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Sociology: Beliefs in Society

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Lydia Carvill

on 7 May 2015

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Transcript of Sociology: Beliefs in Society

Perspectives on Religion
- Functionalist views
- Marxist and neo-Marxist views
- Feminist views
- Religion as a conservative force
- Religion as a force for change
- Religion, social change and conflict
- Religion and Social Protest
- Marxism, Religion and Change
- Fundamentalism

Sociology: Beliefs in Society
Functionalists see main role of religion to integrate groups, as a result, religion leads to social stability. Functionalists are interested in how institutions contribute to societies needs. They see religion as contributing by creating shared morals which creates harmony and integration.
Evaluating functionalism; they identify an important aspect of religion - how it integrates and unities people. However they ignore the possibility religion has other effects/functions, and these views aren't applicable to all societies. E.g. disagreement between religions causes conflict, feminists say religion maintains patriarchy and Marxists claim it benefits the ruling class.
Marxist and neo-Marxist Views
Feminist Views
Religion as a Conservative Force
Religion as a Force for Change
Religion, Social Change and Conflict
Durkheim on Religion
He distinguishes between two things in society;
objects, rituals and people(believed to have special significance and are treated with awe). And
objects, activities and people(regarded as ordinary and not treated as special).
Durkheim believes there's nothing special about these objects, they are made special as they are symbolic or represent a social group.
Durkheim studied Australian Aborigines and found that each group had a totem they worshipped. The totem represented the social group therefore they were worshipping society. Main role of religion = to reinforce shared values + moral beliefs which strengthens collective conscience. Religion strengthens social solidarity through collective worship and chanting. His sees an inclusive definition of religion and nationalism as a type of civil religion because it performs the same functions - unites people with shared beliefs. For example the national anthem is unifying.
Parsons on Religion
Religious beliefs form guidelines for human behavior. He argues that in the US Christian beliefs underpin the value consensus for everyone because laws and norms have their origin in Christianity. E.g the Ten Commandments are basis for many social norms. Religion also answers higher questions, prevents conflict and helps society run smoothly.
Bronislaw Malinowski: Religion in the Trobiand Islands
Malinowski is an antropologist who did a functionalist study of religion in the Trobiand islands. He saw religion as crucial for helping people deal with situations of emotional stress that threaten social solidarity. Emotional stress being from life crises e.g death and unpredictable events. For example religious rituals were performed before the islanders when fishing in dangerous, unpredictable water.
In all no-communist societies a ruling-class owns he means to production which provides wealth which gives them power. Power means they can control the superstructure of society(all non-economic parts of society e.g. education and religion). So religion promotes interests of ruling class by supporting ruling-class ideology - it discourages subject classes from seeing they're being exploited and overthrowing the ruling-class.
"Opium of the masses."
Marx(1842) sees religion as 'opium of the masses' - religion as a drug to help individuals deal with pain.
He gives these examples:
It promises eternal life
Makes virtue out of oppression; injustice in life will be rectified in the afterlife
Offers hope of supernatural intervention to end injustice e.g. Jehovah's witnesses believe judgement day will come and non-religious people will be punished

Religion justifies the existing social order. For example in medieval Europe, Kings and Queens ruled by devine right so individuals accepted there situation as it was divinely ordained so something they shouldn't challenge.
Marx: Alienation
He also saw religion as a form of alienation - human invent an alien; God, which they believe to be all-powerful and controls them. So they give up on own humanity by denying themselves right to make own decisions.
Religion as social control: in-turn he saw religion as a form of social control. It creates false consciousness - false beliefs about social life which justifys a ruling-class. This prevents working class developing class consciousness - where they become aware of exploitation and unite to overthrow capitalist system.
Marx believed that, with the advent of communism, religion would be no longer necessary, since means of production would be communally owned, no individuals would own wealth and power and they'd be no need for social classes. Without classes they'd be no need for religion as it's sole purpose was to legitimate ruling-class power.

