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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Reasons why Ethnic Minorities have Higher Levels of Religiosity

Ethnic minorities in Britain tend to see religion as more important than Whites. This post summarizes four theories which seek to explain this trend: cultural transition theory, cultural defense theory, neo-marxism, and Weberianism.

Cultural Transition Theory 

  • Cultural transition theory emphasizes the fact that most ethnic minorities in the UK originate from societies with higher levels of religiosity.
  • When the first waves of immigrants came to Britain from the West-Indies and Asia, religion helped immigrants deal with the stress of adjusting to a new culture.
  • Religious institutions, for example, provided a sense of community, and actually working together to build a ‘religious infrastructure’ promoted a sense of social solidarity.
  • Given that immigration is still a relatively recent phenomenon, it is not surprising that ethnic minorities are still more religious than White Britons.
  • Cultural transition theory holds that once a group has settled into a new culture, commitment to religion will gradually weaken.
  • This later seems to be the case as third and fourth generation immigrants tend to display lower levels of religiosity than first and second generation immigrants.

Cultural Defense Theory 

  • Cultural defense theory suggests that religion helps some ethnic minority groups preserve a sense of unique cultural identity in the face of an unwelcoming and hostile mainstream culture.
  • Religion can be a way to provide emotional support in the midst of racism and intolerance from mainstream society.
  • When Black Africans and Caribbean Christians first came to Britain, they were not generally welcomed by the congregations of mainstream churches. One of the ways they responded to this was to establish their own forms of Pentecostal Christianity.

Weberianism

  • Weberians suggest that there is a relationship between poverty and religiosity.
  • There does seem to be a correlation between religion, ethnicity and poverty…. African-Caribbeans in the UK experience higher levels of poverty and have higher levels of religion.
  • Weber (1920) theorised that certain denominations and sects appeal to the deprived because they can help people cope with their deprivation.
  • Ken Pryce’s (1979) research into the role of Pentacostalism among African-Caribbeans in the UK is a useful application of Weberianism. Pentecostalism emphasizes the importance of family and community, and values hard-work and thrift, all of which offer practical support for helping to cope with poverty as well as a sense of spiritual status.

Neo-Marxism

  • Neo-Marxist theory holds that religion has some degree of autonomy from the economic base, and that religious institutions can act as agents of revolutionary change for the oppressed.
  • Ethnic minority groups tend to suffer from higher levels of exploitation, especially when they are used as scapegoats for some of society’s problems (as Stuart Hall argues in ‘Policing the Crisis‘), and resistance has sometimes centered around religious institutions.
  • The Nation of Islam in America is probably the most obvious example of this.

Evaluating neo-marxism

  • This probably applies more to America than it does to the United Kingdom.
  • In the UK, this certainly does not explain the experience of every ethnic minority group… Sikhs and Hindus (mainly of Indian origin) for example, experience lower levels of deprivation than whites.

 

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The relationship between ethnicity and religion in the UK

According to the 2011 UK census, the religious breakdown of England and Wales was as follows:

  • Christian – 59%
  • No religion – 25%
  • Muslim – 5%
  • Hindu – 1.5%
  • Sikh, Jewish, Buddhist, all <1%

The relationship between ethnicity and religion

  • Christianity is a predominately White religion, especially the Anglican church
  • African forms of Christian spirituality have increased dramatically in the last two decades. Pentecostal Churches are predominately attended by British Africans and African-Caribbeans.
  • Sikhs and Hindus are predominantly of Indian Heritage
  • British Muslims are predominately of Pakistani Heritage, although there is considerable ethnic diversity within British Islam
  • There is some evidence that African-Caribbeans are more likely to be involved in sects such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Ethnic minorities tend to be more religious than White Britons 

  • Only 32% of adults who reported being Christian said they practiced their religion regularly. This compares to 80% of Muslims and 2/3rds of Hindus, Sikhs and Jews
  • Black Christians are 3 times more likely to attend church than White Christians (English Church Census, 2005)
  • Muslims, Hindus and Black Christians see religion as more central to their identity than White Christians. O’Beirne 2004 found that:
    • Asians, especially Muslims ranked religion and family equally as markers of identity
    • African-Caribbeans and Black-Africans ranked religion as the third most important factor in their lives.
    • White Christians rarely ranked religion as central to their identity.
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The relationship between religion and social class

The relationship between social class and religion is not straightforward: the middle classes are, in general, more likely to attend church, but they are also less likely to believe in God and more likely to be atheists and join both world affirming and world rejecting NRMs.

