Outline and explain two ways in which religion might promote social change

This is a suggested answer to the first type of 10 mark question you’ll find in section A of the AQA’s second sociology paper (paper 2, topics in sociology).

For some general advice on how to answer (both types of) 10 mark questions – please see this post

A 10 mark question (which has no item) will ask students about two elements from one or more of the bullet points on the topic specification. Thus it is here that you might see ‘classic’ questions such as this one.

Outline and explain two ways in which religion might promote social change (10)

The first way in is through helping people to challenge perceived social injustices and helping them fight for a ‘better’ society.

One example of where this has happened is with Liberation Theology. This developed in South America in the 1970s, when certain members of the Catholic Church started to criticize the economic inequality in the region, following witnessing the enormous deprivation suffered by the poorest in society.

Some priests challenged the role of the church in supporting the economic and political elites, taking up the cause of the landless peasants and campaigning for a more equal society.

Maduro actually argued that in such societies, where the church is central, it is the only institution which might bring about social change!

While they were not very successful, the question does say MIGHT! This type of political involvement has a long history in Christianity, and lately the Archbishop of Canterbury has been criticizing the effects of neoliberal economic policies, again standing up to power.

While the above examples may not have been successful, they can be: as with Martin Luther King and the wider Baptist Church – churches not only act as sources of solidarity for those fighting oppression, they can also act as centers which can organise protest marches.

A second way in which religion might promote social change was outlined by Max Weber in his ‘Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism‘.

Weber argued that the values of Calvinism (A very strict version of Protestantism) gave rise, over a couple of centuries, to the economic system of capitalism.

Calvinism taught that working hard was a way to worship God and also to ‘prove’ that you were one of the ‘elect’ (saved). It also taught that having fun was sinful. These two religious beliefs together encouraged the development of societies with cultures which valued hard work and entrepreneurialism, and discouraged frivolous expenditure.

Eventually, this led to any money saved from setting up businesses to be put back into the business (it was a sin to spend on leisure) in order to encourage more ‘work’ and ‘industry’.

These were the exact same set of values which were necessary for Capitalism to work – the work ethic and entrepeneurialism.

Weber developed his theory by doing comparative analysis – he argued that Capitalism emerged first in Holland and England where Calvinist values were strongest (he has been criticised but I don’t any marks for that, so no point saying why).

A further analysis point is that this is religion promoting social change unonciously.

Another further analysis point is that this study shows that religion can promote huge ‘systems level’ socio-economic changes in society.

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Outline and explain two ways in which religious organisations have changed in response to globalisation

This is a suggested answer to the first type of 10 mark question you’ll find in section A of the AQA’s second sociology paper (paper 2, topics in sociology).

For some general advice on how to answer (both types of) 10 mark questions – please see this post

This is a brief, bullet pointed answer to give students some ideas of how they might answer this question.

Firstly, some religious organisations have made a conscious effort to be more accepting of diversity, as a response to the increasing intermixing of cultures.

One example of this is ecumenicalism, which seeks to find commonalities across different faiths and stresses that no religion has a monopoly on the truth.

The New Age Movement is also a type of new religion which embraces the diversity of globalization. For example, it draws on many traditions from around the world, such as Buddhism, and it also allows people the freedom to pick and mix different aspects of religions to suit them.

Secondly, some religious organisations have become more fundamentalist, as they perceive globalization as a threat.

Globalization can mean rapid social change and dislocation, and fundamentalist groups are conservative and either want to resist change or take things back to a simpler, ‘golden era’.

Such groups might be appealing to those who feel like they are losing out with the changes globalization brings. They offer a sense of direction and certainty rather than chaos and anomie.

NB: This is a tough question!

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Outline and explain two reasons why some groups are more likely to join World Rejecting New Religious Movements than others (10)

This is a suggested answer to the first type of 10 mark question you’ll find in section A of the AQA’s second sociology paper (paper 2, topics in sociology).

