Types of religious organisation: the cult

Steve Bruce (1995) defines a cult as a ‘loosely knit group organized around some common themes and interests but lacking any sharply defined and exclusive belief system’.

Cults correspond closely to Roy Wallis’ category of ‘World Affirming New Religious Movements’.

Examples of Cults/ World Affirming NRMs include

  • Scientology
  • Transcendental Meditation
  • The Human Potential Movement

 Key Features of Cults 

  • Cults tend to lack a fixed religious doctrine, and typically have very loose religious beliefs, which are open to a wide range of interpretation by members.
  • They tend to be more individualistic than other forms of religion.
  • Members tend to be more like ‘customers’: they are free to come and go as they please, and choose which aspects of the cult’s activities to take part in.
  • Unlike sects, they tend to lack strict rules. There is very little commitment involved with being a member.
  • They are tolerant of other religions beliefs.

Competing definitions of cults 

 

NB – The media often uses the term cult, when really it’s referring to a sect!

NB – when a world rejecting religious movement goes nuts and convinces its members to commit mass suicide, the media often uses the term ‘cult’ to refer to it. Strictly speaking, according to the various categories used by sociologists, such organisations are ‘sects’, not ‘cults’.

Sources: Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

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Sociological perspectives on the legalization of gay sex in India

Gay sex was finally legalized in India this month (September 2018), after India’s high court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of individual rights.

This ruling overturned the previous ‘section 377’ colonial-era law which outlawed certain sexual acts as unnatural, including homosexual sex. Breaking that law meant a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Relevance to A-level sociology

Lots!

From a broadly functionalist point of view, you could interpret this as a move towards universal global values. There has been a general trending towards greater sexuality-equality around the globe in recent decades, and this ruling brings another billion people into step with this trend.

HOWEVER, it’s also important to realize that not everyone accepts this in India… many religious groups are opposed to this, and so this is also a potential source of conflict.

From an Interactionist point of view, this is yet another excellent illustration of the social construction of crime…. all of a sudden gay sex is legal and not illegal!

Final thoughts….

While this is huge positive progress towards LGBT rights, there’s still a long way to go as there are several countries in which homosexuality is illegal.

Bit of a short/ lazy post today, bit busy!

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The Shallows: Chapter nine: search, memory

This is my summary of chapter one of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr.

For my summary of chapter eight, the previous chapter, please click here.

Desiderius Erasmus was one of the earliest scholars to recommend that his students keep a notebook in which they could note down facts they found to be the most significant, so they remained fixed in the mind.

This idea evolved into a common place book, adopted by Francis Bacon, among other Enlightenment thinkers, serving as a chronicle of the intellectual development of many a gentlemen throughout the Enlightenment period.

This practice gradually fell out of favour with audio and video and the development of artificial forms of memory, committing info seemed less necessary.

With the widespread adoption of the Net, we have come to see memory as something which can be ‘outsourced’ to machines – we no longer regard memorizing facts as an efficient use of our brains – such things are better left to the Net, and our brains saved for more intricate, or more human matters.

Short term and long term memory…

Various experiments demonstrate that physical changes take place in the brain with long term memory formation, and the quality of human memory depends on interactions long after the information is first received, on how the information is processed.

The process of memory formation is complex, involving lots of interactions across different parts of the brain. Botanical metaphors are more accurate as descriptors than machine metaphors. Biological memory is alive, computer memory is not.

The machine metaphor, where memory is concerned, is wrong: the brain cannot be full, it has an unlimited capacity to store and expand. We don’t constrain our ‘other’ mental powers when we store more information, we are not freeing up space when we outsource our memories to the net.

The Internet and Memory

The calculator made it easier for the brain to transfer ideas from working memory to long term memory and encode them in conceptual schemas that are useful to working knowledge – this highly specialized tool was a boon.

The net has a different effect… it places more pressure on our working memory not only diverting resources away from our higher reasoning faculties but obstructing the consolidation of long-term memories and the development of schemas. The Web is a technology of forgetfulness…

Basically because attention is a key determinate of what we remember…. The influx of competing messages hinders…. And learning how to think really means learning to exercise control over how or what you think!On writing this book: He’s not immune!

For my summary of chapter one (which links to further chapters) please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!

This post will also be published to the social media site steemit on the steem blockchain.

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Types of Religious Organisation: The Sect

According to Troeltsch, the Sect is basically the opposite of The Church….

religious organisations types.png

Key characteristics of sects according to Troeltsch…

  1. They have significantly smaller memberships than churches
  2. The membership base of sects is drawn from the lower social classes
  3. Sects are not aligned with the state
  4.  Sects do not accept the norms and values of mainstream society. Sects are detached from society, and in opposition to it.
  5. Sects demand a high level of commitment from their members and they have a high level of integration. They may expect members to withdraw from society all together.
  6. They do not have ‘inclusive membership’. Membership has to be conscious and voluntary. Children cannot be born into sects.
  7. Sects tend to possess a monopoly on truth.
  8. Sects have a charismatic leader, who is generally perceived to be special. They do not have an hierarchy of paid officials.