The working classes are less likely to attend church, yet more likely to believe in God than the middle classes. There are also certain denominations and even sects which might appeal specifically to the working classes: such as Methodism, for example.

Church attendance and social class

The ‘middle classes’ have higher rates of church attendance than the ‘working classes’

  • A 2015 YouGov survey of 7000 adults found that 62% of regular church goers were middle class and 38% working class.
  • The same 2015 survey found that twice as many married working class men had never attended church compared to middle class men (17% compared to 9%).
  • Voas and Watt (2014) conducted research on behalf of the Church of England and made three observations not directly about social class, but relevant to it. Firstly, church attendance is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Secondly, church attendance is higher in the South of England compared to the North. Thirdly, they noted growth in church attendance in areas which had high performing church primary and secondary schools. All of these indicators suggest higher church attendance in middle class compared to working class areas.
  • Ashworth and Farthing (2007) found that, for both sexes, those in middle class jobs had above average levels of church attendance. Conversely, those in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled working class jobs had below average church attendance. Welfare recipients had the lowest levels of church attendance.

Religious belief and social class

  • A 2016 YouGov Survey revealed that 48% of those in social grades ABC1 described themselves as ‘Atheist’ compared to 42% of those in social grades C2ED.

  • A 2013 review of >60 research studies on the relationship between IQ and religiosity found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be atheists. (High IQs are correlated with higher levels of education and higher social class).
  • Lawes (2009) found that ‘lifelong theists’ disproportionately come from unskilled and semi-skilled manual backgrounds, and were less likely to have academic qualifications. Conversely, lifelong atheists disproportionately come from higher professional and managerial backgrounds, and are more likely to have experienced higher education.

NB – It’s worth noting how this contradicts what’s above in terms of church attendance

Social class, religion and deprivation 

There is some evidence that those suffering deprivation (the lower social classes) are more likely to turn to religion…..

  • Churches in deprived inner city areas tend to have higher rates of attendance.
  • Methodist, Pentacostal and Baptist denominations  tend to be more working class.
  • Catholic Churches are more likely to attract Irish, Polish and African immigrants who have typically experienced higher levels of deprivation.

New Religious Movements and social class

As a general rule, the middle classes are more attracted to both World Affirming NRMs (and the New Age Movement), and World Rejecting NRMs, at least according to Eileen Barker’s classic study of ‘The Moonies’.

Problems with identifying the relationship between religion and social class

  1. Andrew Mckinnon notes that there has been a ‘dearth’ of research on the relationship between religion and social class, meaning there is something of a data gap.
  2. Because of the above, we are often stuck with relying on indicators which might not actually measure social class.
  3. Even if the data suggests that church attendance and belief are higher among the middle classes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the middle classes are actually more religious. They may just be attending church to keep up appearances or to get their children into the local church school (which tend to have high academic performance); or they  may feel under more social pressure to state they are religious than the working classes

Sources: 

Chapman et al, as well as the good ole’ t’internet.

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Posmodernity and the New Age

Paul Heelas (1996) points out that the New Age Movement seems to have much in common with postmodernism:

  1. It seems to involve de-differentiation and de-traditionalisation. De-differentiation involves a breakdown of traditional categories, such as that between high and low culture. The New Age movement seems to be doing something similar with its fusion of traditional and popular religious beliefs. The New Age Movement also rejects the authority of the established church, with its belief that spirituality is within, and that it is up to each individual to find their own path to inner truth.
  2. The New Age Movement accepts relativism – there are diverse paths to spiritual fulfillment, and no one authority has a monopoly on truth, which fits in with postmodernism’s rejection of metanarratives.
  3. The spiritual shopping approach of the New Age seems to correspond with the centrality of consumer culture to postmodern societies.
  4. Like postmodernism, The New Age movement is, at least to an extent, about individuality and identity, focused on individual experience.
  5. Finally, there is the simple fact that both postmodernism and the New Age Movement emphasise the onset of a ‘new era’.

