Sociology: Beliefs in Society A2 AQA

Durkheim (1915) (Functionalist)

Argues religion plays a central part in creating and maintaining value consensus, order and solidarity

The Sacred (Functionalism)

Things set apart and forbidden, inspiring feelings of awe, fear and wonder, with taboos and prohibitions.

The Profane (Functionalism)

Ordinary things that have no special significance.

Rituals (Functionalism)

A religion is more than a set of beliefs, it has sacred rituals or practices and these rituals are collective (performed by social groups)

Totem (Functionalism)

Durkheim studied the Arunta (an Aboriginal Australian Tribe) and found that bands of kin come together to perform ritual worship of a sacred totem - it reinforces the group's solidarity and sense of belonging. When worshipping, they are not worshipping th

The Collective Conscience (Functionalism)

Sacred symbols represent this. The shared norms, values and beliefs that make cooperation between individuals possible. Without these society would disintegrate.

Cognitive Functions of Religion (Functionalism)

This is the ability to reason and think conceptually. Durkheim and Mauss (1903) argue that religion provides categories such as time, space and causation e.g. Ideas about a creator bringing the world at the beginning of time.

Psychological Functions (Functionalism)

Malinowski (1954) argues religion helps promote solidarity by performing psychological functions e.g. coping with stress.
1. Where the outcome is important but uncontrollable and uncertain.
2. At times of life crisis.

Parsons: Values and Meanings (Functionalism)

Parsons (1967) identifies 2 other essential functions of religion:
1. It creates and legitimated society's basic norms and values.
2. It provides a source of meaning, answering 'ultimate questions'.

Civil Religion (Functionalism)

Bellah (1970) argues religion unifies society, especially a multi-faith society e.g. America. It does this by acting as an overarching civil religion - a belief system that attached sacred qualities to society itself.

Karl Marx (Marxist)

Sees society as divided into 2 classes, bourgeois and proletariat. Predicted that the working class would ultimately become aware of their exploitation and overthrow capitalism.

Religion as an Ideology (Marxism)

Believe ideology is a belief system that distorts people's perception of reality. Upper class control the distribution of ideas through religion and education. Religion operates as an ideological weapon justifying the w/c suffering. Lenin (1870 - 1924) be

Religion and Alienation (Marxism)

The working class are becoming separated from or losing control over what they have produced. Workers are alienated as they do not own what they have made and gave no control over the division of labour. Religion is a form of consolation. Acts as an opiat

Althusser (Marxist)

Disagrees with the concept of alienation as its unscientific - this would make the concept an inadequate basis for a theory of religion.


See society as patriarchal, religious institutions reflect and perpetuate gender inequality. Religious beliefs are patriarchal ideologies that legitimate women's subordination.

Examples of Patriarchy in Religion (Feminism)

1. Religion organisations are mainly male dominated, Armstrong (1993) sees women's exclusion as evidence of marginalisation.
2. Places of worship often segregate the sexes.
3. Sacred texts largely feature the doings of male gods.
4. Religious laws and cus

Religious Feminism

Woodhead (2002) argues that although much traditional religion is patriarchal, this is not true of all religion. Women use religion for greater freedom and respect e.g. Muslim women use the hijab to symbolise resistance to oppression.

Religion as a Conservative Force

Can be seen as a conservative force in 2 ways:
1. In the sense of traditional.
2. As it functions to conserve or preserve things as they are.

Religion's Conservative Beliefs

Most religions have traditional conservative beliefs about moral issues and oppose changes that allow individuals more freedom. Most religions uphold "family values", supporting a traditional, patriarchal, domestic division of labour.

Religion's Conservative Functions

Religion functions to conserve or preserve things as they are. This view of religion is held by functionalists, Marxists and feminists. In different ways, they argue that it contributes to social solidarity.

Religion and Consensus

Functionalists see it as a conservative force force maintaining social stability and preventing disintegration.
1. Religion and Capitalism: Conservative ideology preventing social change by legitimating or disguising inequality.
2. Religion and Patriarchy

Weber: Religion as a Force for Change

Weber (1905) in the Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism argues that the religious beliefs of Calvinism helped bring about major social change - the emergence of modern capitalism in Northern Europe.