Evidence of Marxist View...
The New Christian Right:
these are very religious Christians in the US with conservative and pro-capitalist views. New Christian Right justifies free-market capitalism, which supports interests of bourgeoisie - so legitimates ruling-class power.
Evangelical Christianity in Latin America:
New Christian Right spread Protestant beliefs in mainly Catholic Latin American countries, particularly amongst the poor in shantytowns.
Like Marxists, Feminists believe religion doesn't serve interests of society but the interests of a particular social group. They both agree that religion tends to be a force preventing change and maintaining power of a powerful group in society but they see this group as being men, not the ruling-class. They see religion as patriarchal - serving the interests of men.
The Origins of Gender inequality in Religion...
Karen Armstrong(1993)
argues religion hasn't always been patriarchal - in early history women were considered central to spirituality. Archaeologists have found numerous symbols of the Great Mother Goddess. It was around 1750 in Babylon when importance of Goddesses declined as male God Marduk replaced female God mat as dominant figure in religion. Monotheistic religions replaced polytheistic religion- in these cases, God was potrayed as male.
Gender Inequality in Major Religions
Jean Holm(1994):
public sphere
(important positions are held) is dominated by men but
private sphere
(socialisation of children) dominated by women. She has identified inequalities between men and women in all major religions...
For example, in Christanity and Roman Catholicism, God is portrayed as a male and father figure, and Jesus and his disciples were male. Also the Bible was written by men, only men can become priests and in the Bible, Eve is created out of Adams spare rib.
Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex
Simone de Beauvoir(1949): feminist view of religion; religion as instrument of male dominance. She argued men usually control religious organisations, claim their authority comes from God. For example Kings ruled by 'divine right'. Some religions portray woman as being closer to God, only when they don't question male authority. This gives them false belief that their suffering will be rewarded. Therefore religion gives women form of false consciousness. This keeps women in their place and decieves them in thinking they are equal to men - in reality they are disadvantaged as the 'second sex'.
Nawal El Saadawi: The Hidden Face of Eve
Saadawi is an Eqyptian feminist concerned with oppression of women in Islamic Arab world woman sometimes seriously oppressed in Islamic states. For example she was circumcised - part of her clitoris was amputated. She argues that practices like female circumcision are not result of Islam, but male interpretations of the Qur'an which distort true beliefs and justify exploitation of women.
Some feminists and sociologists argue religion isn't always patriarchal; for example Quakerism has always had equality between men and women. Also some religions are becoming less patriarchal e.g. Reform Judaism has allowed women to become rabbis since 1972 and in Church of England women can become bishops.
The view that religion prevents change is supported by
. It's seen as a conservative force; it prevents social change and preserves traditional values and beliefs. Normally these two go together e.g. the Catholic church support traditional sexual morality(no abortion or sex outside wed lock) and so oppose change.
However, when traditional values have lost their importance - religion can sometimes be force for change by supporting traditional values e.g. in Iran, 1979, the Shah who had Westernised country and overthrown traditional values, was replaced in revolution by Ayatollah Khomeini - thus religion caused change at same time as supporting traditional values.
The view of religion as a radical force is supported by neo-Marxists e.g.
Otto Maduro
(1982) who points out Roman Catholic liberation theology in Latin America shows religion can sometimes be a force for change. Also,
Max Weber
(1905) who argues religion can be used to support any set of beliefs including those that lead to changes in society.
Many sociologists accept that religion can cause social change -
G.K Nelson
for example says there's many cases where religion's undermined stability or promoted change. In the USA, 1960's, the reverend Martin Luther King and Southern Christina Leadership Council supported civil rights movement - resulted in legislation to racial discrimination. Also Roman Catholic
liberation theology
movement in 1979 supported Sandinistas who took control of Nicaragua. Recent example = 9/11 attacks on USA by Al Qaeda resulted in significant changes in US foreign policy, including invasion of Afghanistan - to some extent were used to justify invasion of Iraq. Both policies led to regime changes in both countries.
Max Weber: The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Weber argues that the beliefs of Calvinism brought major social change - the emergence of Capitalism in 16th-17th century Europe. Past societies = capitalism is sense of greed for wealth, modern capitalism unique because it's based on efficient plus rational pursuit of profit for it's own sake rather than for consumption. He calls this 'spirit of capitalism' - this spirit had
elective affinity
or unconscious similarity to Calvinist beliefs and attitudes.
The Calvinists hard work asceticism had two consequences; their wealth and success allowed Calvinists them to cope with salvation panic as they thought it was a sign of God's favour, also as they become wealthy they wouldn't spend money on luxuries so they'd reinvest wealth in business which would prosper so they'd reinvent and so on which in Weber's view is the spirit of modern capitalism where the object is the acquisition of more money as and end in itself. So Calvinism brought about modern capitalism.
Calvinism had several beliefs; Predestination - God's decision of who
will go to heaven is decided and cannot be changed.
Divine transcendence - God was above everyone so no one could know his will which combined with 'predestination' caused
salvation panic
where they couldn't know if they'd been saved and couldn't do anything to earn salvation.
Asceticism - abstinence, self-discipline and self-denial e.g. Monks live ascetic live refraining from luxury to devote themselves to God.
The idea of vocation/calling - this meant for Calvinists constant work in occupation as a religious duty. Weber calls this
this-worldly asceticism
compared to other-worldly asceticism where a calling meant renouncing everyday life to join a convert/monastery.
Hinduism and Confucianism
It's important to note that Weber wasn't saying Calvinist beliefs were the sole cause for capitalism, they were one of the causes. Other economic factors helped e.g. natural resources and a money economy. Weber points out different societies who failed to develop modern capitalism yet had a higher level of economic development; for example Weber states the failure of modern capitalism in Ancient China and India was due to lack of religious belief system e.g. Calvinism that was both ascetic as well as this-wordly. Hinduism and Confucianism(in China and India) were not both of these things.
Otto Maduro: The relative autonomy of religion
Maduro believes religion has independence(relative autonomy) from ruling class control and from economic system. Denies religion as a conservative force - says it can be revolutionary. Uses example of liberation theology; Catholic church in Latin America used to side with bourgeoisie and right-wing military dictatorships, however priests began to speak up for interests of the poor. Som priests developed theology; interpreted religion as being on side of oppressed groups, supporting their liberation. Liberation theology was then developed which argued money and land etc should be redistributed from rich to poor. Similar to Marxist ideology - encourages revolution rather than acts as
'opium of the masses.'
Evaluation of Weber: has number of criticisms with some counter-arguments as well;
Criticism: Calvinism or Protestantism? The
Marxist Kautsky(1953)
claimed that capitalism predated and therefore caused Protestantism.
Counter argument: Weber states reinvestment and pursuit of profit(key parts of capitalism) came after Protestantism.
Criticism: where did capitalism start?
Scotland, Switzerland and Hungary were strongly Calvinist but weren't first areas to develop capitalism.
Counter argument:
argues these countries lacked economic conditions to develop capitalism.
Factors affecting whether religion becomes a radical force
Questions have now risen of what circumstances makes religion conservative, or a radial force for change.
Meredith B. McGuire(1981)
argues that this depends on a range of factors:
Religions with strong moral codes more likely to have followers who are critical of society so are likely to try and change it.
Societies where religious beliefs are central to culture(e.g. Latin America) provide more opportunity for people to use religion to start off a movement for change.
When religious organisations play central role in political/economic structure of society they have more change of producing change.
Whether a religion is a force change is related to whether it causes conflict:
Functionalists argue religion prevents conflicts by creating harmony through shared values
Marxists and Feminists claim religion can prevent conflict by reinforcing control of dominant groups of society - ruling class for Marxists and men for Feminists.
Weber identifies how religion causes conflict as well as harmony.
Other perspectives state how religion can cause conflict as well as change.
Marxism, Religion and Change
Marxists are thought of as seeing religion as a conservative ideology - set of ruling class ideas shaped by legitimate class inequalities in societies economic base, however they reconise that religious ideas have relative autonomy - they can be partially independent of societies economic base. So religion can have dual character - sometimes be a force for change as well as stability. Example = Marx doesn't see religion as totally negative, describes it as 'heart of a heartless world.' Sees religion as humanising world made inhuman by exploitation.
Friedrich Engels(1895)
- Dual Character; Engels states although religion inhibits change by disguising inequality, can also challenge status quo and encourage social change. E.g. religion sometimes preaches
liberation from slavery and misery. Also, senior clergy members usually support status quo but lower ranks
within church often support or even inspire
organised popular protest.
Ernst Bloch: principle of hope
He also sees religion as having dual character - argues for view religion that recognises both it's positive and negatives influence on social change. As a Marxist he sees religion as inhibiting change but emphasises that it can also inspire protest and rebellion. Religion is expression of 'principle of hope' - our dreams of better life that contain images of Utopia. This can decieve people with promises of rewards heaven however may also help people see what needs to be changed in the world. Therefore religious beliefs create vision of better world, if combined with effective political organisation and leadership, can bring about social change. E.g. American rights civil movement for religion and socail protest.
Religion and Social Protest
The American Civil Rights movement:

Steve Bruce(2003)
describes this movement as example of religiously motivated social change. It began in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to sit at back of a bus - campaigning involved direct action e.g. protest marches and boycotts. In 1964 segregation was outlawed. Bruce describes black clergy as backbone of movement - led by Dr Martin Luther King they played decisive role giving support and moral legitimates to activists. He argues black clergy were able to shame whites into changing law by appealing to shared Christian values of equality. Sees religion in this context as ideological resource - provides beliefs and practices as motivation and support. He identifies several ways which religious organisations are well equipped to
support protests and contribute
to social change...
Millenarian Movements
Antonio Gramsci(1971): religion and hegemony
Religion and consensus:
Functionalists see
religion as conservative force because its functions maintain social stability and prevent society from disintegrating. E.g. promotes social solidarity by creating value consensus thus reducing likelihood of society collapsing through individuals being selfish at expense of others. Also helps people deals with stress which could disrupt society.
Marxist and Feminists in contrast see r as ideology that keeps existing social structure, keeps powerful, powerful and acts as means of social control to keep status quo.
Religion and capitalism:
Marx sees religion as conservative ideology that prevents social change - it legitimizes/disguises exploitation plus inequality, creates false consciousness in working class, and prevents revolution so maintains status quo.
Religion and patriarchy:
Feminists see religion as conservative force because it acts as ideology that legitimates patriarchal power and maintains
women's subordination in family and society.