According to Steve Bruce, the first sects in modern Europe were formed when groups of people broke away from a more established religion, because of disagreement over how that religion was interpreted.

Over time, some sects have developed into denominations.

Criticisms of Troeltsch’s ‘sect’ category….

There are very few religious organisations which tick all of the above boxes, meaning the category might be too exclusive to be useful.

Roy Wallis has suggested that it is more useful to distinguish between different types of sect according to their orientation to the wider society – such as world affirming, world accommodating and world rejecting. In other words, he argues that not all sects are ‘world rejecting’.

Sources

  • Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themese and Perspectives
  • Chapman et al: Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book
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Types of Religious Organisation: The Denomination

H.R. Niebuhr (1929) was the first sociologist to distinguish between a church and a denomination. His distinction was based on a study of religion in the U.S.A.

Denominations share some, but not all of the features of churches.

Examples of denominations include the Methodists, the Pentecostals and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

religious organisations types.png

According to Neibuhr, denominations have about 6 characteristics:

  1. Like churches, denominations draw members from all sections of society: they are inclusive.
  2. Like churches, denominations have formal organisations and are hierarchically organised with a bureaucratic structure.
  3. There tend to be several denominations in a society, so they do not have universal appeal
  4. Denominations do not claim a monopoly on truth.
  5. Unlike churches, a denomination does not identity with the state and believes in the separation of church and state.
  6. Some denominations place more restrictions on their members: for example the Methodists and the Pentecostals.

Steve Bruce suggests that denominations have become more important in society with the rise of religious pluralism.

Criticisms of the ‘concept’ of the denomination

The concept may be too broad to be useful. There is disagreement over whether certain religious organisations should be classified as sects or denominations.

 

Sources

  • Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themese and Perspectives
  • Chapman et al: Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book
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The Church of Google?

Google was incorporated in September 1998, a collaboration between Larry Page and Sergey Brin, helped out with $100K of venture capital. Google a play on googol, the world for the number 10 raised to the hundredth power… showing their ambition of organizing masses of information…

According to Nicholas Carr, the way in which Google is organized reflect Taylorist management principles, and the way its products effect us is not necessarily positive!

This is my summary of chapter eight of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr.

Google = Taylorism applied to information work

Taylor’s principles of scientific management helped shape the organisational form of the industrial revolution. Probably the best known example of applied Taylorism lies in the Ford motor plants in North America, in which turning workers into automatons resulted in extremely efficient production.

In 1993 Neil Postman outlined six assumptions of Taylorism:

  1. That the primary, if not the only goal of human labour and thought is efficiency
  2. The technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgement
  3. That in fact human judgement cannot be trusted because it is plagued by laxity,ambiguity and unnecessary complexity
  4. That what cannot be measured does not exist or is of no value
  5. That subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking.
  6. That the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts…

What Ford did for physical manufacturing plants, Google is doing for the mind, applying Taylor’s principles to knowledge work.

According to Carr, we find these principles in many aspects of Google’s operations:

  • Google is obsessed with testing. Subjective aesthetic judgements have no place in its software design
  • The way it ranks web pages…. Web pages are like citations… the value of any page could be gauged by the links coming into it. AND an incoming link from a page which itself has more links pointing to it is more valuable than a page with fewer links pointing to it. Larry Page realiszd early on that the relative value of any web page could be evaluated by a mathematical analysis of two factors: the number of incoming links to the page attracted and the authority of the sites that were the sources of those links.
  • The company’s ads policy: placement is determined by the bid but also the frequency with which people click on them.

How Google effects us…

Google is quite literally in the business of distraction. Google’s profits are directly proportionate to people’s informational intake – the more links that are clicked, the higher the profits. The last thing Google wants is concentrated reading. It actually skimming and breaks in concentration

Then there is the fact that Google’s control of data means, to some extent, it has control over what we see, over our intellectual lives!

Carr also argues that Googles’ book digitization programme isn’t necessarily beneficial… To make a book available online is to dismember it. Fragment it.

When carried into the realm of the intellect, the industrial ideal of efficiency poses, as Hawthorne understood, a threat to meditative thought. The ability of a well rounded mind requires reflection, not just the ability to find information quickly.

We are now dependent on machines to filter information, it use to be human decision and time…. Out of a million books, only a handful would make it through the generations… Emerson again.

Everything that human beings are doing to make it easier to operate computer networks is at the same time, but for different reasons, making it easier for computer networks to operate human beings.’

