1. Revising A2 Sociology of
** Remember you must be able to name
THEORISTS and SPECIFIC
**When asked to, you MUST REFER to
the item- or you will not get top band
**Practice your TIMING – you have 2
short questions and an essay in 1.5 hours
2. 1. DEFINING RELIGION
Religion has been defined in many ways
• A belief in supernatural power
• Collective worship
• Moral values that guide action
• A force which unites members of society
Definitions may be FUNCTIONAL- the role/function of religion in society, or
SUBSTANTIVE – focus on what religion is.
Weber’s explanation – BELIEF IN THE SUPERNATURAL
RELATING TO THE SACRED
Criticisms of Weber – not all cultures see a difference between what is ‘supernatural’
and what is ‘natural’, also different cultures have different ideas about what is sacred
and what is not.
2. FUNCTIONALIST PERSPECTIVE
Society is made up of many parts which must work together in order for society to
• Study of Australian Aborigines- totemism
• Focused on the importance of ‘the sacred’
• Symbols represent the ‘collective consciousness’- without this society cant
• Shared rituals act to strengthen social solidarity
• Importance for individuals as well as ‘society’.
MODERN EXAMPLES- Religious symbols of major world religions (crucifix,
Buddha etc); the use of scared objects in worship; rituals within mass/temple etc;
collective worship within these institutions (Sunday worship)
• Lived in small scale society-Trobriand Islanders
• Emphasis on psychological benefits of religion
• Central role in providing social solidarity
• Relieves tension/stress/anxiety
• Rituals that surrounded going fishing at sea
MODERN EXAMPLES – Religion answering questions of life and death, comfort at
times of stress (exams, illness, death)
• Provides meaning for members of society
3. • Legitimises core values of the culture
• Encourages stability
• Answers eternal questions about humanity and the world.
MODERN EXAMPLES – Protestantism in the USA encouraged values such as
democracy, self discipline and equality of opportunity, 10 commandments.
3. BELLAH AND CIVIL RELIGION
Bellah drew on ideas from Durkheim and Parsons.
a. America has many social divisions, yet united by ‘civil religion’- a faith
b. Widespread loyalty to the nation
c. Involves supernatural beliefs in the case of the USA
d. America’s God
EXAMPLES – American coins which state ‘In God We Trust’
President swears oath before God
“God Bless America” speeches
The UK and civil religion?
On certain occasions the UK seems to embrace civil religion – Remembrance Sunday,
Queen Mother/Princess Diana’ death/World War 2.
However changes in attitudes towards the monarchy means this may not last forever.
4. CRITICISMS OF FUNCTIONALIST PERSPECTIVE
• Too much emphasis on positive functions of religion
• Doesn’t explain where religion came from
• Most research from small scale societies, would it still apply to large scale
• Can civil religion really be classes as religion?
5. MARXIST PERSPECTIVE
• Religion maintains capitalist rule
• Instrument of oppression-keeps w/c in their place
• ‘the sigh of the oppressed creature, the opium of the people’
• Truly liberated individuals do not need religion
RELIGION AND IDEOLOGY – religion is a pattern of beliefs which distorts true
nature of reality, w/c accept religious ideas and suffer ‘false consciousness’
4. RELIGION AND SOCIAL CONTROL- belief that life is controlled by supernatural
powers means we many feel we can do little to change it, also encouraged not to
RELIGION AS COMPENSATION – religion offers consolation for a less than
satisfactory life. The offer of happiness in the afterlife if suffering is endured on earth.
MODERN EXAMPLES – Indian Caste system, Divine Right of Kings, Power of
Catholic Church in controlling moral values – e.g. in Ireland.
6. CRITICISMS OF MARXIST PERSPECTIVE
• At certain times and places religion seems to oppress w/c, but as neo-Marxist
show this is not always the case
• There is more to religion that compensation- religion can offer explanations to
life/death which affect all people
• Religion continues strongly in many communist societies
7. NEO-MARXIST PERSPECTIVE
ANTONIO GRAMSCI- At different times in history religion has supported the
interests of the oppressed class. He believed religion could be transformed to
challenge the dominant ruling class ideology.
OTTO MADURO- Believes religion has been a source of liberation in many
developing countries. Uses example of Latin America, South Africa and Poland where
Catholic Church, and clergy members helped revolutions.
EXAMPLES – Liberation Theology, Father Torres (Colombia, South America- a priest
that was not supported by Catholic Church but joined a movement anyway that fought
the government, was killed in the struggle), Archbishop Romero (El Salvador, shot by
right wing death squad for defending rights of the poor), Father Rogelio Cruz
(Dominican Republic, leads protest when 200 families left homeless when police
bulldozed their village)
8. FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE
Most feminist perspectives believe in patriarchy – society is organised in such a way
to benefit males and exclude females. Many believe religion is a patriarchal
Some arguments put forward to support this view-
• Symbolism/religious texts – male gods, male characters in texts, written and
interpreted by makes, Adam and Eve, image of the ‘virgin’ Mary, and the
‘temptress’ Mary Magdalene.
