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A2 Sociology: Defining Relgion

  1. 1. A2 Sociology<br />Religion<br />
  2. 2. Defining Religion<br />Sociologist define religion in three main ways: substantive, functional and social constructionist.<br />
  3. 3. Substantive Definitions<br /><ul><li>Focuses on the content (substantive, think ‘substance’) or religious belief in God or the supernatural.
  4. 4. Substantive definitions are exclusive– drawing a clear line between religious and non-religious beliefs. To be a religion, a set of beliefs must believe in God or the supernatural.
  5. 5. Example: Max Weber (1905)
  6. 6. Defines religion as belief in a superior or supernatural power that is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically.</li></li></ul><li>Functional Definitions<br /><ul><li>Defines religion in terms of the social or psychological functions it performs for individuals or society.
  7. 7. Example 1: Emile Durkheim (1915)
  8. 8. Defines religion in terms of contributions it makes to social integration, rather than to any specific belief in God or the supernatural.
  9. 9. Example 2: Milton Yinger (1970)
  10. 10. Identifies function of religion performs for individuals such as answering the ‘ultimate question’ about meaning of life, and what happens after we die.</li></li></ul><li>Social Constructionist Definitions<br /><ul><li>Interpretivist approach focuses on how the members of a society define religion.
  11. 11. say it is NOT possible to produce a single universal definition of religion since so many different religions exist & there is no consensus on the term ‘religion’ amongst any of them.
  12. 12. They are interested in how definitions are constructed, challenged & fought over.
  13. 13. Alan Aldridge (2007) argues Scientology is a legitimate religion despite many governments saying it is illegal & have tried to ban it.
  14. 14. Shows that definitions of religion can be contested & are influenced by those with power to define it.</li></li></ul><li>Social Constructionist Definitions continued<br />Do not assume religion always involves belief in God/supernatural.<br />Doe not assume that religion performs similar functions for everyone in all societies.<br />Positive: allows them to get close to the meanings people give to religion.<br />Negative: makes it impossible to generalise about the nature of religion, since there are very broad definitions amongst people across the planet about what can be counted as a religion.<br />
  15. 15. Check your learning<br />In pairs, 10 minutes.<br />Make a list of similarities and differences between attending a football match and a religious service.<br />Is it fair to compare attending a football match to a religious experience? Why/why not?<br />
  16. 16. Durkheim and religion<br />Functionalist, 1858-1917.<br />Developed the idea that religious institutions play a central role in creating and maintaining value consensus, order and solidarity in society. <br />He is known for three contributions to the theory of religion:<br />The Sacred and the Profane<br />Totemism<br />The Collective Conscience<br />
  17. 17. The Sacred and the Profane<br />Sacred are things which are things which are set apart & forbidden, inspire feelings of awe, fear & wonder. Surrounded by taboos & prohibitions.<br />Profane have no special significance– it is the ordinary & mundane.<br />This plays hand in hand with the rituals & practices that support & reinforce the religious belief in the sacred, collectively done rituals performed by a group.<br />
  18. 18. Totemism<br />Durkheim studied clan society.<br />Particularly the Arunta, an Australian Aboriginal Tribe with a clan system.<br />Consisted of bands of kin who came together to periodically perform rituals involving worship of a sacred totem.<br />The totem is the clans emblem, typically a plant or animal and symbolises the clan’s origins and identity.<br />The rituals serve to reinforce the groups solidarity and sense of belonging.<br />
  19. 19. Totemism analysis<br />Worshipping a totem is the same as worshipping their society, even if they are not aware of it.<br />Totem inspires feelings of awe in the clan’s members since it represents the power of the group on which they are totally ‘utterly dependent’.<br />
  20. 20. The Collective conscience<br />Sacred symbols represent society’s collective conscience.<br />Collective Conscience is the shared norms and values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between individuals possible. Without this, society would disintegrate according to Durkheim.<br />Durkheim says regular shared religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and maintain social integration.<br />Shared rituals remind them that they are part of a single moral community to which they owe their loyalty.<br />Benefits the individuals by making them realise there is something greater than themselves.<br />
