
who wish to seek to return to the basic fundamentals of their faith. Believe in
literal truth of scripture. Fundamentalists believe that theirs is the only true
view of religion and the wider world, intolerant of other faiths (Very conservative
in their beliefs). GIDDENS notes that the term fundamentalism is a fairly recent
one and seems to have grown as a product of globalisation, which undermines
traditional social norms (i.e. homosexuality, nuclear family.) Retreat into faith
based answers, moving away form the globalised world that demands rational
54. Cultural Defence Bruce sees one function of religion in todays world to be
cultural defence. Where religion serves to unite a community against and
external threat. (Religion holds a special significance for followers as it
symbolises the group or societys collective identity.) Two examples of religion
as cultural defence are Poland and Iran. Show how can used in defence of
national identity. Poland (defence from external power of communist rule
imposed by the Soviet Union catholic Church was suppressed at the time but
for many it remained to embody their national identity.) Iran (Defence in regard
to Western culture and capitalism, Islam became more important as times got
55. Religion and the clash of civilisations In recent years, religion has been at
the heart of a number of global conflicts. These include 9/11 Islamist attacks
on the United States and the subsequent bombings in Madrid, Bali and London.
HUNTINGDON argues that these conflicts have intensified since the collapse of
communism in the late 80s and are symptoms of what Huntingdon describes as
a wider clash of civilisations. Religion creates social cohesion within civilisation
but can cause conflict between them. This is particularly true in todays

globalised world. Sees history as a struggle of progress against barbarianism.

Believes the West is under threat, especially from religions such as Islam. He
fears the emergence of new anti-Western military alliances. CRITICISM: His
work could be seen as an example of orientalism a western ideology that
stereotypes eastern nations as untrustworthy or fanatical.
56. Short Plan: Assess sociological explanations of the relationship between
globalisation and religion (33 Marks) World today increasingly more
interconnected, due to process of globalisation and has consequences for all
areas of life, including religion. Giddens argues that globalisation has lead to a
growth in religious fundamentalism, with eh term fundamentalist being a recent
one. Religions come in close contact than before can leave room for conflict
(i.e. religious fundamentalism, easier for this movement to have greater impact
on world, spreads their message effectively.) Religion creates social cohesion
within civilisation but can cause conflict between them (Huntingdon)
Huntingdon sees globalisation processes as a clash of civilisations believes
western society is at threat from Eastern religions, especially Islam. CRITICISM =
orientalism,(western ideology) stereotyping Eastern countries to be fanatical and
extremist. Not the only influence globalisation has had on religion Bruce =
cultural defence, unites one community under external thereat. (e.g. Catholic
church in Poland was suppressed but did not stop Catholicism remaining part of
Poles national identity at time when Soviet union communist rule was imposed.)
57. Organisations, movements and members
58. Types of religious organisations Church and sect: Troeltsch: distinguished
between two main types of religious organisation, the church and the sect.
Churches are large organisations often with millions of members (i.e. Catholic
Church) They are universalistic and aim to include all of society, although they
tend to attract the middle classes because of their conservative beliefs. They
place few demands on their members. Sects are by contrast small, exclusive
groups. Unlike churches, sects are hostile to wider society and expect a high
level of commitment. Draw their members from the poor and the oppressed.
Many are led by charismatic leaders rather than bureaucratic hierarchies.
59. Denomination and Cult: Niebuhr describes denominations such as
Methodism as lying midway between churches and sects Broadly accept
societys views but not linked to the state, but doesnt appeal to whole of society
like a church. Cult Highly individualistic, loose-knit and usually small grouping
around some shared themes and interests, usually without sharply defined belief
system. Cults are tolerant of other organisations and do not demand strong
commitment from their followers, who are often more like customers than
members. They may have little involvement with the cult once they have
acquired the beliefs or techniques it offers. WORLD AFFIRMING, claiming to
improve life in this world.
60. Similarities and differences Wallis: How they see themselves: Churches and
sects claim that their interpretation of the faith is the only legitimate or correct
one. Denominations and cults accept that there can be many valid
interpretations. How they are seen by wider society: Churches and
denominations are seen as respectable and legitimate Cults and sects are seen
as deviant.
61. New religious movements Since the 1960s, there has been an explosion in
the number of new religions and organisations, such as the Unification Church
(Moonies), Transcendental Meditation, Krishna Consciousness and many more.
Leading to new attempts to classify them. WALLIS categorises these new
religious movements (NRMs) into three groups, based on their relationship to the
outside world. WORLD REJECTING NRMs Similar to Troeltschs sects. (E.g.
Moonies, Branch Davidian.) Clearly religious with a clear notion of God. Members