Taking moral high ground; black clergy pointed out hypocrisy of white clergy who preached 'love thy neighbour' but supported racial segregation.
Channelling dissent; religion provides channels to express political dissent e.g. funeral of Martin Luther was rallying point for Civil Rights movement.
Acting as honest broker; churches provide context for negotiating change cause they're respected by both sides in conflict - seen as standing above 'mere politics.'
Mobilising public opinion; black churches in South successfully campaigned for support across whole of America.
Bruce sees civil rights movement as example of religion becoming involved in secular struggle and helping to bring about change. In his view the movement achieved its aims because it shared same values as society and those in power. It brought about change by shaming those in power to put into practice the principle of equality embodied in American Constitution that all men and women were born equal.
The New Christian Right is a politically
and morally conservative, Protestant fundamentalist movement - it's gained prominance in America from
the 1960's because of it's opposition against the liberalising of American society. Aims of movement are ambitious; to take America 'back to God.' They wish to make abortion, homosexuality and divorce illegal - taking society back to before the liberalisation of American culture began. NCR believes in traditional family and gender roles, campaigns for teaching of 'creationism'(view that Bible's account of creation is true) and want a ban of sex education in schools. These campaigns raised it's profile since 1970's - it's made effective use of media and networking, notably televangelism. Church-owned TV stations aimed at making converts and recruiting new members. The Moral Majority, a right wing Christian pressure group became focus for political campaigning and for strengthening links with Republican party.
The New Christian Right
However, New Right has been unsuccessful in achieving aims, Bruce suggests these reasons:
'Moral Majority' was never a majority - 15% of population at most.
the campaigners found it hard to cooperate with members from other religious groups, even when campaigning on same issue.
New Christian Right lacks widespread support and has met strong opposition from groups who stand for freedom of choice e.g. Planned Parenthood.
Bruce describes the New Christian Right movement as failed movement for change. Despite publicity plus high profile in media it hasn't achieved taking America 'back to God.' In his view it's attempt to impose Protestant fundamentalist morality on others has failed because of the liberal, democratic values of most American society. Numerous surveys suggest Americans comfortable legalising activities they believe are immoral e.g. abortion and homosexuality - are unwilling to accept other people's definition of how they should live their lives. This causes problem for NCR who believe literal truth of Bible and insist everyone should conform to it's teachings. Bruce points out his is an impossible demand for a mature democracy.
Civil Right movement Vs. New Christian Right
Comparisons between NCR and civil rights movement are interesting as they suggest to achieve success, the beliefs and demands of religiously motivated protest movements/pressure groups need to be consistent with those of wider society. In the American case they need to connect with mainstream beliefs about democracy, equality and religious freedom, which the civil rights movement did do but the NCR failed to do.
Because religion raises hopes of a better world in afterlife, it may also create desire to change thing here and now, for example to bring about kingdom of God on Earth - Millenarian movements are an important example of this desire. Takes name from 'millennium', Christian theology this refers to idea that Christ would come into this world a second time and rule for a thousand years before the Day of Judgement. According to
Peter Worsley(1968)
such movements expect total transformation of world through supernatural means - will create a heaven on earth, a life free from pain, death, sin, corruption, imperfection.
Appeal of millenarian movements = largely to the poor as they promise immediate improvement and they often arise in colonial situations. European colonialism led to economic exploitation and cultural and religious domination. E.g. through the Christian missonaries and their schools. Worsley studied millenarian movements in Melanesia(Western Pacific) known as cargo cults. Islanders felt deprived when cargo(material goods) arrived in islands for colonists, series of cargo cults sprang up asserting that the cargo wast for natives but been diverted by the whites for themselves, and that this unjust social was about to be overturned. These movements could lead to widespread unrest that threatened colonial rule.
Worsley notes that the movements
combined elements of traditional beliefs with elements of Christianity e.g. ideas about a heaven where the suffering of the righteous will be rewarded, Christ's imminent second coming to earth, the Day of Judgement and punishment of the wicked. He describes movements as
- they used religious ideas and images, but united native populations in mass movements that spanned tribal divisions. Many of the secular nationalist leaders and parties that were able to overthrow colonial rule in 1950's/60's developed out of these movements. Similarly from a Marxist perspective, Engels argues that they represent the first awakening of 'proletarian self-consciousness'.
Gramsci is interested in how the ruling class maintains their control over society through use of ideas rather than through coercion(force). He uses term hegemony to refer to way the ruling class are able to use ideas such as religion to maintain control. By hegemony, he means ideological domination/leadership of society. When hegemony is established the ruling class can rely on popular consent to their rule, so there is less need for force. E.g. writing in Italy in 1920's/30's, Gramsci notes the immense conservative ideological power of Catholic Church in helping win support for Mussolini's fascist regime.

However, hegemony is not guaranteed - always possible for working class to develop alternative vision of how society should be organised(a counter hegemony).
Like Engels, Gramsci sees religion as having dual character, he notes that in some circumstances, it can challenge as well as support ruling class. He argues that popular forms of religion can help workers see through the ruling class hegemony by offering vision of better, fairer world. Similarly some clergy may act as organic intellectuals(educators, organisers and leaders)They can help workers see the situation they are in and support working class organisations e.g. trade unions.
Definition: Fundamentalist religions are defined by
Almond et al(2003)
as 'pattern of religious militancy by which self-styled true believers attempt to arrest the erosion of religious identity, and create viable alternatives to secular institutions and behavior'. So fundamentalist religions believe that a set of religious beliefs has been watered down or is under threat. They oppose decline of these beliefs and wish to return to original, basic or 'fundamental beliefs of their religion. Fundamentalists often return to beliefs of an original text of their religion, claiming other followers have strayed from original teachings and compromise integrity of their religion. Fundamentalism often seen as response to decline of influence of religion or secularisation.
Fundamentalism, Conflict and Social Change
Fundamentalism causes conflict with other groups who they see as a threat to their religion. Also likely to cause conflict between them and other followers of the same religion as they don't share the same interpretation. Fundamentalism can be seen as response to changes as fundamentalist try to reverse changes that have already taken place in society/religion. Therefore tends to be
conservative force
, in terms of saving traditional values, but also
radical force
, in terms of seeking social change.
Examples of Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism has appeared across variety of religions in variety of contexts and appears to be becoming more common in modern world. Examples include:
The New Christian Right
- Protestant fundamentalist group in USA, radical Christians with large following who support literal interpretation of Bible.
Al Qaeda
- Muslim group led by Osama Bin Laden. Originating in Saudi Arabia/Afghanistan but with worldwide following. They're responsible for terrorist attacks including 9/11 attacks on the USA.
Fundamentalism and Secularisation
Steve Bruce(2000) believes fundamentalism is caused by secularisation. Argues that decline of religion - and modernisation in which science and rationality are favoured - tend to undermine traditional religious faith. Fundamentalism more likely to develop when:
religion has sacred text over which followers can argue
a religion lacks centralised authoritarian control - without this alternative interpretations of religion can develop
followers have common enemy e.g. Muslim fundamentalism with USA and Israel
there is ready supply of potential recruits e.g. Hamas draw on unemployed young men in Palestine
there is little opportunity to express grievances through legitimate politics - here fundamentalism can become more radical e.g. Iran 1979, dictator Shah imposed modernisation on country, was opposed by Muslim fundamentalists and overthrown in revolution.
Almond et al(2003): The causes of fundamentalism
Almond et al agree secularisation and modernisation helped to produce fundamentalism but in addition they see it as being caused by:
low levels of education and high levels of inequality
the displacement of people by war
economic problems
chance events such as poor harvests
Western imperialism; fundamentalist beliefs can develop amongst those opposed to US involvement in a region
effective leadership necessary to mobilise those with a grievance.
Karen Armstrong: Islam and the West
Karen Armstrong(2001) argues that there is nothing in Islamic religion which leads to fundamentalist beliefs; for more than a century, most Islamic leaders were in favour of Westernisation and modernistaion however attempts to impose modernisation too rapidly on Islamic countries without concern for welfare of poor has built up resentments within many Islamic populations in the world. This has led to growth of Islamic fundamentalism.
Armstrong shows that economic and political factors can lie behind changes that appear to be caused largely be devlopments in religion.
Functionalist Views:
Durkheim on Religion
Parsons on Religion
Bronlinslaw Malinski: Reilgion in the Triobrand Islands
Marxist and neo-Marxist Views:
Marx(1842) 'opium of the masses'
Marx: Alienation
The New Christian Right and Evangelical Christianity in Latin America
Feminist Views:
Karen Armstrong(1993)
Jean Holmes(1994)
Simone de Beauvoir(1949): the second sex
Nawal El Saadawi: the hidden face of Eve
Religion as a Conservative Force:
Marxists, Feminists and Functionalists
Example = Iran, 1979
Religion as a force for change:
Otto Madruo(1982)
Max Weber(1905)
Criticisms of Weber = The Marxist Kautsky(1953), Marshall(1982)
Religion, social change and conflict:
G. K Nelson
Meredith B. McGuire(1981)
Religion and Social Protest:
Steve Bruce(2003): The American Civil Rights movement, The New Christian Right
Marxism, religion an change:
Example = Marx
Friedrich Engels(1895): dual character
Ernst Bloch: principle of hope
Peter Worsley(1968): millenarian movements
Antonio Gramsci(1971)
Almond et al(2003)
Examples = Al Quaeda, New Christian Right
Steve Bruce(2000): secularisation and funda.
Almond et al(2003): causes of funda.
Karen Armsrtong(2001): Islam and the West
Different theories of ideology, science and religion
- Religious, political and scientific belief systems
- Marxism and neo-Marxism
- Feminist discourse
- Postmodern perspectives on ideology
- Science as a belief system

