Goop – New Age Nonsense?

The Good Thinking Society, a charity which campaigns against pseudo-science has recently reported Gwneth Paltrow’s Goop to UK watchdogs, because it believes some of the wellness products the site sells are actually harmful.

Goop.png

Probably the best example of this is a product called ‘The Mother Load’ which lists 110% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A, a vitamin which, according to UK health organisations can actually be harmful if taken in high doses.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

Firstly, Goop is a great example of a postmodern New Age Spirituality. It’s mission is to sell products which promote well-being, and ‘inner peace’. Basically, stressed out women go to Goop to buy nice things and achieve ‘inner peace’.

Gwyneth seems to think there’s nothing wrong with this: I mean why would she: she’s a right woman living in the first world whose pumped her money into a feel good business. I bet her pseudo-spiritual products make her feel pretty good!

However, on balance I think this is a good example of just how the The New Age isn’t really religious at all – it’s just wealthy people buying goods and services to make themselves feel better – it’s basically consumerism!

The material above is a good example of how science and religion can come into direct conflict.

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Is religion ideological?

If sociologists refer to religion as being ‘ideological’, they typically mean the beliefs and practices of that religion support powerful groups in society, effectively keeping the existing ruling class, or elites, in power.

The idea that religion is ideological is usually associated with Marxist and Radical Feminist Perspectives.

This sub-topic overlaps with ‘religion as a conservative force’.

The Marxist View: religion performs ideological functions

  • Marx argued that religion creates false consciousness – it teaches that social inequality is God’s will and thus mystifies the real cause of inequality and misery which is exploitation by the Bourgeoise
  • Religion is the opium of the masses – religion prevents change and keeps the elite in power by providing spiritual comfort for the poor – by making a virtue out of poverty, and promising a better life after death if people obey the rules now, for example.
  • There are direct links between the church and the bourgeoisie – the bourgeoise fund the church, and the church support (ideologically) the bourgeoisie

Criticism

  • Neo Marxist Otto Maduro argued that the Catholic Church in Latin America was relatively autonomous from the state and the bourgeois – i.e. they were not directly controlled by them. Thus, there was some degree of freedom for some priests to interpret Christianity in a way that was pro-poor and anti-elite, and not ideological. As with the example of Liberation Theology.

The Feminist View: religion is ideological

  • Mary Daly argued that Christianity was as set of Patriarchal myths. She sees the Catholic Church as especially bad: it downplayed the role of women in the bible and legitimated sex role segregation for example.
  • Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion is used by men to compensate women for their second-class status – it provides them with spiritual rewards for accepting inferior social roles.

Criticisms

  • El Saadawi suggests that Islam itself has been hijacked by Patriarchy in many countries, but is not necessarily ideological: women can fight back.
  • Carol Christ’s work shows that religion does not have be ideological: her idea of ‘embodied spirituality and focus on women ‘finding their Goddess’ stands against monotheistic religions. It is empowering for women and challenges existing power structures.

Further examples and evidence for and against the view that  ‘religion is ideological’

Religion is ideological Religion is NOT ideological
·         Marxists and Feminists generally point to established churches as the most likely institutions to support elites.

·         The New Religions right in America tends to support white, male wealth – e.g. it supports the Republican Party.

·         Max Weber… over hundreds of years Calvinist believes lead to social changes which undermined religion.

·         Postmodernism – people are free to pick and choose which aspects of religion they like. Thus, it cannot be ideological.

·         Some sects challenge the existing order – e.g. The Nation of Islam.

 

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Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons why younger people are generally less religious than older people

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Older people are more likely to both attend church and express religious beliefs than younger people.

Some sociologists have suggested that this is due to changes which occur during the life-course. Other sociologists believe this trend is more about social changes resulting in generational differences.

Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons why younger people are generally less religious than older people

The first reason why older people are more religious is that as they come to the end of their ‘life course’, they are simply biologically closer to death which means they start to think more about what happens after death. This is something which all religions deal with, and so it could simply be that older people become more religious because they find a suitable explanation to their questions about the afterlife in religion.