must make a sharp break with their former life. Highly critical of outside world
and seek radical change Members live communally, with restricted contact with
the outside world. (often accused of brainwashing members.)
62. WORLD ACCOMODATING NRMs Often breakaways from existing mainstream
churches or denominations, such as neo-Pentecostalists who split from
Catholicism. They neither accept nor reject the world, focusing on religious
rather than worldly matters. Members tend to live conventional lives. WORLD
AFFIRMING NRMs Differ from all other religious groups and may lack some
conventional features of religion, such as collective worship, and some are not
highly organised. (i.e. Scientology, Transcendental meditation.) Most are
considered cults, who's followers are often customers rather than members. Nonexclusive and tolerant of other religions, but claim to offer additional special
knowledge or techniques. Accept the world as it is.
63. Stark and Bainbridge sects and cults Stark and Bainbridge identify two
kind of organisations that are in conflict with wider society: Sects result from
schisms in existing organisations. They break away from church usually because
of disagreement over doctrine. Cults are new religions, such as scientology.
Stark and Bainbridge subdivide cults according to how organised they are.
Audience cults are the least organised and do not involve formal membership or
much commitment, with little interaction between members. (i.e. UFO cults)
Client cults provide services to their followers (i.e. Spiritualism) Cultic
movements are the most organised and demand a higher level of commitment
than other cults (i.e. Moonies .)
64. Explaining the growth of new religious movements Sociologists have
offered three main explanations for the sudden growth and popularity of NRMs:
marginality, relative deprivation and social change. Marginality As noted by
Troelstch, sects tend to draw their members form the poor and oppressed. Sects
tend to arise in groups who are marginal to society or whom feel dispriviledged.
Relative deprivation Subjective sense of being deprived, many feel as if they are
even if they are not. Thus, although middle-class people are materially well off,
they may feel spiritually deprived, meaning they may turn to sects for a sense of
65. Social change Rapid periods of social change undermine established norms
and values. Those that who are most affected by this disruption may turn to
sects as a solution, to offer a renewed sense of community. (Industrial revolution
in Britain led to the birth of Methodism which offered a sense of community,
clear norms and values and the promise of salvation)
66. The growth of the New Age The term new age covers a range of beliefs
and activities that have been widespread since about the 1980s. They are
extremely diverse and eclectic. They include belief in UFOs and aliens, astrology,
tarot, crystals, yoga, medicine etc. HEELAS = two common themes that
characterise the New Age: Self spirituality: turned away from traditional religions
such as churches and instead look inside themselves to find it.
Detraditionalisation: Rejects spiritual authority of traditional sacred texts. Instead
it values personal experience and believes that we can find the truth for
67. Postmodernity and the New Age DRANE argues that the appeal of New Age
movements is part of a shift towards postmodern society. One feature of
postmodernity is a loss of faith in meta-narratives or claims to have the truth.
People have become disillusioned with churches and mainstream religions failure
to meet their needs. As a result they are turning to the New Age idea that each
of us can find truth by looking within ourselves.
68. Modernity and the new Age Some sociologists may argue that the growth of
the New Age is the latest phase of modern society, and not a postmodern one.