For my summary of previous chapters please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!

This post will also be published to the social media site steemit on the steem blockchain.

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Types of Religious Organisation: The Church

Ernst Troeltsch (1931) used the term ‘church’ to refer to a large, hierarchically organised  religious institutions with an inclusive, universal membership, typically with close links to the state.

religious organisations types.png

According to Troeltsch* Churches have about 5 characteristics:

  1. Churches tend to have very large memberships, and inclusive memberships.
  2. Churches tend to claim a monopoly on the truth.
  3. Churches have large, bureaucratic, hierarchical structures
  4. Churches have professional, paid clergy
  5. Churches tend to be closely tied to the state.

Criticisms of the ‘concept’ of the church

Steve Bruce (1996) suggests that the above definition of church may have been true in pre-modern Christian societies, but ever since the Reformation, and especially since the increase of religious pluralism, this type of definition of a ‘church’ no longer applies to organisations which formally call themselves churches in modern societies – organisations such as the Church of England.

There are several examples of ‘churches’ which do not fit the above definition:

  • The Church of England does not have universal membership.
  • Many churches today do not claim a monopoly on the truth, they tend to be tolerant of other faiths.
  • The links between the church and the state are not as strong as they once were.

It seems then, that the only ways in which modern churches resemble Troeltsch’s definition lies in their organisational structure.

Sources

  • Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themese and Perspectives
  • Chapman et al: Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book
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Video Games Disorder: Just Another Moral Panic about Gaming?

The World Health Organisation recently included ‘gaming disorder‘ as a new mental health disorder in its latest updated draft version of the International Classification of Diseases.

The disorder has not yet been formally recognized as a condition, it’s under review over the coming year.  Not everyone’s convinced that it actually exists: the gaming industry is especially skepital, tending to view this as a moral panic reaction to parents’ raised awareness and dislike of their children spending longer on games such as Fortnite.

Is ‘gaming disorder’ must a moral panic reaction?

What is ‘Gaming Disorder’?

You can read the full definition here. It breaks down into three main elements:

  1. impaired control over gaming
  2. increasing priority given to gaming, such that gaming takes precedence over other hobbies/ interests and daily activities
  3. continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.

In order for it to be diagnosed, the WHO is suggestion that it needs to be observed over a 12 month period and have resulted in the declining ability of an individual to function in one of more are of social life, such as at work, or within the family.

What’s the evidence base for its existence?

Dr Vladimir Poznyak is one of the main defenders of the idea that VGD is a really existing phenomenon. He points to the fact that the last few years have seen a rising number of cases of ‘gaming addiction’ in several countries around the world, and some governments and charities have even set up treatment programmes, along the line of gambling addiction programmes.

He outlines in his case in this article.

NB – In his defence, Dr VP does say that <1% of gamers are ever likely to suffer from gaming disorder.

Problems with the concept and the evidence… 

UKie CEO Dr Joe Twist argues that the WHO definition is based on questionable evidence, and when pushed WHO officials are quite vague about what exactly it is they are worried about.

For example, it is unclear whether certain genres of games are more ‘addictive’ than others, or whether certain triggers (such as rewards structures) within games are the problem…

This episode of ‘Click‘ on iPlayer does quite a good job of summarising the issues surrounding gaming disorder.

What do you think?

Personally I think it’s perfectly reasonable to establish a new disorder, especially when the WHO is clear that it effects only 1% of users – I mean, check the definition, we are talking about SEVERE addiction here. Even someone who plays 40 hours a week wouldn’t necessarily be classified as having gaming disorder.

I think its fairly clear that some computer games have addictive features, which are going to affect a tiny minority in a negative way (very similar to gambling), and the games industry needs to recognize this rather than just ignoring the fact that their products create serious problems for 1% of users.

Having said that, maybe we do need further research which pins down particular genres and features…?

Image source.

 

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How does the internet effect our brains? A summary of The Shallows, chapter 7.

This is my summary of chapter seven of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr. For my summary of the previous chapter, chapter six, please click here.

This is finally the chapter where Carr gets to the real point of the book!

What can science tell us about the actual effects that internet use is having on the way our minds work?

Dozens of studies point to the fact that when we go online we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It is possible to think deeply while surfing the net, it’s just not the kind of thinking that that the technology encourages or rewards.

The Net delivers the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli – repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive – that have been show to result in strong and rapid alternations in brain circuits and functions. With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use.

The Net encourages all our senses simultaneously – except, so far, smell and taste. It also provides a high-speed system for delivering responses and rewards:

  • When we click a link, we get something new to look at.
  • When we Google a key word, we receive something interesting to appraise
  • When we send an instant message, we often get an instant reply,
  • When we write a blog post, we get comments and new users.