• Worship – women main attendees of ceremony, but often have secondary role,
cannot read from the Torah, separated in synagogue by a screen, no female
priests in Catholic Church.
5. • Treatment – Christian wedding ceremony where wife is ‘property’ of husband,
some Islamic countries male can have up to 4 wives, in Iran many women
flogged to death for adultery, or subject to beatings and rape.
Some arguments put forward to dismiss this view-
• Symbolism – ancient and folk religions often place emphasis on female
goddesses; they remain important part of Hinduism.
• Leadership-Ellen White & Seventh Day Adventist Church, Female ministers in
Church of England.
• Freedom of many Islamic women through their faith- burkah allows them to be
seen as individuals and not ‘symbols’
9. POST-MODERN PERSPECTIVE
The belief that we have moved beyond modern society to post-modern.
Post-modernism is characterised by the following things –
• ICT (people more exposed to different images and information)
• Consumerism ((buying a range of services important to people’s lives)
• Movement of People (people exposed to different societies and ways of life)
• Globalisation (boundaries between countries breaking down – the world is
These changes have an impact on all institutions- such as RELIGION…
• Decline of dominant religious organisations/collapse of the ‘grand
narratives’- the spread of new ideas has greatly challenged the old
ideas/beliefs we once held firmly.
• Rise of fundamentalism- often in times of change many will seek to return to
the basics/fundamentals of religion- literal interpretation of religious texts and
strict moral code of behaviour.
• Spread of new religious movements – in pm society personal identity shaped
by individuals and not the group they belong to. This leads to ‘spiritual
supermarket’ – consumers/individuals can pick ‘n’ mix beliefs and practices to
10. RELIGION AND SOCIAL CHANGE
RELIGION AS A CONSERVATIVE FORCE
• Religion justifies ruling class position
• Keeps the working class oppressed
• Religion is the ‘opium of the people’
• w/c are under an illusion of happiness to prevent them challenging m/c
EXAMPLES – Divine Right of kings, Indian Case System
6. • Religions maintains patriarchy
• Domination of women by men
• Keep them in traditional place – subordinate to men
EXAMPLES – Male God, Adam & Eve, Female priests.
• Religion maintains stability in society
• Strengthens social solidarity
• Deals with life crises that threaten to disrupt society.
• DURKHEIM – reinforces collective consciousness (Sunday Mass)
• MALINOWSKI- reduces anxiety and tension (Funeral Service)
• PARSOSNS- reinforcing values(10 Commandments)
RELIGION AS A RADICAL FORCE FOR CHANGE
(a) Max Weber
• Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism
• Calvinism developed in Western Europe in C16th
• Values of Calvinism – work hard, no leisure time – allowed for Capitalism to
emerge and grow rapidly.
However- Which came first Calvinism or Capitalism? Other religions have the same
ethics and have not embraced Capitalism.
Seen by its followers as return to basics of religion – literal interpretation of religious
texts and strict codes of behaviour. Believe religion today has been corrupted by evils
of modern society. Can be seen by some as conservative force – as seek to make
things as they were before, and by others as radical force as they seek to drastically
alter modern way of living.
• Christian Fundamentalism- Linked to Presidents such as Ronald Regan as well
as George Bush Sr. and Jr. Believe USA has many ailments-high divorce rates,
abortion, homosexuality, pornography.
• Islamic Fundamentalism – See themselves as moral guardians of their societies.
Have a duty to translate Gods will into practice.
(c) G. Nelson (1986)
• Many occasions in History where religion has acted as force for change –
Peasants Revolt in England in 1381 led by priest John Ball; Churches role in
civil rights movement in USA 1960s; Liberation Theology in Latin America
(d) M. McGuire (1981)
• Under certain circumstances religion can promote change – when country has
strong moral codes (members more likely to demand change), where religious
7. beliefs central to the culture, if religious institutions linked to other institutions
11. RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS AND MOVEMENTS
Religious organisations take the form of- CHURCH, DENOMINATION, SECT,
CULT, NRMs, NAMs
• CHURCH – open & inclusive membership, formal hierarchy, restrained
worship, traditional rituals, monopoly of truth, accepts norms/values of outside
world, active participation not compulsory
(CATHOLIC, PROTESTANT etc…)
• DENOMINATION (introduced by Niebuhr 1925, usually defined as part way
between a sect and a Church) – tend to be middle class and don’t seek to make
members of the whole population, professional clergy and importance of lay
people, don’t claim monopoly of truth, do not associate as closely with the
state, little pressure on members
• SECT – exclusive membership, gaining membership is not a right it must be
earned, no professional clergy but leaders are very important, little ritual and
worship is often spontaneous and emotional, claim monopoly of truth,
generally critical of outside world, demand high level of commitment from
(JEHOVAS WITNESSES, WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH)
• CULT – usually membership is open to all who are interested, organisation is
loose, don’t claim monopoly of truth, followers usually under go cult-related
activity part-time, many don’t expect high levels of commitment from
• NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS- ROY WALLIS - World affirming,
rejecting and accommodating
• NEW AGE MOVEMENT – no real concept of membership, concentrates on
the individual, the sacred is likely to be seen as within, believe in many paths to
the truth, many live ‘in the world’ (some exceptions such as Findhorn in
Scotland), groups stay together as long as they satisfy needs of participants.
