Beliefs in Society - 10 Markers
Topic 1 - Outline and explain two functions of religion (10 marks)
Functionalist such as Malinowski believe that religion promotes solidarity, as stated in item a
they believe religion is the glue that holds society together and keeps it stable. This is done
by Religion performing psychological functions for individuals, helping them cope with
emotional stress that may undermine social solidarity. For example, in times of uncertainty of
outcome or during a life crisis such as the death of a loved one. Religion brings comfort in
believing their loved one is in a better place and being able to pray for them gives them
some control over their loss. This keeps people and society together.
Marxists hold a negative view over the function of religion, as item a states while religion
helps keep society stable but it only does so by keeping the working class passive. Marx
argues religion operates as an ideological weapon used by the ruling class to legitimate and
justify the suffering of the poor as inevitable and God-given. Misleading them into believing
their suffering will be rewarded in heaven through passages such as “it is easier for a camel
to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. This
creates a false consciousness among the poor preventing them from rebelling against their
alienation and exploitation, which allows capitalism to thrive.
Topic 2 - Analyse two arguments in support of the idea that religion is a conservative
force (10 marks)
Item a state’s religion can make individuals feel part of something greater than themselves,
binding together and curbing their selfishness, enabling them to cooperate to achieve shared
goals. This view is held by Functionalists, they believe that religion acts as a conservative
force because it functions to maintain social stability and prevent society from disintegrating
due to shared values of religion for example the 10 commandments in the Bible such as
“thou shalt not kill”, Christianity and society then follow this and keep social order. However
due to increasing religious diversity and secularisation there is less value consensus but
there is still stability. Also structured legal system and laws ensure social order.
On the other hand Marxists have different views as stated in item A religion has also often
been closely allied to privileged groups in society… upholding their interests. Marx believed
religion is a conservative force that prevents social change and endorses capitalism. This is
done by legitimating or disguising exploitation and inequality, making a false conscious in the
working class, allowing privileged groups such as the capitalist class to continue to prevail
and maintain their privilege. Religion, according to Marx supports this through promises of
paradise in heaven and romanticizes suffering making it seem righteous. This makes the
working class less likely to revolt and change their positions here on earth. Feminists criticise
this arguing religion privileged groups but not the capitalist class but men therefore religions
aids patriarchy. This is done through legitimating patriarchal power and maintains female
subordination in the family and wider society.
Topic 3 - Applying material from item A, analyse two reasons why apparently high
church attendance figures may not mean the US is a religious society (10 marks)
Item A states that church attendance in the US is certainly higher than in European societies
such as the UK making it an anomaly in the case for global secularisation particularly in
developed societies. This would suggest that the US is a religious society however research
by numerous sociologists would suggest this is not entirely true. Opinions polls on state
church attendance have remained steady at 40% on Sundays since 1940. Hadaway found
this figure did not match statistics as churches were no full, this suspicion was investigated
and found polls exaggerated, in Ashtabula, Ohio claims were 84% higher than actual
attendance. Bruce summarised that self-reports of church attendance has masked the
decline of church attendance suggesting the US is not as religious as it seems. However
there has been an increase in non-traditional, spiritual religions therefore the US may be
religious but not in the traditional way it previously was.
Item A also states whilst there is a large “apparent” numbers of churchgoers, it is likely there
are a wide variety of motives for church attendance. Bruce supports this argument arguing
traditional Christian beliefs and glorifying God has declined; religion in America has become
psychologist or turned into a form of therapy. Religion has become secularised from within.
Bruce believes the very nature has changed to fit in with a secular society; religion has
remained popular by becoming less religious its purpose being from salvation in heaven to
personal development in this world. The decline in commitment to traditional beliefs can be
seen in attendance and lifestyles e.g. extramarital sex, the legalisation of gay marriage and
abortion etc. This shows the US is a less religious society than previously believed. However
Davies notes many people believe without belonging and participate in religion in other ways
now, for example online.
Topic 3 - Applying material from item A, analyse two reasons why apparently high church
attendance figures may not mean that the United States is a religious society (10 marks)
Accordingto item A, 40% of Americans would consider themselves to be regular church attenders.
However, this figure doesn’t necessarily indicate that the United States is a religious society as,
firstly,these figuresare oftenhighlyexaggerated.Forexample, when Hadaway et al studied church
attendance inAshtabulaCounty,Ohio,he foundthatthe figureshe obtainedbyaskinginterviewees
about their church attendance were 83% higher than those he collected by carrying out physical
headcountsduringservices.Andthiscouldbe due tothe humantendencyof ‘social desirability bias’
whichoftenleads interviewees to answer questions, such as their church attendance, in a manner
that theybelieve will be viewedasmore sociallyacceptable by others. However, Davies argues that
although the legitimate number of frequent church attendees may be far lower than those
suggestedbyresearchfigures,thisdoesn’tnecessarilyindicate that the USA isn’t a religious society
as, often, people tend to ‘believe without belonging. That is, to hold religious beliefs without
regularly attending/belonging to a specific organisation.