Religious organisations and movements
- Churches, denominations and sects
- Cults, sects and new religious movements
- The growth of sects and cults
- The development of sects
- The New Age

The significance of religion in the contemporary world
- Secularisation part 1
- Secularisation part 2
- Modernity, postmodernity and religion

Social groups and religious participation
- Social class, and age and religious participation
- Gender and religious participation
- Ethnicity and religious participation

Churches, denominations and sects
Even though individuals can have own religious beliefs without belonging to a religious, most believers are members of religious organisation which can shape their practices and beliefs.
Ernst Troeltsch(1912
) defined the difference between churches and sects;
= large organisations with millions of members. Run by a bureaucratic hierarchy paid officials so usually quite rich. They try to protect a monopoly of truth which they say they, and only they have. They attempt to be universal but are more attractive for higher classes. Usually tied to the state e.g. Briitsh Queen head of state and church. Usually born into this religion, and it doesn't place many demands on members.
Example = Roman Catholic Church
Evaluation of Definition of Church
Steve Bruce(1996)
sees this definition as being appropriate for pre-modern Christian societies however points out that since M Luther in 1517 questioned medieval church there has been religious pluralism. There are a number of organisations today which are generally seen as churches but do not conform to Troeltsch's definition; many churches don't have majority of populations e.g. in 2005 only 870000 people were active members of CofE and Anglican churches. Also churches don't claim monopoly of religious truth but tolerate the existence of other religions.
= according to Troeltsch sects are opposite of churches, only similarity is that they both claim to have 'monopoly of truth'. They are small, exclusive groups who are generally tile to wider society and expect high level of commitment from members. Draw its members from oppressed and poor, many led by charismatic leader - 'chosen one.' Tend to be radical rather than conservative and have different values and norms than wider society. Can look forward to 'great event.'
Richard Niebuhr(1929)
describes denominations as midway between churches and sects; they have a professional clergy like churches but it is less complex, they are less exclusive than sects but don't appeal to wider society like churches. They accept societies values but aren't linked to state and impose minor restrictions on followers e.g. discouraged from drinking and gambling, but aren't as demanding as sects. Unlike churches and sects they don't claim a monopoly of truth as they have to coexist with other religious groups.
Example = Methodist
David Koresh and the Branch Davidians
Example of a sect = Branch Davidians
; In the 1990's David Koresh took over sect in Waco, Texas and claimed to followers he was David the Lamb from the Bible, and that apocalyptic end of earth was imminent. He demanded absolute loyalty from members e.g. requiring men to allow him to sleep with wives and daughters. The sect stockpiled weapons and when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to raid compound they were met with armed resistance - four BATF agents and several Davidians killed. After 51 days an attempt to end siege led to fire which killed almost 80 Davidians.
Evaluation of traditional religious typology
Steve Bruce(1995)
argues both churches and sects drifted towards characteristics of denominations; churches no longer claim monopoly of truth or are universal so therefore more like denominations. And groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses now seen as denominations rather than sects.
Alan Aldridge(2000)
argues that groups such as the Church of Latter Day Saints(Mormons) have ambitious position - in USA they are seen as one of any denominations where as in Uk they are seen as more deviant and therefore, a sect.
Cults, sects and new religious movements
Cults sprang up 1960's and 70's in the USA and Europe.
Steve Bruce(2005)
defines cults as a 'loosely knit group organised around some common themes and interests, lacking any sharply defined and exclusive belief system.' They don't necessarily involve belief in God, tolerate and accept other religions, and many lack clear rules about how they believe their supporters should behave. Rather than 'believers' they tend to have 'customers' who buy the services of organisation but aren't required to have great commitment to it.

Stark and Bainbridge(1985)
offer alternative view; see cults as any organisation that had beliefs that are novel to a society. Cults are not
from existing religions like sects are, they're devised new set.imported set of beliefs or religious tradition from outside that particular society. E.g. some cults based ideas upon science fiction or Freudian psychology. Others have imported ideas from Eastern religions such as Buddhism, into Western societies.
Roy Wallis(1974): similarities and differences
Highlights two characteristics of religious organisations:
Churches and Sects claim their faith is the only legitimate faith - they are uniquely legitimate
Denominations and Cults accept there's other valid interpretations - they're pluralistically legitimate
Churches and Denominations are see as respectable and legitimate(they conform to norms and values)
Sects and Cults seen as deviant(don't conform to norms and values)
New Religious Movements