Predestination: God predetermines who will be saved (the elect) and individuals can do nothing to change this.
Divine Transcendence: God is so far above and beyond this world that no human being could possibly claim to know his will creating a salvation p

Hinduism and Confucianism

Weber argued that Calvinism beliefs were only one of capitalisms causes. There have been other societies with some of these factors but where capitalism did not take off e.g. Hinduism and Confucianism.

Religion and Social Protest

Bruce (2003) is interested in the relationship between religion and social change, comparing two case studies of the role of religiosity inspired protest movements in America: The Civil Rights Movement and The New Christian Right

The American Civil Rights Movement

Attempted to end racial segregation as blacks were denied legal and political rights in many southern states. Movement began in 1955 and direct action. Led by MLK.
Bruce sees religion in this context as an ideological resource - beliefs protesters could d

The New Christian Rights

Is a politically and morally conservative, Protestant fundamentalist movement that has gained prominence since the 1960s. Aims to make abortion, homosexuality and divorce illegal and take the "back to God".
Bruce argues that the NCR has been largely unsuc

Marxism, Religion and Change

Often thought of as seeing religion as an entirely conservative ideology - a set of ruling class ideas that legitimate class inequalities. However they recognise that ideas can have relative autonomy and therefore religion can have a dual character.

Ernest Bloch: The Principle of Hope

Bloch (1959) sees religion as having a dual character - argues religion inhibits change but also inspires protest and rebellion. Religion is an expression of the "principle of hope".

Liberation Theology

Catholic Church in Latin America has been conservative, encouraging the acceptance of poverty and supporting wealthy elites. Emerged with a commitment to the poor and oppressed and because of the growth of rural poverty. LT emphasises "praxis". In 1980s t

Millenarian Movements

An example of the desire to change things here and now. Worsely (1968) argues that they expect the total and immense transformation of this world by supernatural means. Mainly appeal to the poor as they promise immediate improvement.

Gramsci: Religion and Hegemony

Interested in how the ruling class maintain their social control over society through ideas rather than coercion.

Religion and Class Conflict

Billings (1990) applies Gramsci's ideas in a case study comparing coal miners and textile workers. Both were w/c and evangelical Protestant but the miners were much more militant. The miners benefitted from the leadership of organic intellectuals.

Secularisation in Britain

Crockett (1998) estimates that in 1851, 40% or more of the adult population of Britain attended church oh Sunday's, showing the 19th century was the "golden age of religiosity".
Wilson (1966) argues that Western societies have been undergoing a long-term

Church Attendance Today

Only 6.3% of the adult population attended church on Sundays in 2005.
Very few children attend Sunday schools.
The English Church Consensus (2006) shows attendance has declined, but attendance of small organisations has increased.

Religious Beliefs Today

Evidence about religious beliefs from over 60 years of attitude surveys that shows that:
1. More people claim they hold Christian beliefs than actually go to church.
2. Religious belief is declining as well as church attendance and membership.
3. Gill et

Religious Institutions Today

Bruce (2002) agrees with Wilson that all the evidence on secularisation has shown that "there is a steady and unremitting decline". The influence of religion as a social institution is declining and is now being relegated to the private sphere of individu

Explanations of Secularisation

Secularisation and the decline of religion have often been linked to major social changes e.g. modernisation, industrialisation and its effects and increased social and religious diversity.


Is the process by which rational ways of thinking and acting replace religious ones. Weber (1905) argues that Western society has undergone a process of rationalisation in the last few centuries.


The Protestant Reformation brought a new worldview that saw God as existing above and outside the world, not as intervening it. The world had become disenchanted, left to run according to the laws of nature.

A Technological Worldview

Bruce argues that a technological worldview has largely replaced religious explanations of why things happen. Religious worldview a only survive in areas where technology is least affective e.g. Praying for help if you are suffering from an incurable illn

Structural Differentiation

Parsons (1951) defines it as a process that occurs with industrialisation as many specialised institutions develop to carry out the different functions previously performed by a single institution such as the church.

