Wednesday 12 March 2014

Religion as a Conservative Force

Religion as a Conservative Force


Religion is a social institution that provides society with a value consensus, a specialised division of labour and social order. Functionalists believe that religion is a conservative force as it stays the same and keeps other things the same.

There are three functions of religion:
  1. Socialisation (Parsons).
  2. Collective Conscience (Durkheim).
  3. Psychological Functions (Malinowski)
Durkheim: Believed that religion is totemism, his study of the Australian Aborigines allowed him to prove that religion was bringing communities together under a symbol. He calls this a 'collective conscience' as everyone is together in agreement. He believes that all religious experience is collective (integration). It teaches norms and values (latency). Therefore religion is expressive and prevents suicide due to the pre-requisites that it instils. He argues that religion is a metaphor for altruism, as it teaches people that God is special and that people are normal, but, they're not really worshipping a God they are worshipping society. Society is more important than the individual.

Parsons: Argues that religion maintains the value consensus through socialisation as it provides people with sacred moral codes, if people do not follow this code then there will be sanctions in the afterlife.

Malinowski: Studied the Trobriand Island. He found that they had a rite of passage known as the 'kula', which was giving shells to other islands as a way of maintaining friendships however this was a dangerous act. He found that they would use their religion during these periods of uncertainty to give them comfort, they also used it as a form of overcoming 'the crises of life' (grief). He argues that the same occurs during our society as people often turn to God during times of need. He calls all of this 'psychological functions'.

Rob Bellah: 'Civil Religion', supports Durkheim's theory of totemism. He argues that America is the land of immigrants so the government had to find a way of uniting everyone under one banner, so they created 'Americanism'. They created the idea of an American God that united everyone together and the symbol is the flag. People are not worshipping a God, they are worshipping the fact that they are from America.

Grace Davie: Criticises Durkheim as religion does not always have to be collective. 'Vicarious religion'. She looked at religious involvement in Sweden, they have the lowest church attendance on record. She found that although they don't go to church, they voluntarily pay extra taxes in order to maintain the church and pay for a professional clergy that pray on their behalf. She argues that they don't have enough time so they have someone else do it for them. People can stay at home without feeling guilty. When there are 'interruptions to normality' people know that the church will always be there. She argues that people 'believe without belonging'.

Robert Merton: 'Dysfunctions', argues that religion can cause wars as well as providing social order.

Heelas: Argues that people don't like 'Congregational domain' (traditional churches), these are in decline in the post-modern world as people don't like being told what to do and do not accept what they have to say. Identities are fluid, people would have been in one religion previously but now they are not as they have a choice. People are starting to experiment with 'Hollistic millieu' (NAMs/NRMs). These are now replacing religion, therefore functionalism is a meta-narrative as they do not talk about NAMs.

Terry Sanderson: 'Church attendance', he argues that religion cannot be a collective conscience as only 4% of the population attends church. He claims that the church has lost its core business, 'hatch, match and dispatch' (christenings, weddings and funerals). However people are now going to alternatives instead of going to the church.


Written in the 1800's, the modernist era. It is a structural theory. It is a conflict theory around social class and economic inequality.
  1. Primitive Communism – There is no concept of private property and everything’s shared within communities. People are in promiscuous hordes.
  2. Ancient Societies – The first signs of a class system, agriculture grows forming a new wealthy elite. They want to possess as much land as possible, therefore taking over other countries.                                                                                                              REVOLUTION – Those that were enslaved realised that they needed to break down the empire as the elite were too weak.
  3. Feudalism – The leaders of the resistance form the new aristocracy who take over from the ruling class. Religion is created by the aristocracy to avoid another revolution and to give them the divine right to rule, Marx refers to this as the 'opium of the people'. People began to trade their resources with one another.
  4. Capitalism – The merchants become the leaders as they could provide for the masses better than the monarchy, they became the Bourgeoisie.                                               REVOLUTION – Socialism, 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat'. The masses will work together to create a Communist society.
  5. Communism – Society is perfect, there is no need for religion as it oppresses.

Marxists believe that religion is a conservative force and prevents change/revolution. It was created by the Monarchy during Feudalism as a way of controlling the peasants and giving them the divine right to rule. As a result, religion was adopted by the Bourgeoisie as in a Capitalist society religion would be part of the superstructure that helped to maintain the false class consciousness.

Marx: 'Opium of the masses, the sigh of the oppressed creature'. He argued that religion is the drug of the people, it keeps the Proletariat passive and maintains the false class conscious. It dulls the pain of exploitation.