12. REASONS FOR GROWTH OF SECTS
• Social marginality – Black Muslims
• Relative deprivation – Jehovah Witnesses
• Social Change/dislocation – Christian right wing sects USA after 9/11
13. FUTURE OF SECTS
8. • According to Niebuhr they must become denomination (become more
mainstream, tones down extreme values) or die.
Factors that can lead them to die –
• Death of leader
• Destroyed by society
• Loss of new generation
• Become more mainstream – leading frugal lifestyle can cause them to
ARGUMENTS FOR/AGAINST SECTS AS BEING SHORT LIVED AND OF
14. SECULARISATION - ARGUMENTS FOR
• Statistical evidence- church attendance figures in decline
• Decline in power and influence of the Church
• Decline in religious beliefs
• Religious Pluralism (Wilson/Bruce)
• Wilson and statistical evidence
• Peter Berger and growth of Rationalisation
• Durkheim and loss of the sacred
• Marx and the Disappearance Thesis
• Lyotard and collapse of grand narratives
• USA – true religious beliefs replaced by a belief in the country-‘Americanism’
• UK- decline in religious practices, ceremonies, priests etc.
• SWEDEN – lowest attendance figures in Europe
15. SECULARISATION - ARGUMENTS AGAINST
• Problems with statistical evidence (Bellah)
• Church still having influence on society (Martin)
• Strength of religious belief (Hadden, Davie)
• Growth of NRMs
• Differentiation thesis – Steve Bruce
• Sharon Hanson – the Broad and Narrow Approach
9. • USA – growth of NRMs and religious fundamentalism
• Islam – growth of fundamentalist groups
• 3rd world countries – influence of clergy in every day life
• Many R.C European countries are heavily influence by Church – Ireland,
Portugal, Spain, Italy.
15. AGE AND RELIGIOUS PARTICIPATION
• Brierley(2001) those over 65 most likely to attend Church
• Also high rate of participation among children under 15 – often due to parental
• Lowest level of participation is among 15-19 year olds.
• In recent years there has been decline in all age groups, most worryingly to the
clergy is the decline in the under 15 category.
• In 2000 the Archbishop of Canterbury advised priests to use poetry and music
to appeal to young people, as well as suggesting holding services in non-church
locations such as disused pubs.
EXAMPLE – The Rural Church Project
Extensive study of religion in rural community. It revealed the most under-represented
group attending Church as teenagers.
AGE AND BELIEF
• Davie states people aged 15-34 are less likely that those over 54 to believe in
God. She believes prayer more common in an older age group.
• This could be due to society become more rational –looking to science rather
than religion for explanations of human existence.
AGE, SECTS AND CULTS
• Young adults more likely to join sects – as they have more freedom from
social ties that give them the time to commit to a sect, also as traditional
religion is in decline young people may experience anomie and seek
community that sects offer.
• Middle aged, middle class people more likely to join cults- feel they have too
much at stake to join a sect, makes them feel more spiritually fulfilled, and
offers them ways to achieve their goals.
16. ETHNICITY AND RELIGIOUS PARTICIPATION
• Many statistics show that religion continues to play important role in lives of
British ethnic minorities, while there has been a decline in white Christian
REASONS FOR THIS GROWTH –
10. • Immigration & cultural identity- Britain has seen huge numbers of people
immigrating there since 1950s, when these people settle they usually continue
to follow their religion. Often feelings of isolation will make many people turn
to their religion for strength and support. Used by many as a way of
reinforcing their cultural identity. Collective worship gives them a point of
contact with other immigrants.
• Racism- Many ethnic minorities may experience racism and religion can be a
way to reinforce their ethnic identity. Gives a degree of status which many feel
they cannot achieve elsewhere because of racial discrimination.
• Degree of control – the level of control their religion has on their everyday
lives will also explain why many ethnic minorities have greater religious
participation e.g. Muslims eat specially prepared halal food, Sikh males have to
HOWEVER…..Religion and the second generation-
• Madood (1994) claims many 2nd generation Muslims are not as religious as
• They have been socialised into the wider British culture and their ethnic
identity is not as important to them – e.g. many flout the ‘no-alcohol’ rule.
• Many young Muslim women clash with their parents over expectations of them
– e.g. how they dress
This is known as cultural hybridity – RELIGION IS BEING SEPERATED FROM
OTHER ASPECTS OF CULTURES.
This allows individuals to maintain their identity as Sikh, Muslim etc, while also
embracing British mainstream cultural values.
17. GENDER AND RELIGIOUS PARTICIPATION
• Knott (1994) points out that women represent over half the active church
membership. Females then seem to be more religious than men.
• Having more time to attend services- work on average fewer hours paid than
• Mothers have responsibility for ensuring children go to Church.
• Biological role – many see childbirth as a spiritual experience
GENDER IN NAM
• Reawakened interest in the goddess –giving women a central role.
• NAM attract women as they offer more positive image of femininity
• Easier for women to achieve leadership roles in NAM
• Interested in activities such as tarot and astrology.