Roy Wallis(1984)
describes the rapid growth of small religious organisations in the 1970's as new religious movements. He distinguishes between three types; world-rejecting religious movements, world-affirming religious movements and world-accommodating new religious movements.
World-rejecting religious movements
Most in common with sects
Members make sharp break from conventional life
Need absolute devotion from followers
Act as total institiution(controls all aspects of life)
Known for brainwashing
Most movements base life around a commune
Members lead asceptic lifestyle
Examples = People's Temple, Branch Davidians and the Children of God.
World-affirming new religious movements
Most in common with cults - lack of typical characteristics of a religion e.g. belief in God
Followers unlikely to live in commune but likely to give up aspects of life
Positive about the world; argue individuals lack something spiritual which prevents them from achieving fulfillment and success
Offer followers access to supernatural/spiritual powers - enhance ability to lead successful, fufilled life
Examples = Scientology and
Transcendental Meditation
World-accommodating new religious movements
Often break-offs or 'schisms' from mainstream churches/denominations e.g. Pentecostalists break off from Catholism
They neither accept or reject the world, simply live with it
More concerned with religious, rather than worldly, matters
Seek to restore spiritual purity to a religion they believe has lost its core values
Members tend to lead conventional lives
Examples = Subud and
People's Temple
Set up in 1955 by Reverend Jim Jones, group recruited affluent white followers and black ghetto from Northern California. Had radical ideology based on combination of religion and Marxism. Sect was strictly controlled by charismatic leader who claimed to be able to perform miracle medical cures. Under investigation by US authorities they moved to rainforests of Guyana where they withdrew from outside world. In 1978 sect was investigated again and US congressman and several journalists were killed. Fearing the consequences members agreed to commit mass suicide - 900 members died from poisoning.
Most committed suicide but some appeared
to have been injected.
Transcendental Meditation
Based on Hindu religion, first introduced into West in late 1950's by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who for a while was followed by The Beatles. It teaches a meditational technique in which followers given individual mantra where they concentrate for 20 minutes twice a day - clamied that this technique can provide 'unbounded awareness' with beneficial effects for individual and society. Most followers pay for few sessions to learn technique then practice as home, few followers that base lives around TM.
A Christian group which argues that original teachings of Bible have been watered down. In particular the importance of Holy Spirit has been neglected by other forms of Christianity. They believe that Holy Spirit can speak directly through human bodies - they therefore engage in practice of 'speaking in tongues' where they feel possessed by spirit who communicates through their mouths. Although they have radical religious views, neo-Pentecostalists are otherwise conforming to society. Group particularly appeals to Black-African and African-Caribbean populations in
UK and USA.
Criticisms of Wallis
Middle ground: Wallis admits some organisations do not fit into his typology e.g. members may live in commune but hold a conventional job. Example of this is Healthy, Happy, Holy Organisation(3HO), based on Sikh religion. They live in communes/ashrams but work outside sect. Another example is the Divine Light Mission.
argues that the categories in Wallis' scheme are hard to apply because it's not clear whether the teaching of the movement, or the beliefs of individuals members are more important. Also argues Wallis does not take account the diversity of views that exist within a single organisation.
Stark and Bainbridge: categorising religions
Stark and Bainbridge(1985)
are critical of all typologies, arguing there's always overlaps between categories. Instead they rank organisations in terms of their degree of tension with society - ranging from churches at one end to cults. However they classify smaller relgious organisations into their own typology:
Sects = small religious groups, break-offs from existing religions, in high degree of tension from outside world
Cults = small religious groups, either a new religion or based upon religion from another society. Three main types...
Audience cults =
require little commitment from their followers and often act as little more than form of entertainment. Example is astrology.
Client cults =
offer services to followers who are seen as customers, they offer way of enhancing life rather than an alternative lifestyle. Examples are Scientology and Transcendental Meditation .
Cults movements =
members expect to give aspects of life up e.g. living in commune. They offer members a complete spiritual package including answers to questions like what happens after death. Example is Heaven's Gate.
Criticisms of Stark and Bainbridge
A problem with Stark and Bainbridge's defintions is that they argue that typologies don't adequately categorise religions because the boundaries aren't clear cut yet produce their own typology which could be critisised for the same reason(ironic ennit).For example it's unclear how much involvement members have to have for an organisation to be regarded as a cult movement rather than a client cult.
The growth of sects and cults
Religious sects and cults have existed for centuries, but most current ones originated in 20th century. Many of these new organisations appeared in 1960's and 70's. For example between 1995 and 2005 the number of Scientologists grew from 121800 to 165000. However the reliability of these figures can be questioned e.g. Scientologists class anyone who has completed a Scientology course as a member. There are also many nontrinitarian groups; 547000 members of such groups in 2005.
The development of sects
The New Age
Max Weber(1922)
argued sects tend to develop amongst
marginal groups
in society(people outside mainstream of social life - feel like they're not receiving status and economic rewards they deserved) These sects tend to develop
theodicy of disprivilege
(a religious explanation and justification for their disadvantage, often promising them salvation in afterlife).
Brian Wilson(1970)
argues that situations such as defeat in war, natural disaster and economic collapse could lead to groups becoming marginalised and turning to new religions. Some of those recruited to new religious movements in 1960s were from disadvantaged backgrounds e.g. Black Muslims largely recruited very poor black Americans.
Although most members of world-rejecting new religious movements were drawn from young, white middle-class Americans and Europeans, Wallis argues that despite their backgrounds many of these recruits were marginal to society - they were often drug users, hippies, drop-outs or surfers(random).
Relative Deprivation
The sense of marginaisation experienced by young, middle-class Americans can be explained through concept of relative deprivation. This refers to people experiencing sense of deprivation(or lacking of something) even if they are not economically poor.
believes that in 1960s a significant number of young people felt spiritually deprived in a world they saw as too materialistic and impersonal. Sects and cults offered them an opportunity to regain sense of spiritual wholeness.
Social change
The growth of new religious movements
Brian Wilson(1970)
argues that sects arise during periods of rapid social change, when traditional norms are disrupted, and social relationships come to lack consistent meaning. An early example of this is Methodist movement, which started off as sect. This movement could be seen as response of the urban working class to the chaos and uncertainty of life in the new industrial towns and cities. It offered support to those trying to make sense of, and survive in, the new hostile environment.
Steve Bruce(1996)
sees development of sects and cults as reaction to modernisation and secularisation. As conventional institutional religion has lost it's influence, people have turned to alternatives. More recently, as people have strong religious beliefs and commitments, cults have become popular because they generally
require fewer sacrifices and little religious observance.
Roy Wallis(1984)
gave specific reasons for the development of new religious movements in the 1960s which were:
The growth of higher education created extended period of transition between childhood and adulthood - this left young people with a period of freedom where they could experiment
A belief that new technology would lead to end of both scarcity and the need for commitment to hard work
The growth of radical of radical political movements provided an alternative to dominant social norms and values
NRM's offer possibility of more spiritual and caring of life.
argues that in the 1970s the hippie culture and counter-culture had failed to change the world and by the end of this decade some young people were becoming disillusioned with movement. Consequently, they sought another path to salvation, through religion rather than through peace and love.

World-affirming new religious movements
These tend to appeal to those aspiring to be successful while still seeking a spiritual side to lives.
believes that world-affirming religious movements are largely a response to the rationalisation of the modern world, in which organisations and people are primarily concerned with achieving specific objectives rather than achieving a sense of fulfillment. Modern life is fragmented and people may have little sense of identity - world-affirming movements can fill this gap.
Middle ground groups developed more from the mid-1970s as economic recession began to bite following a long period of prosperity.
argues that these groups appealed mainly to
former drop-outs who sought a path back
towards participation in society.
Sects as short-lived organisations:
H.R Niebuhr(1929)
argued that sects could not survive more than a single generation without changing or disappearing - the reasons for this were...

Sect membership is based upon voluntary adult commitment where people choose to follow the beliefs of the religion. Once members start to have children, the children themselves cannot give the same commitment because they are not old enough to understand the teachings of the sect. Because of this, they will not have the same fervour as the first generation, the organisation will become less extreme and will turn into a denomination.
Sects that depend upon charismatic leader gtend to disappear when leader dies. Alternatively following the death, the organisation might develop bureaucratic structure - therefore tends to become denomination.
Niebuhr believed that ideology of many sects contains seeds of its own destruction. Sects with an ascetic creed will encourage their members to work hard and save money. As a result, the members will be upwardly socially mobile and will no longer want to belong to an organisation that caters for marginal members of society. Sect would accommodate this by becoming a denomination or disappear as members left.
Niebuhr's ideas can be illustrated
by example of Methodists - they were originally a radical group opposed to conventional religions, were marginal members of society. However as membership rose in status it became a denomination and its rejection of society was watered down. Another reason why sects or cults may disappear is because of the death of members through mass suicide, murder or confrontation with authorities.
Examples =
The People's Temple, who were all poisoned in jungles of Guyana, Heaven's Gate, who all committed mass suicide and Branch Davidians, whom many died in fire following confrontation with the US authorities.
The life-cycle of sects
Brian Wilson(1966)
rejected Niebuhr's thesis that all sects are short-lived. Points out that some sects survive for long periods, argued that key factor influencing future of sects was their belief about how they could be saved. He identifies two types of sects:
; they attempt to convert as many people as possible and are likely to expand and become a denomination.
Adventist sects
; they believe that God will return to judge people and only sect members will gain entrance to heaven. Membership is restricted and therefore likely to remain in exclusive sect(e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses)
More recently,
) has argued that sects that survive a long time e.g. Quakers and Pentecostalists, have succeeded in recruiting the children of followers and intergrating them into the sect. This has helped to keep sect isolated from secular influences in society at large. However eventually, rising educational standards, increased opportunities and, with new media and globalisation, the difficulties of isolating the sect from wider society may threaten the ability of sects to survive as highly religious organisations.
Internal ideology and the wider society
takes a more complex view, arguing that the future of sects depends both on internal ideology and external circumstances.
World-rejecting sects
often change their stance as time passes e.g. in 1970s, economic recession discouraged individuals from dropping out of societies and groups such as the Children of God softened their hostility to society. Wallis notes groups may be destroyed by actions of charismatic leader but points out that new groups in society become marginal - new sects develop. This type of organisation is unstable, few do survive long term though e.g. Unificationists.