It’s good practice to firstly identify a type of group and then try to link them to a specific world rejecting NRM (or more than one if you can). Then you need to link together different reasons why these type of people might join this type of group.

For some general advice on how to answer (both types of) 10 mark questions – please see this post

Economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities are more likely to join World Rejecting NRMs such as the Nation of Islam.

According to Roy Wallis, such groups suffer higher levels of deprivation and marginalization, meaning they feel pushed to edge of society and not really a part of it.

In the case of ethnic minorities, they may also have experience racism, which compounds the effects of economic deprivation.

World Rejecting NRMs may appeal precisely because they reject mainstream society, which has effectively rejected impoverished ethnic minority groups.

Some of them offer a ‘theodicy of disprivilege’ which explains why the group is experiencing deprivation, and offers spiritual compensation for coping with such deprivations.

Others, such as the Nation of Islam, offer the prospect of social change, and actively challenge the powerful in mainstream society. This can provide a sense of not only hope for a better life, but also solidarity while engaged in the struggle for a better life.

A second type of group which are attracted to World Rejecting New Religious Movements are highly educated young people. This is what Eileen Barker unexpectedly found when she researched the Moonies.

Such people are typically from middle class background and they have witnessed their parents being successful, but not necessarily being happy. They are expected to follow in their parents footsteps but have realised that there is something missing in their lives.. despite being privileged, they feel a little hollow.

NRMs offer something different, something which such people lack – they make up for their spiritual deprivation.

Such movements are especially accessible to young people as they have fewer attachments, and for wealthier kids, it’s less of a risk because they know they can always go back and live off their parents if they have enough of their ‘spiritual phase’.

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Four theories of postmodernity and religion: a summary

A level sociology text books seem to focus on four theorists of postmodernity and religion: Giddens, Bauman, Heelas and Lyon. This post is a bare bones summary of what they say about how religion changes to ‘fit’ postmodernity.

Anthony Giddens: High Modernity and Religion 

Zygmunt Bauman: Postmodernity and Religion  

David Lyon: Jesus in Disneyland 

Paul Heelas: Postmodernity and The New Age Movement

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Global Warming: Last Chance to Save Planet Earth?

The Intergovernmental Panel’s Report on Climate Change (IPCC), published earlier this week, doesn’t make for pretty reading…

Human activities are estimated to have caused 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

With this level of warming, the report estimates that about 4% of the earth’s surface will undergo significant ecosystems change (in layman’s terms that means some areas becoming deserts, and lots of dead polar bears in the arctic), more extreme weather conditions, and some small island communities disappearing due to sea level rise.

And those in less developed countries will generally bear the brunt of the negative consequences of climate change.

The report also points out that warming could be more severe, and that to limit warming to 1.5C, will involve “annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion” between 2016 and 2035.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: 

Unfortunately this important update is only of direct relevance to the minority of students who study the Global Development topic. For those that do, this report puts everything in perspective: this is the ‘global challenge of the day’.

However, for all students of sociology it’s possibly a good reminder of the limits of optimist globaliszation. Globalization has gone so far that we’ve effectively got a global consensus that climate change is taking place and that it’s man made. HOWEVER, we’ve actually known this for decades, but still nothing significant is being done about it, because those who occupy the seats of global power don’t see it as being in their current interests to actually take the necessary large-scale action (i.e. make the massive investments now) to reduce the risks of global warming.

Of course, if you’re a hard line neo-liberal risk society theorist, you might just see all of this IPCC stuff as scare mongering, nothing to worry about, and remain confident in the fact that the planet can handle the shock, and that techno-solutions will be found at some point in the not too distant future.

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Sociological Perspectives applied to The Apprentice….