Social and Cultural Diversity

Wilson argues that in pre-industrial society, local communities shared rituals that expressed their shared values, but industrialisation destroys these stable local communities and so destroys religions base. Leads to a rise of individualism.

Religious Diversity

Berger (1969) argues that another cause of secularisation is the trend towards religious diversity. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church held an absolute monopoly and had no challengers. A number and variety of religious organisations have created vari

Cultural Defence and Cultural Transition

Bruce identifies 2 counter-trends that seem to contradict the secularisation theory:
1. Cultural Defence: Religion provides a focus for the defence of national or ethnic group in a struggle against an external force.
2. Cultural Transition: Religion provi

The Spiritual Revolution

Sociologists argue that a "spiritual revolution" is taking place with traditional Christianity giving way o a New Age spirituality that emphasises personal development and experience. The "spiritual market" is growing.

Heelas and Woodhead

Studied Kendal to investigate whether traditional religion has declined and how far the growth of spirituality is compensating for this, they distinguish between: the congregational domain and the holistic milieu. Found that in a typical week in 2000, 7.9

Secularisation in the USA

In 1962, Wilson found that 45% of Americans attended church on Sunday's but this was more an expression of the "American way of life" than of religious beliefs.
Bruce (2002) shares Wilson's view, he uses three sources of evidence to support his claim that

1 Declining Church Attendance

Opinion polls asking people about church attendance suggest it has been stable at about 40% of the population since 1940.
Hadaway et al (1993) found that in one country in Ohio the attendance level claimed in opinion polls was 83% higher than researchers

2 Secularisation from Within

Bruce argues that in America, the emphasis on traditional Christian beliefs and glorifying God has declined. Instead, religion has become "psychologised" - a form of therapy. Changed from seeking salvation to seeking self improvement.

3 Religious Diversity and Relativism

Bruce identifies practical relativism among American Christians i.e. Accepting that others are entitled to hold beliefs different to one's own.
Lynd and Lynd (1929) found in 1924, 94% of churchgoing young people agreed with the statement "Christianity is

Postmodernity and Religion

Some sociologists reject secularisation theory and argue that religion is simply changing, rather than declining. As a result of changes in wider society, such as greater individualism.

Believing Without Belonging

Grace Davie (2007) argues that religion is not declining but simply taking a different, more privatised form. People no longer go to church because they feel they have so, so although churchgoing has declined, this is because attendance is a matter of per

Spiritual Shopping

Danielle Hervieu-L�ger (2002) supports the theme of personal choice and believing w/out beloning. There has been a cultural amnesia - people have lost the religion that used to be handed down. However, religion continues through individual consumerism. Ar

Lyon: "Jesus in Disneyland

Lyon (2002) argues that postmodern society has several features that are changing the nature of religion - globalisation, the increased importance of the media and consumerism. As a result traditional religion is giving way to new religious forms and thes

Religious Market Theory

Stark and Bainbridge (1985) advocate religious market theory - they criticise secularisation theory for its 'distorted view' of the past and future: there was no 'golden age' of religion, now it is likely that everyone will be an athiest in the future. Ba

Historical Cycle

Stark and Bainbridge suggest there is a historical cycle of religious decline, revival and renewal: as established churches decline, they leave a gap in the market for new rewards.


Religious market theorists argue that competition leads to improvements in the quality of the religious 'goods' on offer. Churches that make their product attractive will succeed in attracting more 'customers'.

America VS Europe

Demand for religion increases when there is a choice, as consumers can find one that meets their needs. In the USA, religion is strong because a healthy market exists where religions grow or decline according to consumer demand. Where there is a religious

Existential Security Theory

Norris and Inglehart (2004) reject religious market theory on the grounds that it only applies to America and fails to explain the variations in religiosity between societies. "The feeling that survival s secure enough that it can be taken for granted".