The Net commands our attention with far greater insistence that TV or radio: just look at a teenager on their phone as an example, what you see is a mind consumed with a medium, oblivious to everything else going on around them.

smart phone addiction

The interactivity of the Net amplifies this effect…. The self-consciousness magnifies the intensity of the involvement… particularly for the young.

One of the paradoxes…. The Net seizes our attention only scatter it. The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively.

What we’re not doing online is just as important as what we are doing… web pages crowd out time we spend reading books, bite sized messages crowds out the time we spend constructing sentences and paragraphs, time hopping across hyperlinks crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation.

Evidence on how the Net is changing our Brains

The rest of this chapter Carr devotes to outlining the evidence on how increased use of the Net is changing our brains, most of it decreasing our ability to concentrate, but he does note that not all changes are necessarily bad!

I won’t outline the research extensively, it seems to make more sense to link to some more recent research in forthcoming blog posts, so just the gist here…

Garry Small conducted some research in 2008 in which he found that a region in the brain – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was more active in experience net users compared to novice net users. He also got the novice net users to surf the web for an hour a day for six days and on retesting found that this part of the brain was much more active.

When reading regular text, experienced net users have active prefrontal cortexes, while less experienced surfers do not – this is the part of brain associated with decision making and evaluation rather than interpreting.

The mind of a book reader is calm, the mind of a surfer is buzzing.

The depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from our working memory to our long term memory and weave it into conceptual schemas – but we can only store a certain amount of information at a time… our cogntivie load – when this is breached, info is not transferred.

Two of the biggest sources of cognitive overlaod are divided attention and extraneous problem solving, both things the internet encourages.

Frequently switching between tasks can greatly add to our cognitive load.

Evidence that web pages are skimmed…

Carr now cites various pieces of research that people who get information from just one source remember more information when tested. It seems that multimedia education do not work to improve learning, necessarily.

Compensations

There are a few upsides to our changing brains in the internet age…..

  • Encourages speed of shifting visual focus
  • Fast paced problem solving
  • Expansion in capacity of working memory.

However, overall, multitasking hampers our ability to think creatively and deeply….. it odes not make us more productive.

For my summary of chapter eight please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!

This post will also be published to the social media site steemit on the steem blockchain.

Steemit is a social media site where you get paid for blogging in the crypto-currency steem. There are also similar sites on the steem blockchain through which you can get paid for uploading videos, or music and much more. Check out and join steemit for more information.

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Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times

David Lyon argues that religion is not declining with the shift from modernity to postmodernity, rather it is simply relocating to the ‘sphere of consumption’ as people selectively choose which aspects different religions to use at different points in their lives.

David Lyon suggests there are two main social changes which characterize the shift from modernity to postmodernity:

  1. The spread of computer and information technology- which allows for information to spread much more rapidly and much more globally.
  2. The growth of consumer culture. The normalizing of consumerism means that people have come to expect choice in every aspect of their lives: not only in terms of the products they buy, or where they go on holiday, but also in terms of their religious beliefs and practices.

David Lyon thus argues that the shift to postmodernity does not mean that religion has necessarily declined in purpose, it has simply moved to a different sphere of social life – to what he calls ‘the sphere of consumption’. People expect choice in every other area of their life, and they expect to be able to choose their religion too.

Lyon uses the example of religious belief in Canada to illustrate that religion remains important to most people, but only when they selectively choose it to be, in line with their own individual needs.

Lyon pointed out that 80% of those who did not attend church on a regular basis still drew selectively on religion during critical times of their lives, such as during marriage and death.

This is far from religion ‘disappearing’ from social life altogether, and thus Lyon theorizes that religion has shifted from a social institution which imposes norms on people to a cultural resource which people selectively draw on when they see fit.

To put this another way, rather than Christianity (for example, in the Christian West) being the grand narrative which dictates what people’s lives should be like, people now construct their own ‘narratives’, their own life stories, but they still look to religion to help them write the stories of their lives, but only at certain times.

People also seek a greater diversity of ways to express their faith in postmodern society, and religion has actually been very successful at adapting to fit these needs.

Jesus in Disneyland

Lyon uses the example of Christian singers appearing on stage at Disneyland during religious festivals, amidst all of the other Disney paraphernalia going on around them, to illustrate how religion has adapted to fit the postmodern society: it is no longer confined to traditional settings, and has become part of a more diverse, chaotic and fluid postmodern social landscape.

Finally, Lyon suggests that another important feature of postmodern society is de-differentiation, which involves the distinction between different areas of social life becoming blurred – and the example of ‘Jesus’ in Disneyland demonstrates this: religion has adapted to become part of a ‘fun’ leisure environment….it has become detraditionalised, but this does not necessarily mean that it has become any less important!

 

 

Find out more:

Read ‘Jesus in Disneyland‘ (2000) by David Lyon

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