World-affirming movements
often sell their services as commodity, so like businesses they can suffer from lack of customers and competition. However groups will not necessarily disappear - some will change to another type of organisation e.g. in 1970s Transcendental Meditation grew even more world-affirming in order to broaden appeal. These types of groups are flexible and can evolve as circumstances change.
World-accommodating movements
tend to be most stable type of NRM, continuing for long periods without major changes.
Movements of the middle-ground
tend to be very unstable, likely to shift between being world-rejecting and world-affirming depening on needs of membership. This can lead to splits within movement e.g. the Process Church split into two factions in 1973.

Stark and Bainbridge(1985)
have an alternative view that sects are short-lived but because they are constantly being replaced by new ones there is a frequent turnover in membership and organisations.
The term 'the new age' rose in 1980s however beliefs similar to what's called the New Age now were present in earlier decades in some NRM's and cults. In general the New Age refers to a set of beliefs and activities which contain a spiritual element but aren't organised in the same way as traditional religion. Often New Age beliefs exist independent of any organisations and spread through aspects of culture such as films, music,
shops and seminars.
Paul Heelas et al(2000)
describes enviroment in which New Age exists as
holistic milieu
. Unlike the
congregational domain
, where people meet regularly for collective worship, the holistic milieu involves more one-to-one activities e.g. between a healer and a client, and small group activities e.g. yoga classes. Examples of New Age beliefs are; clairvoyance, Scientology, Paganism, witchcraft or magic, Feng shui and forms of alternative medicine.
Themes of the New Age
New Age beliefs are extremely diverse but
Paul Heelas(1996)
identifies two main themes that run through all varieties;
- instead of looking to a traditional religion, look inside yourself or a sense of spirituality. Rather than worshipping external Gods, attempt to perfect yourself and discover your hidden, spiritual depths.
- rejection of traditional sources of authority such as churches and conventional moral or ethical values. You are responsible for own actions and for discovering your own truth through getting in touch with spirituality.
Despite existence of these common themes, Heelas says there's variations within the New Age;
World-affirming with emphasis on outer world - focus on practical usefulness of New Age for achieving objectives e.g. practising Transcendental Meditation to help you succeed in your career.
World-rejecting with emphasis on inner world of individual - focus on turning away from world and worldly success, towards inner reflection e.g. Buddhist meditation.
Best of both worlds with inner and outer emphasis - combines desire for spiritual satisfaction and worldly success. Most aspects of New Age e.g. spiritual healing, combine the two.
Reasons for the growth of the New Age
Postmodernists such as
John Drane(1999)
see growth of New Age as response to failure of the emphasis on science and material success in modernity. The Enlightenment beliefs of the 17th and 18th centuries claimed that science and rationality could solve the world's problems. However, events like global warming have shown that harm can be done in the name of progress. As a result New Agers are turning away from science to an era of postmodernity where they look for inner spiritual satisfaction.
Steve Bruce(1995)
does not believe we have moved to an era of postmodernity but sees New Age as product of modernity. Modernity emphasises individualism, he sees New Age as extreme version of individualism. New Age is closely linked to the human potential movement in which people believe that through self-improvement they can achieve perfection, and in doing so improve the world about them. The New Age particularly appeals to people such as journalists, actors and counsellors. This univerisity-educated middle classes have experienced personal development and believe this is the way to achieve progress. New Age also symptom of the relativism of knowledge in individualistic society; truth depends on personal viewpoint rather than an
objective truth.
Paul Heelas(1996)
also sees New Age as product of modernity - he argues four aspects of modernity give rise to New Age;
people have a multiplicity of roles so they lose a sense of their true self - New Age helps restore this
consumer culture encourages people to attain perfection through what they buy, the attempt to achieve spiritual perfection is extension of this
in rapidly changing society, when traditional norms and values are disrupted, people use spiritual beliefs to avoid insecurity
decline of traditional religion e.g. Christianity, leaves spiritual gap which is partially filled by the New Age
Churches, denominations and sects:
Ernst Troeltsch(1912)
Steve Bruce(1996)
Example = Branch Davidians
Richard Niebuhr(1929)
Steve Bruce(1995)
Alan Aldridge(2000)
Cults, sects and new religious movements:
Steve Bruce(2005)
Stark and Bainbridge(1985)
Roy Wallis(1974)
Stark and Bainbridge(1985)
Roy Wallis(1984)
The growth of sects and cults:
Max Weber(1922)
Brian Wilson(1970)
Brian Wilson(1970)
Steve Bruce(1996)
Roy Wallis(1984)
Steve Bruce(1995)
Steve Bruce(1996)
Roy Wallis(1984)
The development of sects:
H. R Niebuhr(1929)
Brian Wilson(1996)
Roy Wallis(1984)
Stark and Bainbridge(1985)
The New Age:
Paul Heelas et al(2000)
Paul Heelas(1996)
John Drane(1999)
Steve Bruce(1995)
Paul Heelas(1996)
Social class and religious participation
For Marxists, social class is related to religious
participation - they believe society is divided into two class the ruling class who own means of production(capital, raw materials etc), and the subject class/working class, who have to work for ruling class.
Karl Marx(1844)
described religion in capitalist societies as the 'opium of the people' - acting like a drug by giving followers false sense of well-being and distorting reality. He believes religion started in subject classes as way of copying with oppression, but was adopted by ruling class as way to justify their advantaged position in society. Marx therefore believed that all classes believed in religion although for different reasons.
Neo-Marxists like
Otto Maduro(1982)
argue that where religious movements become a radical force for change they can become dominated by subject class. Example = liberation theology movement amongst Catholics in
Latin America was supported by poor who wanted
to use religion to improve position in
Social class and types of religious organisation
Although there are no reliable figures on the participation of different social classes in each type of religious organisation, a variety of theorists have suggested that there are links between social class and religious organisations;
Churches =
they aspire to include members of all classes, however in contemporary Britain, upper class and upper middle class are overrepresented because of association with the establishment and generally
conservative ideology.
Denominations =
anti-establishment as they have broken away from religious mainstream. However
notes that they are respectable organisations and therefore don't tend to attract lower classes - they appeal most to upper working class/lower middle class.
Sects =
traditionally have recruited most disadvantaged members of society, require members to give up previous life, so those with much to lose are less likely to join. However can give give deprived a way of copying with disadvantages. The Black Muslims in USA for example tend to recruit most disadvantaged black Americans. Wallis argues that in 1960s and 70s they also began to appeal to 'relatively deprived' middle class of affluent students who were seeking to compensate for their lack of a spiritual life.
Cults/client cults
(identified by Stark and Bainbridge) or
world-affirming religious NRMs
(identified by Wallis)
they appeal to the already successful and affluent who want to become more successful and affluent who want to become more successful. Other cult movements are similar to sects, tend to attract the disadvantaged or relatively deprived.
The New Age =
according to
Paul Heelas(1996)
, New Age tends to appeal to middle class(in particular women).
Steve Bruce(2002)
however believes it appeals to those in expressive professions such as the media, teaching and counselling as they believe in self-improvement and New Age is linked to human potential movement.
Marx's two class system isn't accepted by most sociologists who tend to think in terms of three or four classes; a wealthy upper class, a well-educated middle class with non-manual jobs, a working class with manual jobs and sometimes an underclass of those reliant on benefits.
Otto Maduro and Marx can be linked to Weber's idea of
theodicy of disprivilege
- religions that are rooted in experience of most disadvantaged.
Example = Rastafarianism
, the religion of poor Jamaicans which offers the hope of a return to Africa.