Europe VS America

Western Europe is becoming more secular because these societies are relatively equal and secure, with well developed welfare states which reduce insecurity among the poor, whereas the USA remains religious. Gill and Lundegaarde (2004) argue that the more

Religion and Development

According to secularisation theory, development undermines religion: modern science and technology destroy belief in the supernatural. However, religion may also contribute to development e.g. Weber's claim that the Protestant ethic helped bring about mod

God and Globalisation in India

Globalisation has brought rapid economic growth in India and rising prosperity to a new middle class. Nanda (2008) examines the role of Hinduism, the religion of 85% of the population, in legitimating the rise of a new Hindu 'ultra-nationalism' and the pr

Hinduism and Consumerism

The prosperous, scientifically education, urban middle class are the people who will be first to adopt a secular worldview. Yet surveys show that urban, educated Indians are becoming more religious than rural, less literal Indians. Nanda argues that this

Pentecostalism in Latin America

Berger (2003) argues that it acts as a 'functional equivalent' to Weber's Protestant ethic, encouraging the development of capitalism in the same way as Calvinism did. It demands an ascetic way of life, emphasising personal discipline and hard work. Encou

Pentecostalism: Global and Local

In the last 5 centuries, Christianity has globalised itself by expanding into South America and Africa. Lehmann (2002) suggests that the first phase of this was through colonisation, with Christianity being imposed on the indigenous populations by conques

Religious Fundamentalism

In a global context, the issue of religious fundamentalism has emerged as a major area of concern, notably in the relation to international Islamist terrorism.

Fundamentalism and Cosmopolitanism

Giddens defines fundamentalists as traditionalists who wish to return to the fundamentals of their faith and who have an unquestioning belief in the literal truth of scripture.

Monotheism and Fundamentalism

Bruce (2007) sees the main cause of fundamentalism as the perception by religious traditionalists that globalisation threatens their beliefs and lifestyle. This leads them to develop rigid rules about belief and behaviour. Bruce, however, regards fundamen

Two Fundamentalisms

Bruce argues that while fundamentalists share the same characteristics such as belief in the literal truth of the sacred text, different fundamentalist movements have different origins.
1. In the West: Fundamentalism is usually a reaction to change within

Cultural Defence

Bruce (2002) sees one function of religion as cultural defence - religion unites a community against an external threat and this often gives it a prominent role in politics.
1. Poland: From 1945 - 1989 was under communist rule imposed from outside by the

Churches and Sects

Troeltsch distinguished between these.
1. Churches are large, with millions of members, place few demands on members, have a bureaucratic hierarchy, claim a monopoly of truth and are universalistic, ideologically conservative and linked to the state.
2. S

Denomination and Cult

Neibuhr (1929)
1. Identifies denominations as midway between churches and sects. Membership is less exclusive, they broadly accept society's values, are not linked to the state and impose some minor restrictions but are not as demanding as sects and are t

New Religious Movements (NRMs)

Wallis (1984) categorises NRMs into 3 groups based on their relationship with the outside world.
1. World-Rejecting: Have a clear notion of God, are highly critical of the outside world and expect radical change. Members must break with their former life,

Sects and Cults

Stark and Bainbridge (1985) argue that just one criterion is needed to distinguish between religious organisations - the degree of tension between the group and wider society. Two kinds of organisations are in conflict with wider society - sects and cults


Stark and Bainbridge subdivide cults according to how organised they are:
1. Audience cults - the least organised with no formal membership and little interaction.
2. Client cults - a consultant/client relationship, with therapies promising personal fulfi

Explaining the Growth of Religious Movements

1. Marginality: Weber (1922) argued that sects appeal to disprivileged groups who are marginal to society. Sects offer a solution to their lack of status by offering their members a theodicy of disprivilege.
2. Relative Deprivation: It is possible for som

Denomination of Death

Neibuhr (1929) argues that sects are world-rejecting organisations that come into existence by splitting from an established church. Within a generation, they either die out or compromise with the world, abandoning their extreme ideas to become a denomina

The Sectarian Cycle

Stark and Bainbridge (1985) see religious organisations moving through a cycle: schism, initial fervour and charismatic leadership, denominationalism and cooling of fervour, establishment as the sect becomes world-accepting further schism.

