Functionalism is the only perspective which has traditionally argued that religion is a source of value consensus, all other perspectives disagree with this in one way or another, but not all believe that religion is necessarily a cause of overt conflict in the world.
Marx believed that religion prevents revolution (or violent conflict) by pacifying people, through acting as the ‘opium of the masses’ and making think inequality is Gods will and that suffering in this life is a virtue. The message is to put up with suffering now and seek your reward in heaven.
However, in Marxist theory, the masses will eventually see through the mask of oppression and rise up bringing about a revolution and a communist society free of religion.
Religion can be a source of conflict because it is autonomous from the economic base.
For example, religious leaders in Latin America took the side of peasant against the elite. However, attempts at social reform were ultimately repressed.
Samuel P. Huntington sees ‘civilizations’ as the most significant grouping in global society, rather than ‘nation states’, or ‘global religions’, although there are often close relationships between religions and Huntington’s concept of ‘civilizations’.
Globalization has resulted in the world becoming a smaller place, which means that there are increasing interactions between ‘civilizations’, which intensifies ‘civilization consciousness’.
According to Huntington, increasing contact between civilizations often has the effect of emphasising differences rather than similarities, which can cause an increasing amount of conflict in the world.
What are ‘Civilizations’?
For Huntington, civilizations are ‘cultural entities’ differentiated from each other by history, language, cultural traditions and, most importantly, religion.
Huntington distinguishes between the following different civilizations, as represented in the map above.
As Huntington sees is, sources of identity which are not based on religion have declined. Political identities matter less since the collapse of communism, and increasing international travel has weakened national identity, ‘civilizational identity’, based mainly on religion has stepped in to fill the gap.
Clashes between civilizations
To back up his argument, Huntington points to the fact that there are many conflicts on the borders between civilizations:
The former Yugoslavia between Orthodox Christian and Muslim civilizations.
In the Middle East between Judaism, Islam and Western Christianity.
In India the clash between Muslims and Hindus.
Huntington believes that there will increasingly be clashes between civilizations, because these identities are based mainly on ethnicity and religion, and thus foster an ‘us and them’ type of identity.
Increasingly, political leaders will draw on ‘civilization identity’ in order to try and mobilize support, as with The Islamic State claiming Muslims should unite against ‘Western civilizations’.
Religion as a more significant cause of conflict…
Huntington is one of the few academics of religion who argue against the secularisation thesis. He believes that civilizations, based mostly on religious identity, will become an increasingly important source of conflict in the future.
At the moment, Western civilization is dominant, however, as the ‘Islamic’ and ‘Hindu’ civilisations develop more potent nuclear capabilities (Pakistan, India) and as the world shrinks further, this dominance is likely to decrease, which opens the possibility for more serious conflicts.
Huntington further argues that there is no chance of a world culture developing because civilization identity is so strong.
I’m not convinced there is any real empirical basis for Huntington’s ‘fault-lines’.
Even if there is some empirical basis for his civilizations, I’m convinced that religion is going to remain that important as a source of identity within each of them: the global trend, as in the West, is still towards secularisation.
Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition eight.
Despite being a third world country, as judged many and varied social indicators of development, America is set to spend $8 billion on a new ‘space force‘ over the next 5 years.
China and Russia are currently competitors for military advantage in space, and it seems this has got America worried. In 2007 China successfully shot down one of its old weather satellites, orbiting 500 miles above the planet. In 2015, Russia launched a successful test of an anti-satellite missile.
Approximately 1800 active satellites currently orbit earth, half of them sent up by America, are vital to many of our day to day activities. We rely on satellites for the following:
Anything using GPS positioning for navigation – which includes various civil and military organisations
Financial markets depend on them for super-sensitive time-synchronisation
Various mobile phone applications.
Some television and video conferencing.
It would seem that satellites have somehow become the ‘foundation’ of our daily postmodern, globally networked lives.
What might space war look like…
Besides firing missiles into space, there are other options: lasers could be used to blind or dazzle satellites in order to disrupt their functionality, or cyber attacks could be ‘launched’ to hack into them.
As with most things warfare, it seems that the USA is already years ahead of its competitors. The USA first launched a successful strike against an obsolete satellite in the mid 1980s, and they are already ‘hardening’ existing satellites against attack – by positioning redundant satellites to act as back ups, for example, and they are looking into giving them their own defensive capabilities.
