Definitions of religion tend to be either substantive or functional. Substantive definitions try to uncover the essence of religion, in other words what religion is.
Functional approaches place more emphasis on the effect of a religion, which means what a religion does. Religion is one of the major social institutions in society. Many sociologists believe that religion has three typical characteristics these are, “1) An organised collectively of individuals, with 2) a shared system of beliefs and 3) a set of approved activities and prac- tices.
” (Taylor, P (1995))Religious groups can have significant affects on the socialisation process.
In Christian societies the Ten Commandments show how social norms can be integrated by religious beliefs. Functionalists believe that belief in Gods and Spirits originate in ancestral spirits of dead relatives. They beliefs are that souls represent presence of social values. Therefore worshipping souls shows that they are again worshipping a social group or a society.
Functionalists also believe that religion helps us when we are in a crisis.
Worshipping sacred things also brings social solidarity and social unity.Durkheim created an analysis that religion begins with the claim that all societies divide the world into sacred things and profane things. Durkheim believed these things must be represented by symbols.
These symbols would then represent the basic set of shared beliefs, traditions, and norms that make social life possible. These are known as collective consciousness. The worshipping of sacred things functions to bind together a society’s members. When celebrating myths or coming together in mourning rituals, society’s members are thereby renewing their sense of membership and unity.
Durkheim suggested a religion could be seen as a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things. Parsons agreed with Malinowski that religion is addressed to particular problems that occur in all societies. Problems that disrupt society fall into two categories. One of the categories is that individuals are hit by events they cannot foresee; an example of one of these events is death.
Weber provided an alternative definition of religion. Weber moved away from the exclusive emphasis on the social grounding of religion, and highlights the meaning of religion for individuals.According to Weber the concern of the sociologist should not be the essence of religion, he thought it was rather the task to understand religion as part of meaningful human behaviour. Functionalists look at religion in a very positive way.
They see that religion gives meaning to life, and that it helps answer our questions about ourselves, and the world we live in. Religion also helps others make sense of their experiences. A criticism of the functionalist view is that it ignores dysfunctional views of life. The functionalist view gives very little consideration to hostility between religious groups.
Conflict between groups within the same religion is a recurring feature of world religions. It also ignores frequent examples of internal divisions within a community. Through the discussion of religion the topic of measuring religiosity has been brought up. People have thought they are indicators that may be possible to measure degrees of religiousness.
Particular indicators may apply more to one individual, group, or religion than others at any particular time. The measuring of religiousness is explained through five dimensions of religiosity.The five dimensions are Belief, Practice, Experience, Knowledge, and Consequence. The Belief dimension refers to the core beliefs of a religion.
Practice is the acts of worship carried out by people. The Experience dimension refers to the expectation that religiosity involves subjective feelings and perceptions. The Knowledge dimension refers to the extent of understanding the basic tenets of a religion, and the Consequence dimension extends the idea of religious commitment beyond the first four criteria and focuses on their effects of everyday life.There are two essential elements in the Marxist perspective on religion.
The first is descriptive, and the second perspective is evaluative. Marx described religion as a dependant variable. This meant its form and nature were dependant on social and economic relations. For Marxists peoples religious beliefs reflect their alienation.
According to the Marxist sociologists’ religion comes from the oppressed. It was believed that religion dulls the pain caused by oppression. The Marxists also believe that religion does not solve any problems, they believe religion is just a bad attempt to make life more bearable.Promises of afterlife and hopes of an intervention from a supernatural being to make peace on Earth are the issues the oppressed look for.
Marx thought religious beliefs and practices arise in response to people’s lack of control of their destiny and their oppression. Marx analyses of religion form part of a wider critique of social structures regarded as tools of control and manipulation used by dominant groups. Marx did not regard religion within a capitalist society as redemptive in any way.He believed it to be a powerful ideology used to express and reinforce class divisions within a capitalist society.
In Medieval Europe the church taught that the various unequal estates of the realm such as the Monarch, Barons, and Bishops were Gods creations. This meant that attempts to change the social order would have been not merely acts of treason but also a blasphemous rejection of Gods plan, punishable by eternal damnation. In modern capitalist societies such religious teachings have been abandoned. Marx’s basic premise was that religion is a human phenomenon rather than a supernatural one.
He believed that religion arises in society out of human need, either as a spontaneous invention by the oppressed to make sense of their condition or as an ideology by the ruling class. Marx believed that religion couldn’t be divorced by social context in which it is found, as the social context is the basis of both its origin and its form. In Marx’s view ‘Man makes religion, religion does not make the man’. Marx argues that religion not only has a drug-like effect on the masses but also functions for the dominant class in sustaining the status quo.
Religion justifies for them their social and political status as well as maintaining their position by diverting the revolutionary potential of the oppressed. There are similarities with Durkheim in the sense that Marx seems to be explaining away religion by regarding it as purely of social origin. There are many current dilemmas with the sociology of religion. Sociologists study the edges of religion but never seem to explore the details in the middle.
Many sociologists have assumed that the picture in the middle is blurred because it is fading away.A hundred years ago, sociologists predicted the gradual decline and even the disappearance of religion. Religion can contribute both to social integration and to conflict. Functionalist’s approaches have tendered to emphasize integrative effects.
Marxist analyses of religion traditionally present it as a powerful ideology that expresses and reinforces class division and oppression. However some Neo-Marxists have recognised the revolutionary potential of religion as an agent of social change. Despite predictions of the decline and eventual disappearance of religion it still remains a powerful political and cultural force on a global scale.
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