Social Theory

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Social Theory
Our understanding of religion has been influenced by the contributions of sociological theory. Functionalists view religion in terms of how religion contributes to society. Durkheim claims that the one purpose that all religions serve is ‘the celebration of the social group’. A religion is a way of fulfilling social cohesion and satisfying societies need for a community. For example the aboriginal society, they were a community split in to tribes that worship a particular totem. Durkheim claims that the function of the totem is to create a clan identity. Members of the clan may have nothing else in common apart from their collective conscience, which is their shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge. Therefore when the clan refers to their religious symbol (e.g. God or the Totem), they are in fact worshipping their society itself. Islam is a good example of integration, for Muslims, their religion is the most important part of their identity, nothing else (e.g. age, ethnicity, gender) is important. However this theory may apply far better to small scale societies with a single religion. It is harder to apply it to large scale societies, where two or more religious communities may be in conflict. Religion can also be divisive, for example in a multicultural society where you have religious pluralism there are bound to be clashes. Particularly among extreme fundamentalists and the completely secular, this could lead to conflicts in society. Britain, particularly Greater London is experiencing “a process of polarisation between energetic religious minorities and a religiously apathetic or ignorant majority” James Beckford 2010. In this case the division is not even necessarily between different religious groups but between the religious and the secular. The secular society, represented by Richard Dawkins, are becoming more out spoken, (e.g they posting quotes such as ‘there is no God” on the side of London buses) this caused an uproar among the religious. Durkheim explains social integration within communities but not the conflicts between them. Marx refers to religion as ‘the opium of the masses’, and argues that it serves only to benefit the bourgeoisie by acting as a hegemony and keeping the proletariat in a state of false consciousness. Marx said “God did not create mankind, mankind created God”, in the early 16th century phenomena was explained by religion, it acted as a meta narrative and explained the otherwise unexplainable. The proletariats were ‘made to believe’ that poverty was ‘God given’ and to change things would be ungodly. However they were given a hope that they would receive their rewards in heaven, Ernst Bloch refers to this as the principle of hope. This was important for the bourgeoisie in order to keep the proletariats content. Marx points out that if the order of society were to change it would be those at the top that would have the most to lose; this is known as the conflict of interest. The groups in the stronger position seek to uphold supremacy and keep the working class in a position of weakness. Therefore the stronger group will gain at the expense of the lower group. However religion justified their position and covered up their real power base, which is the fact that they owned the means of production. Marx suggests that religion blinds the ‘the people’ (the proletariats) and gives the ruling class the power over production and most crucially, ideas. The ruling class in society are also the more intellectual force, therefore the dominant ideas present in society at any one time will be in the best interest of the powerful. For example the financial situation in Britain in this day and age, politicians claim that “we are all in this together” however the blame falls on welfare and immigrant benefits and not the bankers. Marx overall describes religion as an ideology that protects the structure of society. Weber however sees religion as one of the causes for social...
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