What are the possible consequences of Space War?
If there was an all-out space war, it could create a debris-cloud which would render space unusable for future generations, however, if global relations deteriorated to this point, we’d probably be more worried about the radiation sickness from the previously deployed nukes!
Relevance of this to A-level sociology…
Quite a useful example of the continued power of the Nation State in a global age…. seriously, how many nations have the power to shoot down satellites…. really just a handful, and no other body besides them!
Within the secularization debate, disengagement is the process of religious institutions becoming less involved in political and social life. It is the general withdrawing of religious institutions from wider society.
If we take a long term view and compare the role of the church in British society today with its role in medieval times, religious institutions certainly seem to have disengaged from politics and society.
In the 16th Century for example, church and state were tightly bound together, through the doctrine of the ‘Divine Right of Kings‘. This doctrine was famously developed by James VI of Scotland, also James I of England. It held that the King, who was also the head of state, could only be judged by God, and no other human being.
However, as argued by Max Weber, the spread of Protestantism and especially Calvinism, laid the foundations for the collapse of this tight interweaving of church and state. Protestantism preached that individuals should get to know God personally, which led to more individualistic forms of worship. This in turn led to the decline of institutional religion – people no longer relied on the church for their spiritual sustenance, they could get this themselves in their own way.
This came to a head in the English Civil War of 1641-52, which established the English Commonwealth, and subjected the monarch to the will of Parliament rather than the ‘will of God’. From the mid 17th century forwards, the Divine Right of Kings, and the ‘total union’ of church and state was thus broken.
Although the Church of England still played a prominent role in politics for many centuries, the establishment of the Commonwealth nonetheless laid the foundations for ordinary people being able to challenge the monarch and play more of a role in politics, thus making the church more beholden to the power of a larger number of people rather than just the king.
Over the next few centuries, people became less religious and democracy became more representative, so gradually the church came to play less of a role in politics.
Institutional Disengagement in Britain Today
There is a lot of evidence that the church plays a less significant role in politics and society.
Even if political leaders have strong religious convictions, they generally keep these convictions out of politics. Tony Blair, for example, was a fervent Catholic, and yet his spin Doctor, Alistair Campbell was adamant that New Labour ‘didn’t do God’.
Some human rights legislation actually outlaws some religious practices on the basis of equality.
For example, Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong have been banned from being foster parents by the courts. This follows the 2010 Equality Act, which protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of a range of ‘protected characteristics’, one of which is sexuality.
The Church of England has become increasingly critical of government policy, and the government has largely ignored many of these criticisms.
For example, the C of E has recently criticized the Tories ideological decision to cut spending of public services. it has highlighted the horrific consequences these cuts have had on the poorest sectors of British society. The Tories, being Tories, have just ignored the C of E and carried on harming the poor.
Evidence against Disengagement
Jose Casonova argues that the trend towards disengagement in Britain and Europe are the exceptions to the global trend. Casonova suggests that globally, there are many examples which show that religion is becoming more prominent in social life. It is especially easy to find examples of religion playing a prominent role in political conflicts globally:
The Arab Spring uprisings across Northern Africa and the Middle East
The ongoing conflict between the Arabs and Jews in the Middle East
The growth of Christian Fundamentalism in the USA.
Casonova effectively argues that since the 1980s, when we look at religion in global perspective, a process of deprivatisation has been occurring.
The August 1947 partition of India divided the newly independent country into two new states: A Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. The later was itself divided into western and eastern sections, more than 1000 miles apart: present day Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In the view of most historians, the partition of India was the central event in 20th century South Asian history. It precipitated one of the largest migrations in human history, as Muslims fled to Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs to India. Up to 15 million people were uprooted, and this was accompanied by a vast outbreak of sectarian violence, as communities that had coexisted peacefully for hundreds of years massacred and killed each other. More than a million people are thought to have been killed.
The partition also marked the departure of the British from the subcontinent after 300 years in India
What led Britain to leave India?
India’s 30 year-long nationalist struggle had made it increasingly difficult and expensive to run, and after World War Two Britain no longer had the resources to control it. Indeed, Britain’s Labour government, elected in 1945, was firmly in favour of the idea of Indian self-rule. In early 1947, prime minister Clement Attlee appointed Louis Mountbatten as viceroy, instructing him: “Keep India united if you can. If not, save something from the wreck. In any case, get Britain out.”