However,itcouldstill be arguedthateven if high church attendance figures are a true reflection of
the numberof people attendingchurch,thisdoesnotnecessarilyindicate religiousness because, as
arguedby Bruce,Americanreligionhas,infact,become secularfrom within.Thismeansthat religion
has now become ‘psychologised’ or turned into a form of therapy, and instead of the purpose of
religion being for people to seek salvation in heaven, it has now become a means for seeking
personal improvementinthis world. Therefore, as a result, churchgoers are now far less strict than
theywere previouslyinadheringto traditional religiousmorality.However,secularisationtheoryhas
beenheavilycriticisedbysociologists such as Lyon for being ‘one-sided’. She argues that it focuses
on decline and ignores religious revivals and the growth of new religions.
Topic 4 - Outline and explain two reasons why figures on attendance at mainstream
churches may overstate the degree of secularisation in Britain today.
Some sociologists reject the secularisation thesis that religion is undergoing an inevitable
decline in Britain, instead believing some aspects of religion is declining there are changes in
religion for example believing without belonging. According to Davie religion is not declining
simply taking a different and more privatised form. In our modern society people are
increasingly reluctant to belong to organisations but still hold religious beliefs. Davie furthers
her argument noting trends towards vicarious religions that the active minorities in
attendance to religious services experiences are passed on to the majority second hand,
Everyone is then a part of religion they are now becoming like public utilities or a spiritual
health services used when needed e.g. the public mourning of Princess Diana at her funeral.
However Bruce criticises that is people are not willing to invest their times in church it is a
reflection of their declining strength in their faith.
Lyon agrees with Davie, traditional religion is giving way to a variety of new religious forms,
through a postmodern shift in society whereby features of society and in turn religions are
changing. In postmodern society, globalisation is key feature as well as the importance of
media and choice; religious ideas have become disembodied in the physical world and taken
by a media lift online. This could explain the decline in church attendance but does not mean
we are secular. The growth in electronic church and cyber religion such as televangelism
takes religion out of the physical world and allows people to express their religion at home
online. This may be the reason for the rise in evangelical Christians globally and Christian
Topic 4 - Outline and explain two causes of secularisation (10 marks)
Secularisation is the decline in belief and influence of religion in wider society, Weber
believes that rationalisation is the cause of secularisation. In the 16th century Britain went
through the protestant reformation, it led to a disenchantment of the world, no longer
believing in supernatural powers and a rise of rational thinking rendering religion ineffective.
People no longer believed the world was a magical garden with angels and devils; instead
they wanted real answers using reasoning from science. This lifted the spiritual canopy over
people and enabled more understanding and growth in science and technology
disenfranchising religion further; as a result the influence of the church’s beliefs and
reasonings have lost influence, resulting in secularisation.
On the other hand, Berger believes the cause of secularisation is the trend towards religious
diversity, instead of one dominant religious organisation; there are multiple interpretations of
faith. In the Middle Ages Catholicism held an absolute monopoly over Europe and everyone
was under one sacred canopy which gave religious beliefs greater plausibility as there were
no challengers to the church's version of the truth. After the Protestant Reformation as well
as the rise in other major beliefs across the world including Islam and Hinduism there is no
monopoly and there are now varying versions of the truth. This undermines the church's
teachings weakening their teachings, the uncertainty of the truth leads to a loss of faith and
results in secularisation.