This could be especially the case today, as modern society is obsessed with ‘youth and life’ and so religion is one of the few places people close to death might find solace.

A related life course related factor is social isolation. As people enter retirement, they lose their work place connections, and are more likely to see their friends die. Attending church could be a way of making up for these lost connections.

The second possible reason is social changes – meaning that each successive generation is less religious than the previous generation.

The church has gradually become disengaged from society and so has less influence over social life: thus children today are much less likely to see religious authority being exercised in politics, and religion has also lost its influence in education: RE is now somewhat watered down compared to what it used to be: presenting religion as a choice rather than a necessity.

Also, now that society has become more postmodern, it emphasizes, fun, diversity and choice, all of which traditional religion at least doesn’t offer as much of: people would rather spend Sunday relaxing rather than in church, and this is very much normal today.

As a result of all the above, parents are much less likely to socialize their children into religious beliefs and practices, which explains the decline in religion across the generations and between younger and older people today.

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More Neoliberalism – Brazil’s shift to the right

The extreme right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro was recently declared as Brazil’s president – he’s anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-environment, and yet the public voted him in to take office from January 2019.

neoliberal brazil.jpg

He’s also strong on law and order: he’s praised former Brazilian dictatorships which used torture, among other tactics as a means of social control, and he’s promised to outlaw protest and op positional social movements.

Given that Brazil is the fourth largest democracy in the world, and one of the BRIC nations, this is quite significant in terms of global politics – it probably means that Brazil will be opened up for even more deregulated trade, while the poor who suffer the consequences of this will be disciplined more harshly by the state’s security forces.

In short, this is the most significant global shift towards more repressive neoliberal politics since Trump’s election. It’s something worth keeping an eye on!

This comment piece by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian is worth a read (it’s short) – it  blames this shift to the right on the failure of a corrupt left-wing government in Brazil to effectively maintain social order, and he also blames social media – which becomes an echo chamber for far right scapegoating and polarises public opinion.

With this shift to the right, it seems that global consensus politics has become even less likely!

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Do Biological Differences Explain why Women are More Religious than Men?

Grace Davie has argued that women feel closer to God because they are involved in the creation of life through pregnancy and childbirth.

It is possible that being pregnant, and carrying a new life around for several months, makes women reflect more on spiritual matters such as the meaning of life, and ethical considerations of child rearing, even before the the child is born, and religion is one place where women can find answers to such questions.

It is also the case that child birth is a very intense, emotionally charged, experience, so it could be that the event itself makes women seek out religion more.

HOWEVER, is it possible to isolate the biological fact that women give birth from the traditional gender norm of ‘primary child carer’ that women still adopt in most countries?

It could just be that it is conformity to the role of primary carer is what ‘makes’ women more religious, rather than the biological fact of women being the child bearers: caring and nurturing make people think more about others, and thus more about ethical issues, which is the domain of religion.

However (again) there could be something in this: The New Age Movement (primarily made up of women) celebrates biological aspects of femininity, such as ‘motherhood’ for example.

 

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The cost of organised crime is now greater than the cost of terrorism, according to the National Crime Agency, according to this BCC News report.

Organised crime involves international gangs who traffic people and drugs and engage in cyber crime. The annual cost to the UK economy is estimated to be around £34 billion a year.

While this might surprise non sociologists, this should be of no surprise to sociology students: while terror attacks are very dramatic, this also makes them very news-worthy, and they do tend to be reported whenever they happen. However, these attacks are relatively rare.

In comparison, the kinds of crimes which organised crime gangs are involved in are more hidden, more low-key, and, frankly, more day to day. This is because these gangs may be organised on an international (or possibly regional?) level, but they have networked into various local neighborhoods in Britain’s towns and cities, linking the small scale local drug deal to the large international drug-cartel.

