What is Religious Fundamentalism?

The early 21st Century has seen the rise of various Fundamentalist groups, for example:

  • The increasing influence of the New Religious Right in the United States
  • The rise of Zionism in Israel
  • The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Steve Bruce: Communal and Individual Fundamentalism

  • Communal individualism is that usually found in less developed countries and is primarily concerned with defending communities (or nations) against what are perceived to be ‘modernist’ threats such as western materialism, individualism, multiculturalism, and human rights. These are typically seen by ‘communal fundamentalists’ as secularising forces which undermine religion.
  • Individualist fundamentalism is more likely to be found within developed nations and is mainly associated with the New Christian Right in the United States – it is concerned with maintaining traditional values within the context of a stable liberal democratic nation state.

Five Key Features of Fundamentalist Movements

According to Chapman et al (2015) Fundamentalist movements share the following characteristics:

  1. A literal interpretation of religious texts, which are seen as infallible – they take their ‘moral codes’ straight from their sacred texts. A good fundamentalist is supposed to lead their life in accordance with the original sacred text of the religion, and there is little room for flexibility in this. However, one of the major criticisms of Fundamentalism is that religious texts are often obscure and they have been interpreted at some point by whoever is in power, so there is no such thing as a ‘literal interpretation’.
  2. They regard all areas of social life as sacred – Fundamentalists tend to impose their views on others in a society, and police people’s day to day behaviour closely to make sure that day to day life is being lived in line with their interpretation of the sacred text.
  3. They do not tolerate other religions – they have a monopoly on truth, and when Fundamentalists take power, they tend to purge the symbols of other religions from their area and persecute people of other faiths.
  4. They have conservative beliefs – Fundamentalists tend to support traditional gender roles and are against ‘progressive’ liberalisation, such as women playing a greater role in work and politics and they tend towards tolerance and even celebration of sexuality diversity.
  5. They tend to look at past religious eras with nostalgia, and sometimes want to change society back to how it used to be, before secularisation, when society was more religions


Chapman et al (2015) Sociology AQA A-Level Student Book 2


Sociological Perspectives on the Environment Protests in London

Thousands of protestors have been engaging in various acts of civil disobedience to protest the British government’s lack of action over climate change.

The week’s protests culminated in up to 6000 people blocking bridges causing significant traffic disruption as well as some of them gluing their hands to the department of the environment’s building.

The protestors say they are doing this because they’ve tried everything else to get the government to take effective action on climate change, but to no avail, and this seems to be something of a last resort!

To find out more you can read this news article here.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

The people who took part in these protests will almost certainly identify themselves as ‘global citizens’ taking part in a global social movement to being about positive social change. It’s a nice illustration of people engaging in life-Politics (Anthony Giddens’ concept) – it’s highly likely that if you’re committed enough to engage in this level of civil disobedience for the sake of the planet, then you probably live your life in an environmentally friendly way.

These protests and the people who took part in them are most definitely not ‘postmodern‘ – they clearly believe in ‘the truth’ of climate change as outlined by the United Nations, so it’s a nice reminder that not everything about British society is ‘post modern’, this is very much more ‘late modern’ – people coming together to effect what they perceive as positive social change.

It’s also a good example of Giddens’ theory that in the context of globalisation, nation states are too small to solve big problems such as climate change – and this is possibly why so many governments have been ‘dragging their feet’ over taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…. they can use the fact that ‘they are just one nation among 200’ to not do anything.

Of course, it’s also a straightforward example of positive cultural (and kind of political) globalisation.

If you’re an optimist you could interpret these events through a Functionalist lens – it’s possible that these people are showing us the ‘morality of the future’ – they actually identify explicitly with the Civil Rights activists of the 1960s.

Finally, I think this is an example of secondary green crime…. a crime (the public order offences which led to several arrests) emerging out of a conflict over the environment. it may not be because this concept is not explained very clearly in the A-level text books!



Goop – New Age Nonsense?