Established Sects

Wilson (1966) argues that not all sects follow this pattern.
1. Conversionist sects: Aim to convert large numbers of people, are rapidly turning into larger denominations.
2. Adventionist sects: Keep themselves separate from the corrupt world, which preve

Growth of the New Age

Drane (1999) argues that the New Age appeal is part of a shift towards postmodern society. People have lost faith in experts and are disillusioned with the churches' failure to meet their spiritual needs.
1. The New Age and Modernity: Bruce (1995) argues

Religiosity and Social Groups

Different social groups tend to be attracted to different beliefs and organisations e.g. lower classes and world-rejecting sects. However, ethnicity, gender and age are also important.

Gender and Religiosity

More women than men believe in God, sin etc and participate in religious activities. In 2005, 1.8 million women were churchgoers as against 1.36 million men.
Bruce (1996) estimates twice as many women as men are involved in sects, Heelas and Woodhead (200

Socialisation and the Gender Role

Miller and Hoffman argue women are more religious as they are socialised to be more passive, obedient and caring - qualities valued by most religions. Davie (1994) argues that women's closer proximity to birth and death brings them closer to 'ultimate que

Women and the New Age

As women are more often associated with a healing role, they may be more attracted than men to NAMs. Bruce argues child-rearing makes women less aggressive and more cooperative and caring-fitting the expressive emphasis of the New Age.

Compensation for Deprivation

Glock and Stark argue that deprivation is more common among women, this explains their higher level of sect membership.
Organismic Deprivation: Women are more likely to suffer ill health and seek healing.
Ethical Deprivation: Women are more morally conser

Ethnicity and Religiosity

There are higher than average rates for most minority groups. Muslims, Hindus and black Christians are more likely to see religion as important. There are several reasons:
1. Country of Origin
2. Cultural Defence
3. Cultural Transition

Age and Religious Participation

The general pattern of participation is that the older a person is, the more likely they are to attend religious services - with two exceptions, the under 15s and the over 65s.
1. Under 15s are more likely to go to church as they may be made to attend by

Science as a Belief System

Popper (1959) claims science is an open belief system, open to criticism and testing. Science is based on falsification: scientists try to falsify existing theories by seeking evidence to disprove them making knowledge grow.
However, scientific knowledge

The CUDOS Norms

Merton (1973) argues that science as an organised social activity has a set of norms that promote the growth of knowledge.
Communism - Knowledge must be shared.
Universalism - Scientific knowledge judged by criterias.
Disinterestedness - Seeking knowledge

Closed Belief System

Horton (1970) distinguishes between open and closed belief systems. Like Popper, he sees science as an open belief system, however, religion is a closed belief system.
Polanyi (1958) argues that belief systems have 3 devices to sustain themselves: circula

Science as a Closed System

Scientific Paradigms: Kuhn (1970) argues science such as physics is based on a paradigm - tells scientists what reality is like, mostly scientists are engaged in normal science, scientists who challenge the paradigm are likely to be ridiculed.
The Sociolo

Marxism, Feminism and Postmodernism

Marxism and Feminism see science as serving the interests of dominant groups - the ruling class or men respectively.
Many scientific developments are driven by capitalism's need for knowledge to make profit.
Postmodernists also reject science's claims to


Refers to a belief system, worldview or set of ideas. The term often includes negative aspects e.g. beliefs that are false or offer a partial/biased view of reality, conceal the interests of a group or legitimate inequalities, prevent change etc.

Marxism and Ideology

Sees society as divided into two opposed classes: a capitalist ruling class and a working class forced to sell their labour. Ruling-class ideology or hegemony prevents class consciousness developing by legitimating capitalism. However, Gramsci (1971) beli

Feminism and Ideology

Feminists see gender inequality as legitimated by patriarchal ideology. Religious beliefs and practices often define women as inferior e.g. menstruating women regarded as unclean and excluded from rituals.