Mountbatten proceeded at a speed that is now generally deemed to have been disastrous, but from a narrow British perspective he was fairly successful, the British marched out of the country with only seven casualties.
Why was partitioning India deemed to be necessary?
As a result of Muslim conquests dating back to the 11th century, a fifth of India’s population was Muslim at the time of partition. And thought Muslims and Hindus had been living side by side peacefully for centuries, the two groups became heavily polarised in the early 20th century. Prominent Muslims, feeling that the Indian National Congress, the main nationalist movement, was largely Hindu, formed the Muslim league in 1906. From the 1920s there were outbreaks of communal violence; and in 1940, the League, fearing the prospect of a Hindu-dominated India, committed itself to a separate Muslim homeland.
Congress initially opposed this idea, and negotiations between Congress leader Jawahatlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League became ever more poisonous. In 1946, a British mission proposed a loose federal structure, with three autonomous groups of provinces, but this was rejected and Mountbatten wen on to convince the major players that partition was the only option.
How was India divided?
A British barrister, Cyril Radcliffe, was given little more than a month of remake the map of India. His two boundary commissions, for Punjab and Bengal, had to draw a line through the two most divided provinces. He sat with four judges on each – two Muslim, two non-Muslim – but they split equally on contentious issues, leaving him the casting vote. The final borders were not agreed until two days after Independence. Few were happy. And very large numbers of people were left on the wrong side of the new line.
Why was partition so violent?
This question has been the subject of decades of historical debate. Indian nationalists generally blame Jinnah’s intransigence: the only India he’d accept would be a ‘divided India, or a destroyed India’, and the Direct Action Day he declared in August 1946 led to rioting and killing in Calcutta. Local politicians also stirred up violent prejudice, while landlords and businessmen paid and trained gangs of militias. ‘Divide and rule’ had ramped up tensions between different communities and the swift withdrawal of the forces of law and order left a dangerous vacuum. From August 1946 on, there were regular massacres across the country, which in turn sparked others, building to a climax in the summer of 1947.
Where was the violence worst?
It was particularly intense in Bengal and worst in Punjab, where there were massacres, forced conversions, mass abductions and rapes.”Gangs of killers set villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged, while carrying off young women to be raped,” writes Nisid Hajari in Midnight’s Furies, his history of the partition of India. “Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed the partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found roasted on spits.”
The Punjab was effectively ethnically cleansed, of Hindus and Sikhs in the west, and of Muslims in the east. Refugee trains were ambushed and sent on to the border full of the murdered and the maimed. Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital, was nearly half Hindu before partition, by the end of the decade, almost all its Hindus had fled. Some 200 000 Muslims were forced out of Delhi.
Those who suffered the most: the women
During the partition, women were abducted, raped and mutilated in vast numbers. Victims were tattooed with phrases such as ‘Jai Hind’ (victory to India) and ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (long live Pakistan). Stories abound of men killing their own wives and children in order to spare them the shame of possible capture and rape.
The Indian government has estimated that 83 000 women were abducted in 1947, mostly from the vast columns of refugees known as Kafilas. Some 50 000 were Muslims and the rest Hindus and Sikhs. The larger number of Muslim victims is attributed to the actions of organised Sikh jathas, or armed bands. Rather than being abandoned, writes Yasmin Khan in The Great Partition, “tens of thousands of women were kept in the ‘other’ country, as permanent hostages, captives, or forced wives; they became simply known as ‘the abducted women’.”
In the eight-year period after partition, 30 000 women were eventually repatriated to the other country. More than 20 000 Muslim women were sent to Pakistan, and more than 9 000 Hindus and Sikhs to India. The rest never returned to their families.
What were the long-term effects of Partition of India?
India and Pakistan have existed in a state of permanent hostility as a result – they’ve fought three declared wars, two of them over Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority area to stay inside India. A decades-long insurgency there has left thousands dead. Today, a large Muslim minority of some 170 million people remains in India; a far smaller Hindu minority of around three million lives in Pakistan. Both groups face persecution.