The Good Thinking Society, a charity which campaigns against pseudo-science has recently reported Gwneth Paltrow’s Goop to UK watchdogs, because it believes some of the wellness products the site sells are actually harmful.


Probably the best example of this is a product called ‘The Mother Load’ which lists 110% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A, a vitamin which, according to UK health organisations can actually be harmful if taken in high doses.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

Firstly, Goop is a great example of a postmodern New Age Spirituality. It’s mission is to sell products which promote well-being, and ‘inner peace’. Basically, stressed out women go to Goop to buy nice things and achieve ‘inner peace’.

Gwyneth seems to think there’s nothing wrong with this: I mean why would she: she’s a right woman living in the first world whose pumped her money into a feel good business. I bet her pseudo-spiritual products make her feel pretty good!

However, on balance I think this is a good example of just how the The New Age isn’t really religious at all – it’s just wealthy people buying goods and services to make themselves feel better – it’s basically consumerism!

The material above is a good example of how science and religion can come into direct conflict.

Evaluate the view that religion no longer acts as a ‘shared universe of meaning’ for people today

Item B

Berger (1990) argues that religion once provided a ‘shared universe of meaning’ and was used by people to make sense of the world, and to give their lives focus and order. He refers to religion as a ‘sacred canopy’, stretching over society and helping people to cope with the uncertainties of life.

Other sociologists disagree about the role that religion fulfils in society today. Marxists, for example, argue that religion acts to dull the pain of oppression experienced by the working class under capitalism and to conceal domination by the bourgeoisie. Some feminists argue that religion oppresses or disadvantages women.

Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the view that religion no longer acts as a ‘shared universe of meaning’ for people today.


  • This is a relatively straightforward question if you take it as a ‘consensus versus conflict’ essay.
  • You could also throw in elements of postmodernisation and secularization.
  • And counter criticize (kind of) from a globalist perspective.

Supporting evidence from Functionalism

  • Durkheim’s argued that religion reinforces the ‘collective conscience’ by representing the social order.
  • Malinowski argued religious rituals helped the Trobriand Islanders deal with risky situations with uncertain outcomes (such as deep sea rather than lagoon fishing)
  • He also argued religious rituals help people cope with social change, such as when people die.
  • Parsons seems to be the main man who agreed with Berger: the main function of religion was to help people make sense of contradictory events.
  • In one sense you could say that religion forms the basis of the law and this provides a shared universe of meaning.

Other supporting evidence drawn from across the syllabus

  • It’s unlikely that anything other than religion can provide a ‘sacred canopy’ (Science doesn’t provide all of the answers to ‘big questions’ for example)
  • Goddess religions could be interpreted as forming a ‘sacred canopy’ – one ‘divine reality, but many paths to it’.
  • This seems to be more the case for older rather than younger people (older people are more religious)
  • Some newer religions might be providing a more ‘general’ sacred canopy… for example ecumenicalism and The New Age movement.
  • Giddens argues that religion today provides a vital role in answering big questions and providing moral purpose

Marxism/ Feminism

  • Criticize the idea of a ‘shared universe of meaning’ because religion works in the interest of elite groups.
  • It’s the meaning of the elite that is taught through religion – such as the idea that inequality is God’s will and cannot be changed.
  • Neo-Marxism and Feminist resistance against elitist and patriarchal religions are evidence against this.

Postmodernisation/ Increasing diversity of religion means there is no sacred canopy

  • The increasing diversity of religion with postmodernity suggests there is no ‘shared universe of meaning’.
  • Religion has become more about ‘me’, less about aligning with society, e.g. the New Age Movement.
  • Religion has become more about entertainment, thus is arguably no ‘deeper’ than Disneyland.

Secularisation/ growth of science means there is no sacred canopy

  • Secularization is further evidence against – fewer people believe in God.
  • It’s more likely that belief in science, rather than religion provides a ‘sacred canopy’.