Having said that, the National Crime Agency deals with A LOT of different types of crime: as outlined below…

Thus IMO it’s not really fair to compare the cost of ALL of these to the costs of just terrorism.

HOWEVER, if we forget (the rather silly) comparison mentioned in the news what the NCA’s 2018 strategic assessment document (I can’t link to it because, ironically, my PC thinks the NCA’s web site is insecure!?!) shows us is the truly global nature of seriously organised crime.

For any student wishing to understand more about the scope of global crime, and why it’s so difficult to police, you should check out the work of Misha Glenny.

 

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Evaluate the view that extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20)

Using material from the item answer the question below

Item

Numerous surveys on religious belief and church attendance in the UK and around Europe suggest that people are becoming less religious year on year, leading many sociologists to theorise why secularisation is occurring.

However, other sociologists suggest that religion may be changing, rather than declining, especially when we broaden our perspective and look at religion more globally.

Evaluate the view that extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20)

Decode:

  • Make sure you deal with different theories of secularisation, addressing both behaviour and belief.
  • Be sure to address the idea of change rather than decline.
  • Make sure to address globalisation.

Introduction

  • Secularisation usually measured by beliefs, behaviour and belonging
  • On all measurements, the UK certainly seems to be getting more secular
  • HOWEVER, there are limitations with the evidence, and possible counter trends, especially when we look at religion globally.

Statistical Evidence for secularisation

  • Beliefs – an increasing number of people in UK say they don’t believe in God, now up to >30%; younger people less likely to believe in God than older people; also Census belief figures.
  • Behaviour: <5% of the adult population attend church regularly, only 20% of marriages are church marriages and only 10% of children are baptised.
  • Belonging: 50% of adults now class themselves as having no religion, almost 75% of 18-24 year olds
  • There’s been about a 10% decline in active C of E membership in the last decade.

Counter Trends

  • Nearly half of all funerals still have a religious ceremony
  • All other religions besides Christianity have increased in recent years.

Disengagement

  • There used to be a close tie between church and state (Divine Right of Kings etc.)
  • However, today politicians keep they’re religion out of politics
  • Civil Rights law bans discrimination on the basis of religion
  • The C of E is critical of the government, but the government ignores it.

Counter trends

Cassonva argues that looked at globally a process of ‘de-privatization’ of religion is occurring. Some events suggest religion is important significantly: The Arab Spring for example, and the influence of the conservative new right  in U.S. politics.

Rationalization and Disenchantment

  • Max Weber argued development of science, technology and social bureaucracies undermined the role of religion in society.
  • Science meant knowledge claims could be assessed objectively and empirically, rather than religious truth claims which could not be tested (so it’s more open and democratic, thus more appealing)
  • Also the advances of science, when applied to technology and industry (the industrial revolution) improved society without the need for religion.
  • While rational organisation of society (schools/ hospitals/ political movements) led to further social improvements, again without religion.
  • All of this led to disenchantment, or the decrease of the role of mystery, magic and superstition in explaining social phenomena and in helping people determine what they should do.

Criticisms of the idea that rationalization undermines religion

  • Steve Bruce – although science and technology have challenged religious beliefs, people still turn to religion when technology fails.
  • The New Age Movement and continued influence of the Christian Right in the USA show that religion is still important to many.

Religious pluralism as evidence of secularization:

  • Bruce argues that the increasing diversity of religion results in secularization:
  • Because there is no one religion, religion no longer binds individuals to society like it used to.
  • Secondly, the state finds it more difficult to support religion.
  • This ties in with Durkheim’s functionalist theory that one religion acts as a collective conscience. However, when there is no longer one religion, it cannot perform this function!

Arguments against religious pluralism as evidence of secularization 

  • Pluralism may be the only way religion can ‘work’ as part of a postmodern society.
  • Many non-Christian religions are growing. Maybe ‘de-Christianisation is a more accurate concept than secularisation?
  • There is evidence that people still selectively use religion at times of crises.