Age and religious participation
Research evidence clearly shows that in the UK, older people are more likely to go to church. According to
, in 1979 the average age of church-goers was 37 but by 2005 it was 49. In 2005, nearly 60% of churches had nobody attending between ages of 15 and 19.
Heelas et al(2005)
also found that most of those involved with new Age movement are middle-aged or older.
Reasons for age differences in participation:
David Voas and Alasdair Crockett(2005)
identify three possible explanations for preponderance of older people
participating in religion...
It could be result of people becoming more religious as they age - could be because of life experiences like having children(they may think it important to socialise children into religious beliefs and therefore return to religion themselves), or because of coming closer to death.
There could be a period effect where those born in particular period (a cohort) are more likely to be religious than those born at another time.
Progressive decline of religion(secularisation) could mean each generation is less religious than previous one.
Using the British Social Attitudes Survey,
Voas and Crockett
found no evidence that people became progressively more religious overtime, or that specific cohorts were becoming less religious. Conclude that secularisation was making each generation less religious than previous one. There was a progressive decline, partly because each generation was less inclined to socialise their children into religious beliefs than previous generation.
Heelas et al(2005)
believe that New Age beliefs in holistic milieu are growing rapidly despite few young people being involved with it.
Gender and religious participation
there's a range of evidence that women tend to participate in religion more than men. The Church Census records participate in churches and denominations in England and Wales - statistics show that between 1979 and 2005 were consistently more likely to attend church.
Opinion poll evidence also suggests women are more religious - a poll in 1990(
Brierley, 2005
) found 84% of women believed in God compared to 64% of men. Evidence on New Age beliefs produced by
Paul Heelas(2005)
suggests that its followers are overwhelmingly female(as well as middle-aged
or older).
found in Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities that Muslim women were more likely to say religion was important to them than men, but men more likely to attend mosques. However this could partly be because some mosques do not welcome women.
Religious participation and attitude to risk
Alan Miller and John Hoffman(1995)
identify two main theories explaining women's greater religiosity:
Differential socialisation =
according to this view, women are taught to be more submissive and passive than men, these characteristics associated with being more religious. Traditional religions tend to expect their followers to be passive and obedient. Research in USA suggests that the less passive and obedient men are, the less likely they are to be involved in religion than other men.

Structural location =
this is the view that women take more part in religion because of their social roles - men more likely to be full-time breadwinner, women more likely to be housewives, work part-time and bring up children. This gives women more time for church-related activities. Furthermore women who don't have paid jobs and may have a need for a role that provides sense of personal identity - religion can fulfil this role. Taking children to church is also extension of mother role, since women tend to be primary carers.

Research suggests that men are more willing to take risks than women - not being religious can be seen as risk taking because of the possibility that it may lead to failure to enter heaven. Miller and Hoffman's research shows that both men and women who are risk averse have high levels of religiosity.
They go on to quote research which suggests that even when these two factors are taken into account, it does not fully explain why women are more religious than men. They argue a third factor is important as well: attitude to risk.
Steve Bruce: gender, religion and secularisation
argues that religion has an affinity with many aspects of femininity; such as those that make women less goal-orientated, more cooperative and less domineering. These attributes fit not just with traditional religion but also with the spiritual beliefs of the New Age. Women particularly attracted to healing and channelling aspects of New Age, whereas men more interested in parapsychology...

Bruce believes modern world has sharp divide; public sphere(paid work and politics) and private sphere(domestic world of family and personal life). He supports theory of secularisation, which argues that not just religion is declining but also it's retreating from public sphere towards private sphere. Because women are closer connected to private sphere than men, women more likely to remain involved in traditional religions. Women tend to become involved in traditional churches because they have particular interest in socialisation of next generation and the control or sexuality. Bruce believes there are differences in which type of religion continues to appeal to women according to their social class:
Working class women tend to continue to support religions, which believe in an all-powerful God and in which they are quite passive
Middle-class women have more experience of controlling their lives and are more attracted to New Age in which individuals can develop own spirituality
Linda Woodhead(2005): gendering secularisation
Like Bruce, Woodhead believes secularisation reduced involvement of men in traditional religion as they became increasingly involved in rationalised modern world. As men withdrew from churches, they became increasingly feminised, began to place more emphasis on love, care and relationships. Then from 1970s onwards, increasing numbers of married women returned to paid work where they too were exposed to rationalised culture of employment. Result = number of women attending church began to decline rapidly.
This helps explain rapid reduction in church attendance in recent decades. Woodhead believes that women still remain more religious than men, partly because emphasis on relationships within churches remains, but also because New Age beliefs helped resolve identity problems of women combining paid work with
caring roles.
Ethnicity and religious participation
Social class, age and participation:
Karl Marx(1844)
Otto Maduro(1982)
Paul Heelas(1996)
Steve Bruce(2002)
Heelas et al(2005)
David Voas and Alasdair Crockett(2005)
Heelas et al(2005)
Gender and religious participation:
Paul Heelas(2005)
Alan Miller and John Hoffman(1998)
Linda Woodhead(2005)
Ethnicity and religious participation:
Modood et al(1997)
John Bird
Steve Bruce(1995)
George Chryssides(1994)
Gilles Kepel(1994)
Modood et al(1997)
Statistics: not surprisingly, religious identity tends to reflect dominant religions in the country of origin for minority ethnic groups(e.g. Hinduism for Indian ethnic minorities and Islam for Pakistani and Bangladeshi minorities)
Survey research from
1997(Modood et al
) looked at participation as well as identification - found that African-Caribbeans had high rates of participation in 20th century sects such as Seventh Day Adventists and the New Testament Church of God. The survey also found big differences in the importance attached to religion e.g. only 11% of white members of Church of England saw religion as very important in their lives, compared to 71% of Caribbean members of New Protestant Churches, 43% of Hindus and 74% of Muslims. Minority ethnic groups,
with exception of Chinese, all more likely to attend
places of worship than whites.
John Bird: explanations for high levels of religiosity
Bird identifies five important reasons why minority ethnic groups are more likely to be religious than majority of white population in Britain;
Many members of minority ethnic groups originate in societies with high levels of religiosity, such as Pakistan and Caribbean.
. Belonging to a minority ethnic group within a society means that religion can be an important basis for sense of community and solidarity - can give members point of contact, sense of identity and introduce them to potential marriage partners.
. Minority groups may see religion as way of maintaining cultural identity in terms of traditions like food, language, music etc.
Socialisation can lead to strong pressure on children to maintain religious commitment
Religious beliefs may be way of copying with sense of oppression. Example = Bird quotes study by Ken Pryce which examined how Pentecostalism acted as way of helping some members of African-Caribbean community in Bristol to cope with low pay and racial discrimination.
Ethnic minority religion, secularisation and revival
Steve Bruce(1995)
accepts that ethnic minorities are more religious than whites in modern Britain, but believes that their religiousity is more an expression of community solidarity than of deep religious commitment. He argues that ethnic minority religious observation stems from both;
cultural defence - using religion as a way of protecting identity in an essentially hostile environment
cultural transition - religion used to cope with upheaval of migration
Bruce believes that over time the generally secular nature of British society will erode importance of religion for ethnic minorities.
George Chryssides(1994)
takes more complex view - identifies three possible paths for immigrants and their descendants in terms of religion;
apostasy - beliefs abandoned in hostile environment
accommodation - religious beliefs adapted to take account of changed situation
renewed vigour - religion reasserted more strongly than ever as response to actual or perceived hostility
Chryssides believes that the general pattern in UK has been accommodation and renewed vigour. Example = accommodations such as Muslim women dressing modestly yet fashionably. Or increased vigour, example = finding new converts.
Gilles Kepel(1994)
argues that there's been a general religious revival in world for both minority and majority religions. Argues that Muslims have retained and strengthened faith in response to upsurge of Islamic beliefs throughout world.
Policy Studies Institute Survey
Some evidence to evaluate these competing claims is provided by Policy Studies Institute Survey
(Modood et al, 1997)
. The survey found that younger Chinese, white and African-Caribbean people considered less likely than older members of these groups to see religion as very important. For other ethnic groups, younger people were marginally less likely than their elders to see religion as important. Thus the survey found evidence that religion was in decline from generation to generation, but at different rates in different ethnic groups. Despite this, the survey also found that religion
remained much stronger in some groups, particularly Muslims, than in the
population as a whole.
part 1