  21. 21. Malinowski and Psychological Function<br />Agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes social solidarity.<br />Malinowski says it happens because religion performs a psychological function for individuals, helping them to cope with stress which would otherwise undermine their solidarity with wider society.<br />Identifies 2 situations where religion fills this role:<br />Where the outcome is important but is uncontrollable and thus uncertain. Fishing example, pg. 11<br />At times of life crisis. Birth, death, marriage etc…<br />
  22. 22. Check Your Understanding<br />In what ways might the birth of a new baby disrupt social relationships? Discuss.<br />
  23. 23. Parsons: Values and Meaning<br />Sees religion much as Malinowski does, with religion helping people to cope with unforeseen events.<br />Identifies 2 other essential functions:<br />Creates and legitimates society’s central values.<br />Is the primary source of meaning.<br />Religion creates and legitimates society’s basic norms and values by sacralising them.<br />Religion answers ‘ultimate’ questions about the human condition– why do good people suffer or die at an early age? Religion answers that suffering is a test of faith etc…<br />
  24. 24. Robert Bellah: Civil Religion<br />Active sociologist in1970s.<br />Interested in howreligion unites society.<br />Particularly interested in the US due to its multi-faith culture, or ‘melting pot’ approach to society.<br />American society is an overarching civil religion given that it is based on a belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself. <br />Example: Faith in the ‘American way of life’<br />Argues civil religion is better at integrating society than individual religions.<br />Civil religion is expressed by pledges like pledge allegiance to the flag, singing the national anthem, and even on the money– ‘one nation, under God’. <br />These ritualistic ideas create a false consciousness.<br />
  25. 25. Bellah and Civil religion Continued<br />false consciousnessis a distorted view of reality that prevents the poor from acting to change their circumstances. <br />Might be seen as anti-patriotic<br />Might be seen as a malcontent or ‘bad American’<br />
  26. 26. Lenin (1870-1924)<br />Religion seen as a Spiritual Gin<br />Spiritual Gin: an intoxicant dolled out to the masses by the ruling class to confuse and control them by keeping them in their places, as lower and poorer.<br />Lenin argues the ruling class uses religion to manipulate the masses which keeps them from attempting to overthrow their oppressors (ruling class) by creating a ‘mystical fog’ that distorts their reality.<br />
  27. 27. Lenin’s Mystical Fog: A Look into History<br />Religion legitimates the power and privilege of ruling class, and appear to be divinely ordained.<br />16th century ‘Divine Right of Kings’ makes royalty God’s direct representative on earth.<br />King is thus owed total obedience; disobedience is not only illegal, but a sin against God himself.<br />
  28. 28. Marx: Religion and Alienation<br />Active in 1844.<br />Religion as the product of alienation.<br />Alienation involved becoming separated form or losing control over something you have produced or created.<br />Alienation exists in all class societies, but it is more acute in those which are capitalist.<br />Workers are alienated since they do not own what they produce, have no say over the method of production and thus no ability to express themselves or creativity.<br />
  29. 29. Marx: Dehumanisation and Exploit<br />These are dehumanising and exploitive conditions, so the exploited turn to religion for consolation.<br />This is where the phrase ‘Opiate of the Masses’ originated.<br />Religion is the opium of the people; in other words, it dulls the pain of exploitation.<br />Religion thus masks or dulls the pain, but does not treat the cause, thus religion masks the underlying problem of exploitation that creates the need for it.<br />Because religion is a distorted view of the world it cannot offer any real, tangible solution to earthly misery.<br />
  30. 30. Evaluating Marx<br />Religion as a tool for oppression, which masks exploitation and creates false conciseness. <br />He ignores any positive function of religion– like psychological adjustment to misfortune.<br />Some Neo-Marxists see certain types of religion as helping and not hindering class consciousness.<br />Religion does not necessarily function well as an ideology to control a population.<br />