Topic 4 - Outline and explain two reasons why figures on attendance at mainstream churches may
overstate the degree of secularisation in Britain today (10 marks)
Althoughfiguresof churchattendance in Britain are currently at an all time low, this may overstate
the degree of secularisation within our society because, as Davie argues, we may have simply just
movedtowards‘vicariousreligion’.Thisisatrendin which religion is practised by a small but active
minority(the professional clergyandchurchgoers) on behalf of the great minority. Reasons for this
may include that,inEurope,the majornational churchesare now beingseenmore aspublicutilities,
or ‘spiritual healthservices’,ratherthanassitesforregularattendance.And therefore, the majority
of the populationpreferstouse them only when they feel they ought to (such as, during weddings
or funerals),butstill do strongly identify with their faith. However, Bruce argues that if people are
not willingtogo to church, thisjustreflectsthe decliningstrengthof theirbeliefs. He has concluded
that when people no longer believe, they no longer belong, and so their involvement in religion
But Hervieu-Leger, on the other hand, argues that while traditional institutional religion has
declined,religionitselfhasnotdisappeared.She believesthat,instead, individual consumerism has
replaced traditional religion, and that people today now feel as though they have a choice as
consumers of religion to ‘spiritual shop’. Religion has become individualised, and thus, become a
personal spiritual journeyinwhichwe choose the elements we want to explore and the groups we
wishto join.Therefore,adecline inchurchfiguresof attendance don’t necessarily indicate a higher
degree of secularisationbutinstead,ahigherdegreeof spiritualfreedom.SimilarlytoHervieu-Leger,
Lyon argues that religion has relocated to the sphere of consumption. While people may have
ceased to belong to religious organisations, they have not abandoned religion. Instead, they have
become ‘religiousconsumers’,makingconsciouschoicesaboutwhichelements of religion they find
Topic 6 - Analyse two reasons for differences in religiosity between social group (10
Women are a more religiously active social group than men, they attend more services, are
more likely to identify as religious and express a greater interest and commitment. The
reasons for this vary Miller and Hoffman argue that women are less likely to take risks and
so are less willing to risk going to hell by not practicing religion. Women also play a more
expressive role caring, helpful and compassionate due to being main caregivers for the
young and elderly, perhaps another reason for their beliefs, they are closer to birth and
death therefore ask more of the ultimate questions and needing an answer. Women are less
likely to be in paid work and generally have more time for religion particularly as religion has
been confined to the private sphere where women spend more time. However women are
joining the workforce at higher rates and becoming more secular. They are also shifting to
new age movements than mainstream religions seeking a spiritual meaning.
Ethnic minorities are also a social group that have higher rates of religiosity for example
white Anglicans only 11% rate religion important in their lives while 81% of Afro-Caribbean’s
do and 74% of Muslims. Sociologist have offered reasoning for this; Bruce sees religion as a
culture defence for minorities, it can be a means of preserving language, culture and identity
as well as a basis for communities. Religion is also a means of cultural transition providing
support and a sense of community in a new environment, i.e. the Irish Catholics in the USA.
It can also be a support against racism and prejudice which minorities may face when
coming to a new country. However as Pryce points out once minorities have settled in they
tend to lose their faith. Particularly the second generation who have been socialise and
assimilated into their new country’s way of life which is less religious.
Topic 7 - Outline and explain two criticisms of the view that science is an open belief
system (10 marks)
An open system means that theories are open to falsification through criticism and testing by
other scientists. Science can be seen as a self-sustaining belief or closed belief system
whereby, the scientific community can reject fundamental challenges to their knowledge
claims. For example, in the case of Dr Velikovsky who put forward a theory questioning
fundamental geological assumptions, astrology and evolutionary biology. His and his work
was quickly rejected and discredited. There was no testing of his findings and those who
spoke out against his treatment were victimised or lost their jobs. According to Kuhn this was
because his findings did not fit their paradigm of how they study, which then becomes
knowledge, the paradigm is ensured through education and socialization. Therefore science
is not an open system as theories that do not fit their system aren’t always welcomed,
instead receive negative responses.
Interpretivist sociologists agree and have developed Kuhn’s argument. They believe all
knowledge is a social construct rather than objective truth; it is created by social groups
using their available resources. Scientific facts are merely those considered true and real by
the community. Knorr-Certina supports this arguing the invention of new instruments such as
telescopes, permits scientists to make new observations and construct new facts. Science is
also manufactured in a controlled setting such as a lab which is removed from the natural
world e.g. water is purified. Therefore science is a closed system as results are fabricated
and experiments controlled to get the end results the scientific community want to find.
Topic 7 - Outline and Explain two criticisms of the view that science is an open system (10 marks)
Kuhnarguesthat science is not an open belief system as it is based on a set of shared assumptions
called a paradigm. The paradigm lays down broad outlines by telling us what reality is like, what
problemstostudyand what methods/equipment to use. And scientists who successfully fill in the
details are rewarded with large research grants, professorship, nobel prizes and so on, whereas
those who challenge the fundamental assumptions of the paradigm tend to be ridiculed. This
supports the view that science is, in fact, a close belief system as it shows that it isn’t open to all
scrutiny, criticism and testing by others but only to that which falls within a specific, universally-
approved, scientific criteria. And therefore, it is not completely challengeable.
Interpretivists, on the other hand, criticise the view that science is an open belief system as they
believe that it is socially constructed. This means that, rather than being the objective truth, it is
created by social groups using the resources available to them. For example, as argued by Knorr-
Cetina,the invention of new instruments has allowed scientists to ‘fabricate’ new discoveries and
facts - such as in the case of biomedical researcher,EricSmart,whowasdiscoveredto have falsified
or fabricated 45 cardiovascular disease and diabetes research figures over the course of 10 years.
And therefore, the information released by them may not be completely true, or give a valid
reflection of the world around us.
(Add evaluation to each paragraph)
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