Now in its fourteenth season, The Apprentice is one of Britain’s longest running T.V. series and remains one of the most popular, with average weekly viewing figures stable at just over 7 million for the past four years.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10:00:01 on 25/09/2018 – Programme Name: The Apprentice – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: **IMAGE EMBARGOED FROM PUBLICATION UNTIL 10AM TUESDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER 2018**
Lord Sugar with The Apprentice Candidates of 2018. Lord Sugar – (C) Boundless Taylor Herring – Photographer: Jim Marks

In this post, I’m just going to analyse what its ‘social functions’ might be by applying a few sociological perspectives…

From a Functionalist perspective, which tends to focus on the positive functions which institutions perform in contributing to the maintenance of the whole, then I guess there are several positive functions which the apprentice might perform: we can see it as playing a role in secondary socialisation, reinforcing the ‘work ethic’ that is deemed so fundamental to capitalist society, for example, and even providing additional opportunities for entrepreneurs.

From a Marxist perspective the main function would probably be one of spreading false consciousness. The broad diversity of contestants suggests (As it does on any BBC show that we have equality of opportunity. This is a myth, especially where successful entrepreneurs are concerned. Such people tend to be drawn disproportionately from the middle classes.

It might also perform the function of ideological control: it has a soporific effect as 7 million people tune in to it every week, and it celebrates the values of individualism, selfishness and competition, disguising the many downsides to these traits.

I can’t see that there would be much of a feminist critique of the apprentice…. There are equal numbers of both sexes, and there are plenty of female winners who have been successful because of the apprentice. Possibly the show might be supporting evidence for liberal feminism?

Although, just as with Marxism, it does little to highlight the very real barriers that ‘ordinary women’ face every day in the workplace – such as harassment and the effects of the persistent dual burden/ triple shift.

From a neoliberal point of view, you might see this show as a real celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. From this perspective, society needs innovative individuals to come up new business ideas to drive the economy forward, and the sort of competition we see on the Apprentice is a perfectly healthy means of promoting this.

From a neoliberal point of view, the show ticks a lot of boxes – not only is it providing an opportunity for enterprising individuals to kick-start their businesses (either through winning and getting an investment, or through simply having their profiles raised as a result of being on the show), it also provides two generations of role models – in the form of Alan Sugar himself and the young apprentices. The show is itself is even a profit generating product in its own right as well.

Finally… this is a very postmodern show…. The sphere of production become the sphere of consumption, as entertainment. And the entertainment mainly comes from the extreme individualism of the contestants. It’s also hyperreal, as I argued in this post: how the apprentice really works!

Finally, from a late modernist point of view, while most the individuals think ‘they’ve done it all themselves’ – they are wrong: they need to realise the importance of the structures they’re embedded into, not least of all the competition itself: they need that external support of £250K and Alan Sugar’s business contacts to kick start their businesses, after all!

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Gender and Religious Belief

Despite the fact that religions tend to disadvantage women, statistics suggest that women actually express higher levels of religiosity compared to men. This post simply updates some of the stats on the relationship between religious belief and practice and gender in the UK and globally.

  • A Global 2016 study by PEW identified a ‘gender gap’ in religious affiliation. The study found that 83% of women identify with a faith group compared to only 79% of men.
  • The PEW study found a significant gender gap in religion in the US and the UK: The biggest gender gap the was in the US: where 68% men said they were unaffiliated compared to just 32% of women. In the UK, it was 56%-44%.
  • A 2015 Survey of 9000 adults in the UK born in 1970 found that men were twice as likely to believe that god did not exist compared to women. 54% of men reported that they were either atheists of agnostics compared to only 34% of women. Women were also twice as likely to believe in an afterlife compared to men.
  • A 2013 report by the charity TearFund found that UK churches are attended by 65% women and 35% men.
  • The same report found the inverse ratio in other places of worship: 54% male to 46% female
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Explaining social class differences in religious belief and participation

Why is it that the middle classes are more attracted to mainstream churches, while the working classes find denominations more appealing. And how do we explain the different social class profiles of different NRMs?