Pakistan, as the smaller and weaker country, has been dominated by its army and intelligence services in large part due to the perceived threat of India. The Pakistan military has used its jihadi proxies to attack India, while India has in recent years elected intolerant Hindu nationalist leaders.
The wounds of 1947 have never healed.
Relevance of this case-study to A-level Sociology
Can be used to illustrate how religion can be a source of conflict.
Can be used to illustrate how conflict ‘retards’ development.
Can be used to illustrate the relevant of feminist theory (probably difference feminism) – women seemed to have suffered more than men due to the partition.
Can be used to illustrate the ‘ethnocentric nature’ the British history curriculum – most students will know nothing about the partition of India.
This post outlines an interesting comparative research study of secondary documents (‘private’ letters and a more public blog) which could be used to get students thinking about the usefulness of such sources in social research.
I’ve taken the summary below straight from Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods:
It is tempting to think that the century and a half that separates a solider writing a military blogs and the letters and diary of a solider in the American civil war will be far apart in tone and content.
Shapiro and Humphreys (2013) compare the military blog of ‘Dadmanly’, who was in the US army for just over four years beginning in August 2004 and who served in Iraq for 18 months, with the letters and diaries of ‘Charlie Mac’, who joined the Union army in 1862, whose writings continued until 1865.
Dadmanly’s blog is looking like a bit of a historical artefact already. with its last update in 2012, but he did make some contributions to the more recent ‘blog of war’ book, which brings together different bloggers from the front-line of war.
There are clear differences between them:
Dadmanly wrote for a general audience the vast majority of whom he would never know
Charlie Mac wrote primarily for his large family, although he seems to have anticipated that that they would passed around to others, as they have a tone which implies they will have a more general readership than just his close family.
However, there are also various common elements:
Both writers show a desire to reassure family and friends about their safety and well-being.
Both expressed opinions about the progress of the war, and offered political commentary on them;
both wrote in large part to maintain contact with their families during the wars,
and the writing was therapeutic for both of them.
Shapiro and Humphries conclude that this comparison is significant because it shows that changes in communications technologies do not necessarily result in changes in the nature of the content of communication.
one question you might like to consider is whether Dadmanly’s blog is any less valid as a source of information about war than Charlie Mac’s letters?
America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…
In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.
In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.
The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.
But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?
Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…
One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.
There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.
So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.
Below are a few resources focusing on the causes and consequences of the ongoing (hopefully soon to be recent) civil war in Syria. (‘War and Conflict’ in relation to development is part of the A Level Sociology Global Development topic).
The causes of the civil war in Syria
This Guardian video does a reasonable job of explaining some of the causes of the Syrian Civil War in five minutes. NB it has its critics – see below!
The trigger event which caused the Civil War in Syria was when 1000s of people took the street in January 2011 to demand political reforms (e.g. elections) inspired by ‘The Arab Spring ‘ – a wave of violent and non-violent protests which had swept across many North African and Middle Eastern Countries in December – January 2012.
The protesters were protesting about the brutal rule of dictator president Assad who had ruled Syria in the interests of a relatively small elite since the year 2000, when he took over from his father, who had ruled the country since the 1970s, having modernised it while brutally repressing any dissent.
Assad’s response to the protests was to violently repress the initially non-violent protests by shooting over a hundred demonstrators. Over the coming months some of these armed themselves and formed small groups of rebels – the ensuing conflict between Assad’s security forces and the rebels resulted in 60 000 deaths in the first 18 months of the conflict.
The root of the conflict can be further traced back to the after math of World War I when France and Britain established the boarders of the Middle Eastern Countries, lumping many different ethnic groups and religions into Syria. The ethnic/ religious breakdown of Syria’s population is approximately 12% Alawites (President Assad’s ethnic group),8% Christians, 3% Shiites, and 74% Sunnis.
NB – The video has an equal amount of likes and dislikes – with many of the commentators pointing to the fact that the video misses out the role of the USA in causing conflict all across the middle east – commentators argue that the US has a long history of arming rebel groups in the Middle East as part of its foreign policy to deliberately destabilise the region.
Who is Fighting Who and Why?
