Beliefs in Society

Last Updated on October 19, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Beliefs in society is an option within AQA A-level sociology. It usually taught in the second year of study.

This page contains an overview of the module and provides links to more detailed posts on the following topic areas:

  • sociological explanations of religion, science and ideology;
  • the relationship between social change, stability, and religious beliefs, practices and organisations;
  • religious organisations: cults, sects, denominations, churches and New Age movements;
  • class, gender, ethnicity and religion;
  • the significance of religion and religiosity in the contemporary world, including the nature and extent of secularisation; globalisation and the spread of religions.
Beliefs In Society (Sociology of Religion) (1)

This page is a work in progress and will gradually be populated with links to posts covering the whole of the AQA religion specification and more!

What is Religion? – An introductory post, covering the difference between substantive and functional definitions of religion.

Sociological explanations of religion, science and ideology including both Christian and non-Christian religious traditions

What is the the difference between science and religion?this post outlines four general differences between science and religion: the empirical versus the supernatural, open versus closed belief systems, evolving versus absolute knowledge, and objectivity versus subjectivity. 

Religion and Science – Are They Compatible? a counter-post to the one above. It focuses on the similarities between science and religion, rather than the differences between the two. 

The relationship between social change, stability, and religious beliefs, practices and organisations

AKA ‘sociological perspectives on religion’.

The Functionalist Perspective on Religion summary revision notes covering Durkheim’s Malinowski’s, and Parsons perspectives on the role of religion in society

Emile Durkheim’s Perspective on Religionclass notes covering Durkhiem’s view that religion really represents society, so when people worship religion, they are really worshiping society. Durkhiem argued that religion is a conservative force which reinforces people’s commitment to social values.

Malinowksi’s Perspective on Religionmore in-depth class notes. Malinowski differs from Durkheim in that he did not believe that when people worshiped religion they were really worshiping society. He tended to focus more on the positive functions religion performed for the individual rather than society. 

Talcott Parsons’ Perspective on Religionmore in-depth class notes on Parson’s view that religion acts as the source of moral order in contemporary societies. 

The Marxist Perspective on Religionclass notes on Marx’s well known view that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’.  

The Neo-Marxist Perspective on Religion – class notes on Otto Maduro’s theory that religious leaders sometimes act independently of the economic elite and take the side of the oppressed, as they did in the case of Liberation Theology in Latin America. 

Max Weber – The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalismrevision notes outlining Max Weber’s complex theory that the austere values and lifestyle of Protestant Calvinism eventually gave rise to modern Capitalism. 

Neo Functionalism: Civil ReligionRobert Bellah’s concept of Civil Religion dragged Functionalist analysis of religion into the 20th century, and maybe you can use it to drag it into the 21st?!

Radical Feminist perspectives on religionsummary revision notes covering Simone de Beauviour and Nawal El Saadawi among other fave rad fems.

Simone De Beauvoir’s Perspective on Religionclass notes on DeBeavour’s view that religion compensates women for their second class status in society. 

Nawal El Saadawi: The Hidden Face of Eveclass notes covering Egyptian feminist El Saadawi’s perspective on the role of religion in oppression women in the Arab World. She basically argues that it’s patriarchy, not religion that’s the problem.

Carol Christ’s Feminist Spiritualityclass notes covering Christ’s view that women should seek personal paths to finding the Goddess.

The relationship between Postmodernity and religionA hub post containing links to the theories of Bauman, Giddens, Lyon and Heelas on how religion changes with postmodernity.

Religion and social changesummary revision notes summarising the above perspectives’ views on the relationship between religion and social change. 

Religious organisations: cults, sects, denominations, churches and New Age movements and their relationship to religious and spiritual belief and practice

The Churchrevision notes covering the key features of the church, which are the largest, well established and most conservative religious organisations in many societies. 

Denominationswhich share many of the features of churches, but are generally smaller. These are more appealing to minority groups and do not have a monopoly on the truth. 

Sects – In some was can be seen as the ‘opposite of churches’ but it’s not quite that simple. Sects tend to be smaller groups which break away from churches, demand the highest level of commitment from members and are oppositional to society. However, they still have a monopoly on the truth. 