Why the New Age is not Postmodern

Despite the above apparent similarities, Heelas argues that the New Age Movement is, in fact, not postmodern:

Heelas argues that while the New Age Movement rejects ‘cultural metanarratives’ (about changing society) it still has a strong ‘experiential meta narrative  at its core. New agers are united by a self-spirituality metanarrative which claims that if people just strive deeply enough, they will realise absolute truths which will will help them to improve their lives. Their metanarrative is ultimately one of a faith in a radical individualism.

Although there might be different paths to inner-wisdom, New Agers still feel themselves in a position to make value judgments about themselves and others based on these beliefs. They tend take their spiritual beliefs and practices very seriously, and distinguish them as sacred, apart form other areas of their lives. This is far from the frivolous play like attitude normally associated with postmodernism.

Finally, many New Age practices are actually quite old, rooted in ancient traditions. For example, astrology, tarot and even Buddhism and Taoism, while most psycho-therapeutic practices are rooted in modernity.

Ultimately Heelas argues that the New Age movement does not represent a clear break with the past.

 

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The Croydon Cat Killer: The Perfect Moral Panic for our Age?

Police may have just found the culprit behind a horrific moggy murder spree which started in Croydon in October 2015.

Three years ago, the decapitated bodies of cats began be show up in various locations around Croydon, South London. They appeared to have been killed by blunt force trauma and then the bodies torn apart with various body-parts being deposited in places which seemed to have been carefully selected – such as on the owner’s doorstep or outside children’s playgrounds.

Local animal rights group SNARL (‘South Norward Animal Rescue Liberty’) hypothesized that this was the work of a psychopath, and, fearing the killing might spread to humans, scoured the country, uncovering hundreds of similar cases.

Investigation Closed

Despite the hundreds of alleged cases reported to the police over the past three years, not one of them was ever linked with any actual hard evidence of an individual actually committing a crime. However, in three of the cases there was CCTV footage of foxes in the area carrying cat body parts.

The police have now concluded that these ‘moggy murders’ were in fact a result of cats being hit by cars (which explains the blunt force trauma) and foxes then playing around with the dead bodies.

Given that both of these events are fairly well-known about, this raises the question of why there was ever a media-event surrounding the ‘Croydon Cat Killer’ in the first place…?

A Moral Panic Fit for a Culture of Fear?

This is clearly a ‘moral panic‘ (an exaggerated outburst of public concern) – given that animals can’t officially commit murder.  Maybe this hit the headlines because humans love to make up stories, and construct outrageous villains, and the idea of a serial killer stalking our streets after our pets titillates us.

We also need to consider the role of the moral entrepreneurs: i.e. SNARL…. not doubt this gave the activists something to do, and some status for a few years.

Finally, this  in well with the place of our pets in our families. Pets, after all, are part of the family. At least according to the Personal Life Perspective.

Written for education purposes!

Sources 

The WEEK, 29 September 2018.

Image Source

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The Importance of Sleep for Learning…..

I’ve recently read an excellent book called ‘Why We Sleep‘ by Mathew Walker. This book is based on decades of personal research into sleep carried out by Walker and others and references hundreds of studies on the benefits of sleep.

Sleep both before and after learning improves memory retention – this is because during NREM sleep, the brain moves what is stored in the short-term memory to the long-term memory – not only does it store new information during NREM sleep, at the same time it ‘clears’ the short-term memory so that it’s refreshed for new learning and memorisation to take place.

Sleep can also help with ‘riding a bike’ type skills…. Training and strengthening muscles can help you better execute a skilled memory routine.

Two experiments that demonstrate the importance of sleep:

Walker’s team recruited a group of healthy young adults and randomly divided them into a nap

At noon, all participants had to learn one hundred face-name pairs intended to tax the hippocampus, the short-term memory storage site. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

Soon after, the nap group took a 90 minute nap, while the non-nap group played board games or surfed the internet.

The two groups then underwent a second ‘face-name’ pair learning task. The nap group’s performance improved slightly, the non-nap group’s performance deteriorated.

The nap group had a 20% learning advantage over the non-nap group in the second round of testing.