Evidence against secularisation: postmodernism/ believing without belonging

  • Postmodernists suggest that the nature of religion is changing, rather than disappearing completely.
  • It might be that religion now plays a more significant role in some aspects of life: religious leaders are like ‘morality experts’ who can give guidance in an uncertain, risk society.
  • People also still selectively use religion during life crises.
  • Davie also argues that many still believe, but just don’t attend church.
  • This way of practicing religion is maybe a better fit with postmodern society.

Evidence against secularisation: a global perspective

  • Secularisation certainly appears to be happening in Europe.
  • HOWEVER, globally, religion is still a powerful force: The Arab Spring, and Fundamentalist conflicts for example.

Thoughts on a Conclusion

Given the problems with defining and measuring religion, it’s difficult to say whether it’s ‘decline’ has been exaggerated, but on balance of the evidence it seems fair to conclude that religion has declined in Europe, but it is far from ‘dead and buried’,

However, looked at globally, religion appears to be more significant than in Europe, so maybe sociologists should be more careful not to fall into a Eurocentric perspective when evaluating the extent of secularisation.

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Why are older people more religious than younger people?

Older people are more religious than younger people, as measure by religious participation and religions belief. This post explores three reasons why this might be.

The biological affect of ageing

It seem ‘natural’ to assume that as people get older and closer to death, they become more interested in what happens after they die, which is something religions have answers to. It may be that people become more religious closer to death because they find the thought of an afterlife more comforting than the thought of themselves just turning to dust.

This kind of fits in with the postmodern view that people actively use religion people use religion to help them die, rather than to help them live.

Older people are more detached from society

Older people tend to be more socially isolated than younger or middle aged people. The older you get, the more likely you are to have witnessed your friends dying and you are more likely to have serious health issues which prevent you from interacting with friends and family.

This is especially the case with women who live longer than men, and thus are more likely to outlive their male partners. This could go some way to explaining the higher levels of religiosity among women compared to men.

Social changes mean each generation is less religious than the previous generation 

In this theory, it is not so much that the religious beliefs of individuals change as they get older, rather that social changes mean that each generation is less religious than the previous generation.

Secularization has resulted in religion becoming disengaged from society, so it is much less part of day to day social life: religion doesn’t influence politics like it used to, the status of religious education in schools has declined, and church attendance has dropped.

Each successive generation is also less likely to socialize their children into religious beliefs and practices, thus resulting in a gradual decline in religiosity generation after generation.

 

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Why is Trick or Treating in Decline?

I seem to remember most of kids in the local neighbourhood going out trick or treating when I were a lad: dressing up in naff home-made costumes and then marching up and down the houses with a tub of sloppy porridge for the hand of the occasional unfortunate who didn’t have some sweets to give us.

And then round someone’s house to sugar load and enthusiastically whinge about the idiots who gave us fruit or toothbrushes (yes, someone actually did that!)

However, I’ve had the intuitive feeling that the number of kids going out trick or treating has been declining in recent years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any data to support my intuition about what’s occurring during the spooky season here in the UK, but there is some data from our colony in America, and the data shows that trick or treating is declining rapidly!

According to some recent polls (details here) the number of Americans giving out candy during Halloween declined from 118 to 106 million in the years 2011-15, while the number of parents taking their kids out trick or treating declined from 52 to 48 million.

 

So how do we explain this decline in trick or treating?

There’s lots of possible sociological explanations…

Paranoid Parents….?

This seems like the most obvious place to start…. Parents are more worried than ever about stranger danger and child safety, and letting your kids go out, at night, knocking on strangers’ doors probably seems risker today to most parents than it would have done in the 1970s.

This is certainly the view of Jack Porter, writing in the Utah Chronicle, who outlines how trick or treat has declined even his ‘safe, white Mormon neighbourhood’, because, according to comments on Facebook, people feel as if they can’t trust their neighbours. (Maybe their right when it comes to white U.S. Christian males?!?)