Cultsare the most loose knit and ‘disorganised’ of religious organisations. These tend demand very low commitment from members and are often have a business-client relationship. They fit well with postmodern society. 

World Rejecting, World Affirming and World Accommodating NRMs

World rejecting new religious movementsrevision notes. These are often known as sects. They tend to be small and critical of mainstream society. They also tend to demand the highest level of commitment from members.

World affirming new religious movementsrevision notes. These mainly help individuals realise their full potential. They are highly individualistic and are low commitment. Some of them will fit into the New Age Movement.

World accommodating new  religious movementsrevision notes. These are kind of half way between world rejecting and world affirming movements. They tend to help members cope with every day life.

What is the new age movement?Introductory post. This post covers the key features of the New Age Movement and provides some examples.

Explaining the growth of the new age movement – revision Notes covering Steve Bruce’s and Paul Heelas’ views on how the New Age Movement ‘fits into’ post modern society. 

Postmodernity and The New AgePaul Heelas argues that while the New Age Movement may appear postmodern, it is not!

Class, gender, ethnicity and religion

The relationship between religion and social class – class notes on how religious practice and belief varies by social class background. 

Gender and religious belief – a short post outlining some of the statistics which suggest that women are more religious than men. 

Why are women more religious than men (1) – class notes focusing on the extent to which different gender roles might explain this. 

The relationship between ethnicity and religion in the UKReligious beliefs vary considerably by ethnicity. Black and Asian Britons are more likely to practice religion regularly than White Britons. Lots more info in this post!

Reasons why ethnic minorities in the UK have higher levels of religiosityA summary of four theories: cultural transition, cultural defence, neo-marxism, and Weberianism.

Religion and ageYounger people in the UK generally report lower levels of religious belief. However, sect members tend to be younger. The New Age Movement is mainly middle aged people.

Why are older people more religious than younger people? Is this because of older people being closer to death? Or is it social changes that mean it’s more of a generational effect?

The significance of religion and religiosity in the contemporary world, including the nature and extent of secularisation

What is secularisation? a basic definition is ‘the declining significance of religion in society’, but this post digs a little deeper. 

Evidence for secularisation outlining the statistics on religious belonging, belief and behaviour. 

Disengagement as evidence of secularisationDisengagement refers to the process of religious institutions becoming less involved in political and social life. This is some of the strongest evidence for secularisation in the U.K.

Rationalisation, Disenchantment and secularisationsome theorists of secularization argue that modernity and the growth of science, reason and bureaucracy have killed off religion. This post provides more details on these theories.

Religious pluralism – evidence for secularisation? Religious beliefs and practices have become more diverse over time. Some sociologists argue this is evidence for secularisation because this waters down the power of religion. For example, it is more difficult for any one religion to claim a monopoly of truth. However, pluralisation may be evidence of religion become more popular, ust on an individual, not a social level.

Religion in global context; globalisation and the spread of religions

Religion and globalisationbrief revision notes covering different perspectives on the relationship between globalisation and religion. 

What is Fundamentalism? – class notes outlining Steve Bruce’s five features of religious fundamentalism and the difference between individual and communal fundamentalism. 

The Causes of Fundamentalismclass notes outlining Steve Bruce’s theory of the causes of Fundamentalism. 

Samuel Huntington – The Clash of CivilisationsHuntington believes that religion has become more important as a source of identity in a global world. Furthermore, as globalisation brings civilisations into closer contact, religion increasingly becomes a source of conflict. 

Karen Armstrong: Fundamentalism and the WestAgainst Huntington, Armstrong argues that political and economic factors are more important in explaining the rise of Fundamentalism since 2001, and that Islam is not necessarily prone to Fundamentalism. 

AQA A-level Sociology Exam Practice – Questions and Answer Links

Analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations (10) – A full model answer which should get into the top band. 

Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons why younger people are generally less religious than older people (10)

Evaluate the view that religion no longer acts as a shared universe of meaning for people today (20) an essay plan. 

Evaluate the view that the extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20) – an essay plan covering arguments and evidence for and against the view in the question.

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