Theories of Religion


Flashcards on Theories of Religion for the AQA A2 Sociology syllabus. Unit: Beliefs in Society. Contains revision on Functionalist, Marxist & Feminist theories of religion. Cards are in order from the start to the end of the topic.
Heloise Tudor
Flashcards by Heloise Tudor, updated more than 1 year ago
Heloise Tudor
Created by Heloise Tudor over 9 years ago

Resource summary

Question Answer
Functionalists see society as... like an organism
Society has basic needs it must meet to... survive
Institutions perform certain functions to maintain the social system by meeting a need. The most basic needs are... social order and social solidarity
Functionalists say this makes social order possible... Value consensus (a set of shared norms and values for people to follow)
Durkheim (1915) Religious institutions play a central part in creating & maintaining value consensus, order and solidarity. Without value consensus (created by religion) individual selfishness would cause social disintegration.
Durkheim's key feature of religion... Distinction between the sacred and the profane.
Sacred things - set apart and forbidden, inspiring feelings of awe, fear and wonder, with taboos and prohibitions. Profane things - ordinary, no special significance e.g a desk, a coaster.
Sacred things create powerful feelings in believers because they represent something of great power. Durkheim believed this 'something of great power' is society itself.
Rituals - religion has sacred & collective rituals/practices. For example; worship. People worshiping sacred symbols are worshiping society. Symbols unite believers into a single moral community.
He believed the essence of religion could be discovered by studying its simplest form in the simplest society. He used studies (secondary data) of the Arunta - Aboriginal Australian tribe with a clan system.
The Arunta worship their emblem - the sacred totem. The ritual reinforces the group's solidarity and sense of belonging.
Durkheim believed these clan members were really worshiping society. The totem inspired awe as it represented the power of the group.
A criticism of Durkheim's idea is that he used secondary data of the Arunta. This means the data collected might not be applicable to other groups/societies. Religion in its simplest society may not be applicable to other societies anyway.
Durkheim said the sacred symbols represent society's collective conscience. This is the shared norms, values and beliefs that makes cooperation between individuals possible. Without it society would disintegrate.
Regular shared religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and maintain social integration. Rituals also remind people of the power of society without which they are nothing and to which they owe everything.
Religions make us feel a part of something greater than ourselves, it strengthens us to face life's problems. AO2: Religion causes conflict when multiple faiths are present. Durkheim's theory explains integration within communities, but not the conflicts between them.
The cognitive functions of religion: Durkheim Durkheim & Mauss Malinowski
Durkheim, on the cognitive functions of religion: He saw religion as the source of out ability to reason and to think conceptually. We need categories in order to think e.g. space and time. Religion provides the concepts & categories needed for understanding the world and for communicating.
Durkheim & Mauss (1903) Religion provides basic categories such as time, space and causation. E.g. ideas about a creator bringing the world into being at the beginning of time. They see religion as the origin of human thought, reason and science.
Malinowski (1954) Religion promotes solidarity by performing psychological functions for individual people that help them cope with emotional stress (stress that would otherwise undermine social solidarity).
Important with an controllable/uncertain outcome: Malinowski: Trobriand Islanders. Contrasted lagoon & ocean fishing. Lagoon is safe while ocean is dangerous. Ocean is accompanied by canoe magic (rituals to ensure a safe expedition). People feel they have control over fate, eases tension, gives confidence & reinforces group solidarity.
In times of life crises: Events e.g birth, death, puberty & marriage are potentially disruptive. Malinowski argues death is the main reason for religious belief. E.g funeral rituals reinforce solidarity between living, notion of life after death comforts bereaved by denying fact of death.
Parsons (1967) 2 other essential functions of religion 1. creates and legitimates society's basic norms and values 2. provides a source of meaning, answering ultimate questions
1. Religion does this by sacralising norms & values, by promoting value consensus and social stability. E.g in US Protestantism has sacralised the core American values of individualism, meritocracy and self-discipline. 2. By answering the ultimate questions (e.g why do good people suffer?) religion helps people to adjust to adverse events and helps to maintain social stability.
Bellah (1970) Civil Religion Civil Religion = a belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself. E.g in multi-faith America, civil religion creates a faith in the American way of life.