In the U.S. ‘Trunk or Treat’ events have emerged as an alternative to ‘trick or treat’  – basically vetted community events, often with activities, which children attend with their parents, and where they can go trick or treating from car to car, rather than house to house.

Maybe it’s commercialisation…?

While I’m pretty sold on the paranoid parenting/ culture of fear argument being one ‘causal factor’, I don’t think it’s the only one. Halloween has been getting more and more commercialised here in the UK for years, so I dread to think what it’s like in the U.S. Maybe trick or treating in the local community just doesn’t cut it any more… perhaps parents give their kids their Halloween fix by just buying them Halloween shit they don’t need.

It’s also probably privatisation and individualisation

We’ve become more socially fragmented over the last decades…. Local communities are less important as we go online to forge our networks, and thus each individual household in a street will spend less time engaging with other households in the same street. From this perspective, kids going around trick and treating is a bit odd, it breaks the privatised minimal local contact norm, so it’s simply less likely to happen!

Or maybe trick or treating isn’t really in decline?

The initial stats I used might not be valid indicators of the decline in trick or treating. It may be that kids are still going trick and treating, without their parents, and going to fewer houses: so perhaps the parental accompaniment ratio has gone down and the candy given per household ration has gone up per child trick or treater.

Unlikely, I know, but possible.

Final Thoughts…

I say that trick or treating has declined, but it’s not quite Halloween yet. Who knows, maybe I’ll get inundated on Wednesday. I bought some ‘candy’ just in case!

Sources

http://paragonpoll.com/halloween-data-2015/

 

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Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Karl Marx famously argued that religion was the ‘opium of the masses’ and Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion compensated women for their second class status. Both theorists believed that religion was an ideological tool which pacified the oppressed.

These views have, however, been criticized:

Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression (10)

Firstly, Marxist and Feminist views tend to downplay the positive functions of religion.

As Functionalists have pointed out, it is quite likely that some form of religious belief and organisation is functional (i.e. beneficial for the individual and society) given that religion is practically universal (i.e found in nearly all societies).

Functionalists have pointed to many positive functions of religion – such as helping people deal with death and societies deal with transition and times of uncertainty. Rather than this being about simply keeping inequality in place, it could be that religion benefits everyone by keeping society stable.

Furthermore, people still practiced religion in secret in communist countries when religion was banned, suggesting that they actively wanted religion for their own comfort, rather than it simply being something forced on them by elites.

You could argue that a similar thing is found with religion today in the form of ‘civil religion’ – where people find comfort in quasi-religious ceremonies such as Football matches and Royal Weddings… again this seems to be a matter of choice, and because attendance is optional, it’s hard to argue that these ‘shallower’ forms of religion have a  sinister social control function like Marxists and Feminists suggest!

Secondly, The above theories assume that people simply passively accept an elitist interpretation of religious doctrines. There is plenty of evidence that this is not always the case.

Liberation theology is a good example of this: where Catholic Church leaders in Latin America took the side of the landless peasants, and argued against the elitist interpretation that inequality was God’s will: instead helping the poor fight back against inequality and elite institutions and attempting to bring about a more equal society.

This is supporting evidence for the Neo-Marxist view that religion is not simply controlled by elites, but is relatively autonomous, thus meaning it can be a tool for social change.

From an Islamic Feminist point of view, Nawal el Sadawi argued that Islam was not inherently patriarchal, but rather that it had been interpreted in a patriarchal way in patriarchal societies (patriarchy comes first, if you like!). She further argued that it was perfectly possible for women to challenge Patriarchal interpretations of Islam, as she herself did, thus meaning it doesn’t have to be a tool of social control and pacification.

A postmodern analysis of religion further supports the ‘active intepretation’ criticisms of Marxism and Feminism – today people are much more likely to pick and mix their religious beliefs, and reject anything they don’t like, and use religion at selected times when they find it useful. This is hardly religion controlling and pacifying the population!

 

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