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.

 

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.

 

Evaluate the view that the 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 the 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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Signposting

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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.

 

Explaining the decline in female church attendance

Over the last couple of decades, women have been leaving mainstream Christian churches at about twice the rate of men.

There are a number of possible explanations for this:

The impact of FeminismVarious Feminists have highlighted the role of the church in supporting patriarchal values and oppressing women. The Catholic Church especially maintains a male-dominated power structure, which stands in sharp contrast to the egalitarian ideals of Feminism; and it’s anti-contraception and abortion stance stands in contrast to female sexual liberation.

The increase in female paid employment – most women now work, and so no longer aspire to be merely child carers, the preferred female role in traditional Christianity. However, for those women that do work, they are typically still the primary child carers, which simply means that women, more so than men, have less time to attend church.

Increasing Family Diversity – Higher rates of divorce and single parenthood may mean fewer women from these household structures go to church, because the church generally sees these as inferior to the married, nuclear family household.

Why are there more women in the New Age Movement than men>?

Woodhead (2007) suggested women are more attracted to New Age Movements because they experience double alienation in the family…. they family fails to give them a sense of occupational identity, and they feel dissatisfied with their limited role as housewife and caregiver. New age movements offer a chance for self-exploration and can provide women with a sense of identity and self worth. (However this position has been criticized – forthcoming post).

For example, some elements of the New age encourage women to express their ‘authentic’ selves, rather than trying to reinforce their traditional socially constructed female roles as mothers and housewives.

However, at the same time, the New Age ALSO celebrates many positive aspects of femininity, such as subjective experiences, intuition and emotion, and this may also appeal to women much more than men.

The New Age movement may appeal especially to middle class women, stay at home mums, who have the time and the money to be able access the rather expensive and various New Age therapies; and the new age is partly about health and healing.

Finally, there is also the fact that New Age Movement is mainly run by women, who primarily seem to market their products and services to other women.

Criticisms of the above theories

  1. The New Age Movement is tiny, very few people and thus very few people show any interest in it!
  2. If women did join the new age movement because of double alienation, then most women should be working class, but they are not, most women are middle class.
  3. Most of the activities engaged in do not provide a sense of coherent identity, making up for dissatisfaction with life in general: seriously, how is a couple of yoga classes a week going to do this?

 

 

 

 

Limitations of ‘Traditional Gender Role Theory’ in explaining why women are more religious than men

Women’s higher levels of religiosity could be due to different age profiles: women live longer than men, and older people are more religious than younger people.

Also, it doesn’t explain the higher levels of religiosity among women who don’t accept traditional feminine roles. Most members of the New Age Movement are female, and very few accept traditional, hegemonic prescriptions of femininity.

 

 

Why are women more religious than men? Explanation one – traditional female social roles

Women tend to be more religious than men. Some sociologists have argued that traditional female roles explain why this is and this post examines and evaluates some of these ‘social role theory’ explanations for this trend in gender and religion.

Characteristics of the traditional female gender role (or traditional femininity) include being nurturing, caring, emotional, intuitive, passive and submissive.

Many religions, especially Catholicism and Islam, stress that the ideal woman would take on all of the above characteristics, and willingly take up the role of ‘primary carer’ within the family, supporting husband and children through providing love and support and being a ‘home-maker’.

If women do accept these roles, then religion can act as a source of guidance, comfort and reward, so ‘role theory’ in itself might go some way to explaining the higher level sof religiosity among women.

Three examples:

Women’s traditional role as the main child carers within the family means they are primarily responsible for the primary socialization of children. They might find religion appealing because it offers moral guidance to children ‘from above’, thus making their job as ‘enforcers of behavior’ easier.

The traditional female role also places women as the primary ‘end of life’ carers: caring for the sick and the elderly. This means they experience death more often and more directly than men. Thus they might be more religious because religion offers them a source of comfort or explanation when dealing with death.

Finally, the classical Feminist line on this, as theorized by Simone de Beauvoir, is that religion simply compensates women for their second class status. Women have less status than men, so they turn to religion for comfort (albeit a false comfort which reinforces their second class status).

Limitations of ‘Traditional Gender Role Theory’ in explaining why women are more religious than men

Women’s higher levels of religiosity could be due to different age profiles: women live longer than men, and older people are more religious than younger people.

Also, it doesn’t explain the higher levels of religiosity among women who don’t accept traditional feminine roles. Most members of the New Age Movement are female, and very few accept traditional, hegemonic prescriptions of femininity.

 

 

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.

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’.