Civil religion integrates society in a way that individual religions can't. American civil religion involves loyalty to the nation-state & belief in God. These values equal being a 'true American'. Civil religion is expressed in various rituals, symbols and beliefs e.g pledging allegiance to the American flag. It sacralises the American way of life and so binds together those from different ethnic & religious backgrounds.
Marxist Theories of Religion! - empathises the negative aspects of religion in society. - it's a feature in class-divided society, in a classless society there's no need for it, it'd disappear.
Society divided into 2 classes, one exploits the labour of the other. The capitalist class owns the means of production and exploits the working-class for profit. This creates class conflict. Marx predicted the w/c would become aware of their exploitation and overthrow capitalism, leading to a classless society and an end to exploitation.
Religion as ideology: (ideology is a belief system that distorts people's perception of reality in the interests of r/c) The ruling-class controls economic production but also the production & distribution of ideas e.g through religion and media.
Marx said that religion operates as an ideological weapon used by the r/c to legitimate/justify the suffering of the poor as being inevitable and God-given. Misleads poor into believing they'll be rewarded in afterlife. Creates a false consciousness (a distorted view of reality that prevents the poor from acting to change their situation). Note: Neo-Marxists see religion as assisting in development of class consciousness, not hindering it like traditional Marxists believe.
Lenin (1870-1924) Religion is 'spiritual gin' and 'mystical fog' Religion's a spiritual gin that confuses the w/c & keeps them in their place. The r/c use religion to manipulates the masses & keep them from overthrowing capitalism by creating a mystical fog that obscures reality.
Religion also legitimates the power & privilege of the dominant class by their position appearing divinely ordained. So disobedience isn't just illegal, but a sinful challenge to God's authority. E.g The Divine Right of Kings in medieval Europe. E.g. The Caste system in India
Religion and alienation Marx (1844). Religion is the product of alienation. Under capitalism, workers are alienated as they don't own what they produce & they have no control over the production process & they repeat the same monotonous task in the factories.
In these dehumanising conditions, religion is a form of consolation - it's the "opium of the people" and "It is the sigh of the oppressed creature." Religion therefore acts as an opiate to dull the pain of exploitation. Promises of the afterlife distract attention from the true source of suffering - the capitalism system.
Some Marxists reject the concept of alienation Althusser (1971) rejects the concept as it's unscientific.
Feminist Theories of Religion! - society is patriarchal (based on male domination) - religious institutions are patriarchal, they reflect & perpetuate gender inequality. Religious beliefs are patriarchal ideologies that legitimate women's subordination.
Armstrong (1993) She argues that early religions often placed women at the centre of their belief system, so women haven't always been subordinate to men in religion.
Examples of patriarchy in religion: - Organisations are mainly male-dominated E.g. Orthodox Judaism & Catholicism forbid women from becoming priests. Armstrong (1993) sees women's exclusion from the priesthoods of most religions as evidence of their marginalisation.
- Places of worship. Sexes are segregates and women are marginalised in acts of worship. E.g Not allowed to preach or read form sacred texts. Participation is prevented by taboos like menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth.
- Sacred texts. Feature the doings of male Gods and prophets and reflect ant-female stereotypes. E.g Even (in the Judaeo-Christian story of Genesis) caused humanity's fall from grace and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
- Laws and customs. Women are given fewer rights. Customs lead to unequal treatment. Religion regulates women's traditional domestic & reproductive role. E.g dress codes and access to divorce E.g genital mutilation and punishment for sexual transgressions E.g Catholic Church bans abortion and artificial contraception.
El Saadawi (1980) Religious patriarchy is the result of patriarchal forms of society reshaping religion.
Religious Feminism: Woodhead (2002) Not all religion is patriarchal. Women use religion to gain greater freedom and respect. 'religious forms of feminism'.
Western feminists see the hijab worn by Muslim women as a symbol of oppression but to the wearer it may symbolise resistance to oppression/a symbol of liberation that enables her to enter the public sphere without losing her culture and history. Women use religion to gain status and respect for their roles within the home. E.g. Evangelical Christians believe men must respect women. + religion insists men refrain form 'macho' behaviour
The position of women in some religions is changing E.g since 1992 the Church of England has admitted women to the priesthood. 1/5 of priests are female. Reform Judaism and Sikhism allow female priests too.
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