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 themĀ 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.

SourcesĀ 

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

 

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