many classic sociologists have argued that growth of scientific knowledge along with industrialisation would lead to secularisation. Secularisation has been defined in variety of ways;
Brian Wilson(1966)
defined it as 'process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance'. However
Steve Bruce(2002)
says 'there is one secularisation theory, rather there are clusters of descriptions and explanations that cohere reasonably well.'
Jose Casanova(2003)
distinguishes between two general approaches to defining secularisation...
An emphasis on the declining importance of religion in terms of social structure and significance of religion in society. This often involves separation of religious life from the public sphere so that it becomes a private matter.
. Using term secularisation more narrowly to refer to decline of religious belief and practices amongst individuals.
Glock and Stark(1969)
argue that there are multiple aspects of secularisation, partly because there's no general agreement about what characterises a truly religious society. Different aspects of secularisation will be dealt with individually.
Classical theorists and secularisation
Sociologists from a wide variety of perspectives have argued that secularisation either was already taking place or would take place in future...
Karl Marx
- cause of secularisation would be eventual production of communist society in which there were no classes. Secularisation would be complete disappearance of religion, which would no longer be needed.
Emile Durkheim
- cause of secularisation would be industrialisation leading to greater division of labour and the decline of mechanical solidarity(based on similarity) and increase in organic solidarity(based on
mutual interdependence).

Carrying on with
Emile Durkheim's
view on secularisation, he says secularisation would be the gradual reduction in importance of religion for providing shared beliefs and therefore the intergration of society. Education would partly take its place, religion would survive but become less functionally important.
Max Weber

thinks cause of secularisation would be rationalisation of modern world, in which people become primarily concerned with planning the most efficient ways of achieving their objectives. This would be caused by development of science, the increasing importance of bureaucratic organisations and the rational, planned nature of capitalist society.
For him secularisation would be the gradual reduction in importance of faith and increased emphasis on knowledge based on evidence
and actions designed to achieve goals.
Religious participation: church attendance and membership in the UK
Researchers who emphasise decline of religious belief and practice have used data relating to religious participation as evidence to support their case:
1851 Census of Churches found under 40% of population attended church on Sundays. In
2005, Brierley
found just 6.8% of adult population regularly attended church
Between 1979 and 2005, attendance at Catholic, Anglican, United Reformed and Orthodox churches declined nearly 50%. Attendance at free churches(Methodist, Pentecostalist etc) and new churches also declined around 25%
Attendance at special Christian ceremonies declined rapidly; in 1930s over 90% of children baptised, by 2000 this dropped to 45%
Decline in church membership as rapid as decline in attendance for most Christian religions. However, proportion of population belonging to non-Christian religions doubled between 1975 and 2000
(Brierley, 2001)
Interpreting the evidence
Most of the above evidence to suggest secularisation is taking place(at least in UK), however there are questions about reliability and validity of statistics:
19th century stats pose problems because standards of data collection may not meet contemporary standards for reliability
different criteria are used to record membership in different religions
UK stats on church attendance based on annual survey conducted on one day in November which may not be typical of attendance at other times of year
The validity of using attendance stats as
way of measuring religion is also
open to question...
In the 19th century people may have attended church as sign of respectability without being truly religious. Today people may attend church in order to get children into religious school, even if they have no religious beliefs. Furthermore, today, religion may be expressed in other ways. It may have become more privatised, with people practising religion or developing own beliefs away from institution.
Religious participation outside the UK
If theory of secularisation is applied globally then evidence does not support it(as it appears to in UK). In USA religious participation is higher than most of Europe with 40% attending regularly. According to Brierley(2001) 34.5% of world population were Christian in 1990, by 2000 this declined to 33%. The proportion has declined in Europe but increased in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Brierley says there has been big increase in proportion of world who are Islamic, his figures suggest small decline in proportion of people who are atheists and therefore, small increase in total number of religious people in world.
Religious belief
Membership and attendance provide only one way of measuring religious belief, since people may be religious outside context of organised religion. Opinion poll evidence does suggest that religious belief has declined - between 1947 and 2000 belief in God declined substantially, although general spiritual beliefs may have partly replaced traditional beliefs in God. This suggests shift away from traditional religion to more generalised spiritual beliefs - this fits in with ideas from Heelas and Woodhead.
Opinion poll = 'personal belief in God', 1947 - 45%, 2000 - 26%. 'there is some sort of spirit of life force', 1947 - 39%, 2000 - 21%. 'I don't think there is any God, spirit of life force', 1947 -
Not applicable, 2000 - 15%.
Steve Bruce(2001)
argues that those who say 'there is something out there' are not expressing strong ort significant beliefs, therefore opinion poll data shows significant weakening of religious beliefs. However 2001 census in Britain found most of population profess to belong to a religion. Of those answering, 71.6% said Christian, 2.7% Muslim, 1% Hindu, 0.6% Sikh, 0.5% Jewish, 0.3% Buddhist and 0.3% other religions. 15.5% said they had no religion. However validity of this data may be questioned since over 390000 people said they were Jedis or Jedi knights. Also many of those stating there religion may have weak affliliation. In contrast, survey research in 2003 found that 41% said they had no religion. Supporters of secularisation theory found those claiming a Christian affilation unconvincing - arguing people may be saying more about background than religious beliefs.
Religious pluralism
Some researchers imply that truly religious society has one faith and one church. This situation may be characteristic of small-scale societies like Australian Aborigines studied by Durkheim, but in modern industrial societies religious pluralism, existence of many different faiths, is more typical. Supporters of secularisation theory e.g. Steve Bruce, sugest this creates situation where religion is no longer central feature of society but more matter of personal choice.
claims that, as a consequence, strong religion, which dominates people's lives, declines and is replaced by weak religion - which involves tolerance of different beliefs and has limited influence over people's lives.

To Bruce fragmented/pluralistic societies(modern UK) don't lend themselves to having religion that exercises strong influence. However critics of secularisation theory believe religious pluralism is not incompatible with a strongely religious society - people may have different beliefs but hold them strongly. E.g. in Northern Ireland, Christianity is more strongly followed than in England even though there is a major division between Catholics and Protestants.
Ethnicity and religious diversity
On face of it, minority ethnic groups in Britain seem to contradict theory of secularisation because they appear to have stronger religious beliefs than white British people. However Steve Bruce(1996) believes that greater participation is not result of deep religious conviction but serves particular function for minority ethnic and migrant groups. These functions are...
Cultural defence - where two communities are in conflict and have different beliefs, religion becomes way of asserting ethnic pride. Similarly, when a minority ethnic group feels hostility from wider society, religion can be way of achieving community solidarity.
Cultural transition - religion also be useful where people have to adjust identity to deal with thier changed situation. For example Asian and African-Caribbean migrants to Britain can use mosques, temples and churches as centres for their communities.
To Bruce these processes keep religion relevant but don't create genuinely religious society. However
disagrees and argues that ethnic defence is crucial function of religion in modern world - leads to revival of religion, it creates more religious societies.
finds little evidence of decline in religion amongst ethnic minorities - very few have abandoned their religion and become apostates. Instead most have continued their religious beliefs, with some accommodation to their changed situation. (accommodation = religious beliefs are adapted from changed situation)
Secularisation part 2
Sects, cults and secularisation: supporters of secularisation theory don't see existence and apparent growth of sects, NRMs and cults as providing evidence against decline in the importance of religion...
Bryan Wilson(1982) argues that such religious movements and organisations are 'almost irrelevant' to society as a whole. Their members live in own enclosed encapsulated little words which suggests they largely provide religion for 'dropouts'. Membership numbers small, membership often short-lived.
Peter Berger(1970) desribed sects

Modernity, postmodernity and religion
Postmodern ideology

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