Examples of religious conflicts

  • Fundamentalism
  • World Rejecting NRMs

Thoughts on a conclusion

Pick up on the different ‘functions’ in the item to write a differentiated conclusion… maybe religion doesn’t provide a ‘shared universe of meaning’ any more, but maybe it’s still used selectively by people some of the time to deal with uncertainties.

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

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!

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.





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.

Religion and Conflict: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Crusade Against Neoliberalism….

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, seems to be firmly against corporate greed and Tory neoliberal policies which allow Corporations the freedom to exploit workers.

religion social change archbishop.png

His explicitly political stance against mainstream political and economic institutions seems to be a good example of a religious leader getting involved in political conflict.

At the Trade’s Union conference Just last week Welby described zero hours contracts as ‘the reincarnation of an ancient evil’ and accused Amazon of avoiding tax and ‘leaching’ off the public.

The Archbishop seems to be firmly in the ‘Jeremy Corbyn camp’: he has been speaking out against Tory austerity policies since he took up office in 2013. He has consistently criticized modern capitalism and tory welfare cuts; and has previously stated that he wanted to see the payday loan company Wonga put out of business (so at least he’s got something to be happy about!).

Welby probably has a lot of direct experience to draw on: all over the country Church of England churches have been setting up food banks and acting as night shelters for the homeless, effectively playing a role in filling the Tory’s welfare gap.

Relevance to A-level sociology…

This seems to be a great example of a major religious leader standing up for the poor, in the tradition of Liberation Theology.

Potentially this is religion acting as a source of conflict… here Welby is railing explicitly against mainstream political and economic institutions.

This is most definitely NOT an example of religion acting as a conservative force: this is a religious leader demanding radical change.

Final thoughts…. 

There is possibly an element of hypocrisy to Welby’s views: The Church of England itself has shares in Amazon, and even uses zero hours contracts.

This further suggests that Welby’s views might be out of step with the rest of the Church of England. Maybe the views of this one individual are genuine, but maybe he actually has any real power to really bring about any kind of far reaching, radical social change?


Why are girls unhappier than boys?

Girls are unhappier than boys, and they have been getting progressively more miserable since 2009, at least according to the Good Childhood Report, 2017.

Somewhat depressingly, this report is evidence against the March of Progress view of childhood.

The report measures childhood well-being across a number of different ‘domains’ using a number of different sources, drawing on mainly quantitative survey data conducted with 60 000 children.

‘Domains’ are simply different areas of social life, including how satisfied children are with such things as school, family life and their appearance. Some of the questions designed to measure life-satisfaction are as follows:

childhood report summary.png

The main findings of the report…

  • The average level of well-being reported by girls has declined since 2009, while boys’ reported well-being has remained stable.
  • Girls report significantly lower levels of satisfaction with their appearance compared to boys.
  • However, the one area of life where girls report higher levels of satisfaction is within education.

childrens happiness trends

Why are girls less happy than boys?

The report also analyses the gender differences in happiness by looking at different levels of bullying and social media usage. It concludes that:

  • Differences in reported levels of bullying cannot explain the reported differences in unhappiness by gender. The report says: ‘There were significant gender differences in rates of physical bullying – 23% of boys had been physically bullied compared to 13% of girls. Rates of other bullying were very similar for girls (33%) and boys (31%)
  • Girls are twice as likely to be intense users of social media (defined as more than 3 hours a day) – 13% of girls and 6% of boys fall into this category. The report states that intense usage of social media is correlated with lower levels of reported subjective well-being, and that this may account for some of the gender differences in happiness shown above, especially where satisfaction (or lack of it) with appearance is concerned.
  • HOWEVER, the report also says that ‘normal’ levels of social media usage have no impact on happiness level and overall level of social media usage explains less than 2% of differences in reported levels of happiness: other factors are far more important.

Final Thoughts…

While gender differences in reported levels of happiness may look dramatic, this might be a bit of a distraction….. it seems that a poor experience of family life and experience of the social problems associated with deprivation and living in a poor area are far better predictors of child misery than gender!