This second video by VOX starts off by pointing out that the war in Syria is a mess, with four main groups involved:
The Assad/ government forces, backed by Russia and Iran,
The Rebels, backed by the Saudis, Turkey and the USA,
The Kurds, also backed by the USA
ISIS, which established a ‘Caliphate’ in an area which spread across the Syria-Iraq border.
This video focuses more on how the conflict has develop and points to the important fact that Syria has now become a ‘Proxy War’ in which other nation states are effectively fighting each other by funding different factions within the conflict, but without being directly involved themselves.
By 2013 money and troops were being funneled to the rebels by Sunni Muslims (e.g. the Saudis) While Iran (Shia Muslims) funneled money and troops to Assad.
In late 2013, the USA stepped into the war when Obama signed a secret deal for the CIA to train and equip the rebels.
In February 2014 ISIS emerges – which focuses on fighting the rebels and the Kurds, not Assad, and the US now has an ongoing dilemma which confuses matters and possibly prevents the US from taking effective action – who is it’s real enemy – ISIS or Assad?
Up until this time, Assad was losing ground to both the rebels and ISIS until September 2015 when Russia stepped in by bombing US backed rebels, and to date (December 2016) it seems like Assad is likely to defeat the rebel forces.
NB – As with the previous video, this also has its critics, so as with all sources, be skeptical of the validity!
Causes of the Civil War in Syria – A Summary
To my mind, for the purposes of A level Sociology you can simplify the causes of this conflict thus:
Nasty bad men (dictators) in the middle east don’t allow people to vote and oppress anyone who opposes them.
People in many middle eastern countries want the right to vote and basically governments who don’t abuse their human rights.
They use social media to organise and publicise protests – which spread all over the middle east and quickly to Syria
The nasty dictator, Assad, wants to cling onto power so he kills hundreds of the protesters
Other nations have a role to play in perpetuating the crisis – Russia and Iran by funding Assad and the USA by funding the rebels.
NB – Don’t fall into the trap of seeing the USA as backing the ‘good guys’ and supporting democracy versus the bad Russians and crazy Muslims who want to keep the evil dictator Assad in place because that’s in their economic/ ideological interests – the USA has a history of backing ‘evil dictators’ itself, when they support US interests at least.
You could further trace all of these problems back to the ethnic and religious divide/ tensions in Syria, which in turn was at least partially created by the French and British when they invented the country by drawing up artificial boarders after World War I.
Toxic Childhood – Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children
The concept of Toxic Childhood is one of the main criticisms of the March of Progress view of chilhood – it is especially critical of the idea that more education and products for children are necessarily good for them.
The Term Toxic Childhood was invented by Sue Palmer, a former primary school headteacher, in her 2006 book: ‘Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It.
In the book, Palmer argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes are having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children, and she outlines six main ways in which childhhood has become increasingly toxic over the years.
Six ways in which childhood is increasingly toxic
A few years ago Sue Palmer’s Web Site had a very clear summary of six social changes which were damaging children’s early development, listed below….
The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity
The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers
The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – which reduces independence
The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans
Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction
Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety among children.
Palmer’s Web Site used to be well organised, and used to have a lot of links to recent research on Toxic Childhood..
Unfortunately the Web Site has now changed, and the free information (arguably like childhood) has disappeared, and it now just links to her books, which you have to pay for.
I guess times are hard for adults as well as children. I imagine 15 years on from all the initial excitement, and with the publications industry changing, there’s probably a lot less money in being an independent researcher/ author than there use to be, especially if you’re used to a Head Teacher’s salary!
In the absence of the free research links, it would be a useful activity for students to take one of the six aspects of toxic childhood above and conduct their own research, to evaluate the extent to which these social changes are damaging children’s development, or not!
More Recent Books on Toxic Childhood
Sue Palmer has published two more books, focusing on boys, in 2007, and on girls, in 2014.
Criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic
This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes, maybe children are more adaptable than Palmer thinks?
Taking the longer term view, childhood may well be more commercialised today, but surely children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers).
This article by Catherine Bennett is worth a read – it reminds us that ‘in the good old days we just had to endure beatings’, although in fairness to Sue Palmer I don’t think she actually romanticizes the past, she’s really just pointing out the new and different problems children now face in a post-modern age.
Find out More
Visit Sue Palmer’s Web Site – Palmer has published several books on child development and education, her most recent publication argues for raising the school starting age to seven!
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