Engels: 'Salvation in the afterlife'. Argues that the point of religion is to prevent revolution. It does this by justifying the suffering as a test from God and by passing the test you are earning your right to go to heaven. Extreme poverty will always exist within Capitalism as inequality is a key part of Capitalism. In a way, Christianity is similar to Marxism as they are both trying to help the poor but the difference is the answer, Christianity claims that salvation will be achieved in the afterlife, Marxists argue that salvation can occur in Communism. An example of this is third world countries who are some of the most religious countries in the world.

Halevy: Argues that religion can prevent a revolution. Since industrialisation there hasn't been a revolution in Britain, this is because religion and the creation of the Methodist church. During early industrialisation the Proletariat were becoming upset with the Church of England and were alienated from the church. The Proletariat were beginning to walk away from religion which could result in a revolution, so the Bourgeoisie created a new type of religion, the Methodist church. This was designed to the needs of the working class. This kept the workers in religion and prevented a revolution.

Hook: Blames the Catholic church from inequality as they benefit from it and want to maintain it. If the Catholic church wanted to eradicate poverty and AIDs in Africa then they could, but they don't want to. There is overpopulation and STDs in Africa, the Catholic church preaches to them that contraception is a sin, particular priests have been known to pierce condoms to prove that they are ineffective. They maintain this inequality to maintain their membership.

Leach: Argues that the Church of England reflects the interests of the wealthy. The church of England is dominated by the wealthy, 80% of Bishops were educated at Oxbridge, therefore their views only represent the rich.

Otto Maduro: 'Liberation theology'. Argues that in extreme circumstances religion can be a force for social change. Discusses South America in the 1960s, there was a lot of poverty in these countries and were governed by dictatorships, the only place they could turn to was the church. The priests were poor just like everyone else. The priests decided that change needed to occur, they separated themselves from the Catholic church and led a revolution. The priests had this influence as people trusted them. These priests were condemned by the Pope for going against the wishes and teachings of the Catholic church.


Mary Daly: (Christian Feminist). Argues that when religions were polytheistic they were good for gender equality as there were both male and female Gods. However, Christianity hasn't helped gender inequality as it established the dominance of monotheism, which is always male. She argues that the only way equality will be achieved within religion is if the God can be viewed as a woman.

Karen Armstrong: Argues that the worship of men can be seen in the way that the church is run as women are blocked from powerful positions within the church. Due to God being a man, Jesus and his followers being men, women should not be allowed to hold high positions within the church.
The church are making changes and now are planning to allow women to be Bishops, this will occur in 2015. ← They may be diluting their own beliefs in order to maintain their popularity (Herberg).

Bird: Argues that in the Catholic church, Priests are to remain celibate because women are impure and are dirty, and they have to remain completely pure.

Jean Holm: Argues that in Islam, if a woman is menstruating, she is denied access to the mosque. She argues that the devalues women as this is something that they cannot help and it hinders their worship.

Simone de Beauvoir: Views patriarchy in religion the same way as Marx viewed class inequality. Argues that in religion, men are the Bourgeoisie, they control everything. Women are like the Proletariat, they have no power at all, she refers to them as 'second class believers' they are not seen in the same standard as men. She argues that women need to protest against this and change it.

El Sadaawi: (Islamic Feminist). Argues that it is not religion that is patriarchal, it is the male manipulation of religion that has made it patriarchal. An example of this could be that they were the ones who wrote the sacred texts and decided that it was a male God.

Burchill: Argues that the veil is a mobile prison, it is a sign of male ownership.

Helen Watson: Argues that the veil has nothing to do with male property, the real purpose is liberation as many women are judged based on their appearance, therefore western women are oppressed more as they are judged entirely on the way that they are looked, the veil prevents Islamic women from being judged in this way as they are only able to be judged on their intellect.

Mac an Ghail: 'Male gaze', men think that they have the right to look at any attractive female that they see.

Statistics suggest that women are far more likely to go to church than men are.

Miller and Hoffman: Argue that women are more likely to go to church in comparison to men as they have been socialised to seek comfort, they need the protection that it offers.

Greely: Argues that women are far more likely to go to church after they have had children as they want to raise their children properly. It is the sign of a good parent and it is part of their role as the expressive leader.

Linda Woodhead: Argues that things have progressed, the previous theories were written during periods when women were housewives. Now, female employment is more common they may not have time to attend church. She argues that there are three types of women in contemporary society:
  1. Home centred – Women who don't work and have a lot of time on their hands. They are more likely to attend traditional churches.
  2. Work centred – Contemporary women who are in full time employment. They are more likely to be secular as they do not have time to attend church.
  3. Jugglers – The women who attempt to juggle work and religion. As they don't have time to be part of traditional religions, they get involved in NAMs.

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