Churches and Denominations

The Church of England has close ties with ‘the establishment’: The Queen, for example, is the ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’ and the Prime Minister remains responsible for appointing bishops. There are also a significant number of bishops in the House of Lords.

Thus the Church of England has a very ‘elitist’ feel about it, which goes at least some way to explaining its appeal to the middle classes.

Ahern’s (1987) survey of working class inner city Londerners found that they were generally distrustful of the mainstream Church of England. They generally felt as if the relationship between the church and the working classes was one of us ‘us versus them’. They found its ministers patronizing, gloomy and boring and claimed that ministers were ‘culturally embarrassed’ by the presence of working class individuals in church.

Glock (1964) argues that some people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are attracted to sects because they help them coping with their disadvantage: by offering ‘spiritual compensation’ for economic deprivation, for example.

Roy Wallis (1984) argued that denominations such as Methodism attracted more working class people because they were organised and run by their congregations. They also taught values of moral responsibility that most working class people identified with (such as hard work and thrift).

Andrew Holden’s (2002) research with the Jehovah’s Witnesses found that recruits were drawn mainly form the skilled working-classes, self-employed and lower middle classes. He theorized that these people had little interaction with others in their job roles, and little social status as a result. They way the Jehovah’s Witnesses was structured compensated them for their lack of status at work, what with the movement’s strong emphasis on self-sacrifice and assurance of salvation.

Roy Wallis suggests that some of the New Religious Movements such as the Unification Church and Krishna Consciousness attracted mainly well educated middle class people – and suggested that these movements compensated them for ‘psychic deprivation’ – they were disillusioned with their parents’ capitalist values and turned to these organisations for an alternative.

Sources 

Chapman et Al (2013) Sociology, AQA Year 2 Student Book

 

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Religion and Age

This post presents an examination of the relationship between religious belief, religious participation and age.

Younger people tend to be less religious than older  people

  • Recent (2018) research by PEW compared the religious beliefs and practices of 18-39 year olds with those aged 40 and over. They found that younger people are less religious than old people in 41 countries, but there are only 2 countries in which younger people are more religious. There is no difference in 60 countries.

  • According to the 2011 UK census, young people are much more likely to report that they have no religion
    • People aged under 25 made up 31% of the population as a whole, but 39% of those reporting they had no religion
    • Those aged 65+ made up 16.5% of the population as a whole, but just 5.6% of those reporting they had no religion.
  • Also according to the UK National Census, ethnic minority religions tend to have a much younger age profile than Christianity or No religion. For example, 85% of Muslims are aged under 50, compared to around 55% of Christians.

Age and participation in New Religious Movements and the New Age Movement

  • Eileen Barker’s research into The Moonies (a world rejecting sect) found that the membership base was relatively young, with most members being aged between 18-30.
  • The New Age Movement tends to be made up of middle aged people, especially those in their late 30s and 40s.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/may/16/uk-census-religion-age-ethnicity-country-of-birth

 

 

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Zygmunt Bauman – Postmodernity and Religion

In modernity, ethics was simply a matter of following a set of prescribed rules already laid down by institutions such as the state. In effect, for most of modernity, individual responsibility was abolished: all one had to do to be a ‘good citizen’ was to adopt the relevant social norms according to their class/ gender/ ethnicity and obey the law.

However, postmodernity has abolished all of these external rules, and morality has become a matter of personal choice: morality has becomes privatized.

In modernity, individuals tended to have ‘life-projects’: they wanted to achieve things with their lives, to reach certain goals, which had typically been laid down by society.

In postmodernity, individuals are more concerned with a process of self-constitution: rather than achieving things, they want to ‘be somebody’. They are more concerned with getting noticed, being visible to others, but still individually responsible for every aspect of their individual identity.

According to Bauman, now that individuals find themselves responsible for their own self-identities, they increasingly turn to ‘experts in morality’ for guidance about ‘how to be’. In this context, religious leaders are in greater demand because they are one set of ‘morality’ experts who people might call upon for ethical guidance.

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