Interestingly these findings are remarkably similar to one of the first sleep experiments ever conducted…. in 1924 Jenkins and Dallabach got two groups of participants to learn a list of verbal facts. Researchers then tracked how quickly participants forgot these facts over an 8 hour period – one group slept, the other stayed awake – there was a 20-40% memory retention benefit gained by sleeping compared to staying awake. Has been repeated numerous times and concerned.

Lessons from these experiments….

  1. If you want to study effectively, get a good nights sleep.
  2. Cramming when you’re short on sleep doesn’t work.
  3. Our education system, which insists on early starts for teenagers who are ‘hard-wired’ to want to go to bed later and get up later, is working against ‘the genetics of effective learning’.

Further Links

The two experiments above are probably good examples of laboratory experiments with reasonably high ecological validity – at least in the sense that the quality of sleep once your asleep is going to be the same wherever you are.

For more advice on how to revise effectively, please see this post!

*Walker covers what is meant by a ‘good’ night’s sleep – it’s basically your usual 8 hours ish, but 8 hours actual sleep, which will probably require a longer ‘sleep window’.

 

 

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A few Sociological Observations on ‘The Circle’ (Channel 4)

The Circle’ is a new ‘reality’ show currently airing on Channel 4 in the UK…. It is quite literally a ‘popularity contest In which 8 contestants compete over a 3-week period to be the most popular person in ‘The Circle’. The most popular contestant at the end wins £50K.

The rub is that there is no actual face to face interaction: competitors set up a social media profile (this can be anything from a more genuine portrayal of themselves to an outright catfish profile) and interact with all other competitors via a specially designed social media interface, called ‘the circle’.

The Circle is basically like Watts App – in addition to the profile, the contestants can have private 1-1 conversations, various ‘wittily named’ group chats, and whole ‘circle chats’. The circle also provides news feeds from the outside world, which competitors are expected to discuss.

Every few days, the competitors rate each other (a five star, Trip Advisor style rating) – the top two or three become ‘influencers’ and get to decide who to ‘block’ from the bottom three….. whoever is blocked gets kicked out and replaced by a new circle member.

Competitors are confined to an apartment room for the duration of the competition and have no contact with outside world, except for the snippets of news mentioned above.

The programme says of itself that it is…. ‘Timely and provocative [and] will ask questions about modern identity – how we portray ourselves and communicate on social media’…. but does it?

A few sociological observations…

An easy ‘critical starter’ is to focus on just how unrepresentative of the wider UK population the circle contestants are. They are all young (typically in their 20s, with the odd ‘young’ 30 year old), but they do not represent young people in Britain today: nearly without exception the contestants are confident, outgoing, party-types, clearly selected for their ability to ‘entertain’ on camera. Then (OF COURSE?) there’s the fact that that most of them are very attractive.

I guess it’s no surprise that all of the contestants are very comfortable interacting via ‘The Circle’, that is comfortable interacting blind (as in not face to face) with communication in short, sharp bursts, and sentences of more than 20 words are rare and emojis and hashtags being very much the norm, as is the practice of ‘leaving someone hanging’ by signing off when they’ve had enough of a private chat.

Interestingly, most of the contestants have chosen to be (more or less) themselves. Only two contestants (out of about a dozen I’ve seen) have gone for a virtual sex-swap, and one more a sexuality swap, everyone else is ‘more or less’ themselves. They know how exhausting it is ‘putting on an act’ for any length of time. In short, there simply aren’t that many catfish!

Alarmingly, the contestants are very comfortable with rating people quantitatively…. they do so, and give their reasons, with relish. And they seem to love it when they come out on top.

The contestants also know this is a game and are comfortable with this fact that this is a game…. which is why I think parallels with Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror aren’t justified. It’s not a harbinger of a dystopian future, they know it’s just a bit of fun, even if the experience is stressful.

Final Thoughts…

Ultimately  ‘The Presentation of Self In Every Day Life‘ is the most relevant theory to draw on to analyse what’s going on here… clearly these contestants are putting on masks, not only via their Circle social media profiles, but also when they’re acting on camera for the C4 audience – let’s not forget, most of these contestants are media-personality wannabes!

Written for Educational Purposes!

Image Sources

The Circle

https://tellymix.co.uk/reality-tv/big-brother/360793-the-circle-channel-4.html

 

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