Could be argued that modernity leads to secularisation, thereby removing

traditional alternatives to new Age beliefs. In modern society, the individual
has many different roles, which can lead to a fragmented identity. New Age
beliefs offer a source of authentic identity.
69. Religiosity and social groups Important differences between social groups
and the beliefs they hold. CLASS = LOWER CLASSES = WORLD REJECTING
70. Gender and religiosity Differences in gender and religiosity Reasons for
gender differences . socialisation + the gender role While priesthoods of most
religions MILLER AND HOFFMAN: Women are are usually male, more women than
religious than men because they are men participate in religious activities
socialised into being more passive and believe in God, the devil, sin and and
obedient. These are qualities life after death. most valued by religions, meaning
that women are more likely than In 2005 1.8 million churchgoers in UK men to
be attracted to these were women as compared to 1.36 religions. (women also
more likely to million men. have part time job then men, gives more time to
participate etc.) Twice as many women involved in sects. Women and the New
Age Women often associated with nurture and a healing role, therefore giving
them greater cause to be attracted to New Age movements than men. HEELAS +
WOODHEAD found that 80% of paticipants in the hollistic milleu in Kendal were
71. Despite women being more religious, there is evidence to suggest that
women are now leaving the church at a faster rate then men. Callum Brown
offers a further explanation of the decline in women's churchgoing by arguing
that since the 1960s, women have begun to reject traditional subordinate gender
roles. Because the two are so closely interlinked, to reject this traditional concept
of religion, women would also have to reject traditional religion at the same time.
Could also argue that New Age movements are more freeing than oppressive,
monotheistic religions that centre around the doings of a male, all powerful God.
72. Ethnicity and religiosity Differences Muslims, Hindus and black Christians
are more likely than white Christians to view religion as important. Reasons for
ethnic differences in religiosity: One idea is that most ethnic minorities
originate from poorer countries with traditional cultures, leading religious belief
to be more important in these areas. On arrival in the UK, they maintain these
beliefs and practices from their country of origin. Cultural defence (Bruces
idea) Religion in certain situations is important in offering support and proving a
sense of national identity in an uncertain or hostile environment. Cultural
transition = religion can be a means of easing the transition into a new culture
by providing a sense of community and support in an alien environment. This is
the explanation given by Herberg for the high levels of religious participation
amongst first generation immigrants in the USA.
73. Age and religious participation General pattern is that the older the person
is, the more likely they are to be religious and attend religious services. However
two exceptions to this pattern: THE UNDER 15s Are more likely to attend church
or religious services because they are made to by their parents. THE OVER 65s
Are more likely to be sick or disabled and therefore unable to attend.
74. Reasons for age differences VOAS AND CROCKETT The ageing effect The
view that people turn to religion as they get older. As we approach death, we
naturally become more interested/concerned by spiritual matters and the
afterlife etc. As a result these individuals are more likely to attend church. The
generational effect This is the view that as society becomes more secular, each
generation is less secular than before. Thus there are more old people than
young people at church today, because they grew up at a time during when

religion was more popular. VOAS and CROCKETT argue that the generational
effect is the more significant of the two.
75. Ideology and science
76. Science as a belief system Many sociologists see science as a product of
the process of rationalisation that began in the 16th century as a result of the
protestant reformation. For many sociologists, advances in scientific thought
have acted to undermine religion and religious beliefs by changing the way we
now think in society and see the world.
77. The impact of science Science has had an enormous impact on society over
the last few centuries. Perhaps most strikingly, science and technology have
raised our standard of living to and economic productivity greatly. This success
has lead to a widespread faith in science - a belief that it can deliver the
goods. Although science has both good and effects, these act to demonstrate
its cognitive power. In other words, it enables us to explain, predict and control
the world in which non-scientific belief systems cannot do.
78. Open belief systems Karl Popper Science is an open belief system
(according to Popper) where every scientists theories are open too scrutiny,
criticism and testing by others. Science is governed by the principle of
falsificationism, meaning that scientists set out to try and falsify existing
theories, deliberately seeking evidence that would disprove them. In Poppers
view, the key thing about scientific knowledge is that it is not sacred or absolute
truth it can always be questioned, tested and perhaps shown to be false.
79. The CUDOS normsMERTON Science can only thrive as major social institution
if it receives support from other institutions and values. Also argues that science
as an institution needs an ethos or set of norms that make scientists act in ways
which serve the purpose of increasing scientific knowledge. He identifies 4
norms: Communism (scientific knowledge is not private property. Scientists must
share it with the scientific community, otherwise knowledge cannot grow.)
Universalism (whether scientific knowledge is judged as true or false is judged by
universal, objective criteria) Disinterestedness (being committed to discovering
knowledge for its own sake) Organised scepticism (no knowledge claim is
regarded as sacred. Every idea open to questioning, criticism and objective
80. Closed belief systems This is where science and religion fundamentally
differ. Whilst scientific knowledge is provisional, open to challenge and
potentially disprovable, religions claim to have sacred, absolute knowledge of the
truth held by Gods divine authority (if questioned this in past would be accused
of heresy). HORTON similarly sees science as an open system where claims are
open to criticism and testing . By contrast, religion, magic and other belief
systems are closed. Unlike scientific knowledge, therefore, it is fixed and does
not grow.
81. Science as a closed system Kuhn Science is a self-sustaining or closed
system. Argues that science is a closed system because a mature science such
as biology, geology or physics is based on a set of shared assumptions which he
calls a paradigm. The paradigm lays down the broad outlines and the scientists
job is to carefully fill in the details. Closed system as the paradigm influences
what you can research etc. If a scientist goes against a paradigm, they will be
shunned from the scientific commuinity.
82. Marxism, feminism, postmodernism and religion Critical perspectives se
scientific knowledge as far from pure truth. Instead they see it as serving the
interests of dominant groups the ruling class in the case of Marxists and men in
the case of feminists. For example, biological ideas could potentially be used to
justify male superiority and domination. In a different sense, postmodernists
also reject the knowledge claims of science to have the truth. LYOTARD argues

that science is just another meta-narrative or big story that falsely claims to
offer the truth. In reality science is just another discourse or way of thinking
that is used to dominate people. (POSTMODERNIST VIEW)
83. Ideology Ideology = a worldview or set of basic ideas. However the term is
used very widely in sociology and had taken on a number of related meanings:
Distorted, false or mistaken ideas about the world, or a partial, one sided view of
reality. Ideas that conceal the interests of a particular group, or that legitimate
their privileges. Therefore very often when someone uses the term ideology to
describe a belief system, it means that they regard it as factually and/or morally
wrong. There are a number of ideologies, we will focus on three of them.
84. Marxism and Ideology Society divided into two classes minority ruling
class that own the means of production and control the state, and the majority
working class that are forced to sell their labour to the capitalist classes. The
capitalist classes exploit this to produce profit. It is in the workers interests to
overthrow capitalism and replace it with a classless communist society.
However for this revolution to occur, there must be class consciousness, an
awareness on the part of the working class as to the fact they are being
exploited. Capitalist class produce ruling class ideology to maintain this rule
over the working class, through this creating false class consciousness, meaning
that the working class have a distorted view of the reality that they are living in,
allowing capitalism to continue exploiting them. Gramsci refers to the ruling
class ideological domination of society as hegemony. He argues that the working
class develop ideas that challenge the ruling class hegemony. This is because
workers have dual consciousness; a mixture of ruling class ideology and their
own ideas through their experience of exploitation. It is therefore possible for the
working class to overthrow capitalism, through organic intellectuals who have
developed class conscious and can therefore spread the message to the rest of
society. Hegemony and revolution
85. Karl Manheim: ideology and utopia Manheim sees all belief systems as one
sided. This results from being the viewpoint of one particular group or class.
Leads him to distinguish between two broad types of belief system:
IDEOLOGICAL THOUGHT Justifies keeping things as they are, reflecting the
interests/position of the ruling class. Tends to be conservative and maintains the
status quo. UTOPIAN THOUGHT Justifies social change. Reflects the position and
interests of the underprivileged, offering a vision of how society should be.
86. Feminism and Ideology See gender inequality as the fundamental division
in society and patriarchal ideology is key in legitimating this division. Separate
and included within many religions embedded into religious belief and practice
to emphasise women's subordination + reinforce idea that they are inferior. For
example in some religions, women are seen as ritually impure after childbirth
and during menstruation, implying that they are inferior to their male
87. Example questions: Assess sociological explanations of science and ideology
as belief systems . (33 marks) Assess the view that religion can either be a
conservative force or it can contribute to social change. (33 marks) Asses
sociological explanations for the increasing number of religions and spiritual
organisations and movements in society today. (33 marks) Assess sociological
explanations of the relationship between globalisation and religion. (33 marks)
Assess the view that religious beliefs and practices are changing to reflect a new
era of diversity and choice. (33 marks) Identify and briefly explain three reasons
that support the claim that American society is becoming increasingly secular. (9
marks) Identify and briefly explain three reasons why the New Christian Right
may have failed to achieve its aims . (9 marks) Identify and briefly explain one
advantage and two disadvantages of functional definitions of religion. (9 marks)