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A conventional religious organisation with deep roots in society; national or/and
international; hierarchical and bureaucratic; trained clergy; strong use of ritual;
broad membership of a society; established worldwide networks; usually
accepted by the establishment. E.g. Anglicanism, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism,
Judaism, Sikhism.

Generally, a conventional religious organisation; national and often international;
bureaucratic; trained clergy but often lay preachers; less ritual but emphasis on
emotional fervour; often have broad membership within societies; established
networks; generally accepted but often not part of formal establishment. E.g.
Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostalists.

Often not accepted as a conventional religious organisation; local but often
international; informal and tight knit; no professional clergy nor bureaucratic,
often charismatic leader; monopoly view of truth; small and inclusive within
societies; established networks, often worldwide; often critical of mainstream
society/establishment. E.g. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Salvation Army,

Generally not accepted as a conventional religious organisation; local, national
or international; voluntary, loose structure; individualistic, often inspirational
leader; ritual often borrowed from many sources; inclusive membership;
loose/informal networks; accepting or critical of society. E.g. Scientology,
Transcendental Meditation, Spiritualism.
New Religious Movements (NRM)
Can embrace cult and sect; many organisations are based overseas; can have large
membership, commitment through practice and belief rather than formal membership;
lacking in formal organisational structure (clergy, meeting place etc,); pic’n’mix mentality –
mixing mainstream belief with others; often appeal to those disillusioned with the world;
often accused of brainwashing; world rejecting e.g. Moonies; world affirming e.g.

New Age Movements (NAM)
Often cults based on spiritual healing, paganism etc; commitment through practice and
belief rather than formal membership; lacking in formal organisational structure (clergy,
meeting place etc,); hybrids of different belief systems; client cults – offer services to their
followers e.g. tarot readings, reflexology, I Ching; audience cult – contacts through mass
media, internet and conferences. E.g. Astrology and belief in UFOs.

Has turned inwards to the centre of the religion – the Scripture, doctrines and traditions -
seeking to protect these from the intrusions of the modern, secular world. For the
fundamentalist, the secular world must adapt to and come under the control of the religious
world. The fundamentalist mentality is characteristically one that sees things in terms of
black-and-white, in terms of clear-cut boundaries which determine what is and what is not
acceptable belief, who is and who is not in the community.
  Religion as a force for stability and change

 Religion creates passive              Religion prevents
 individuals who do not                change in society.
  attempt to change the                   It retains and
   world for the better,                    reinforces
     but simply accept                  conservative and
  spiritual alternatives.              traditional values.


 Religion can often                     Religion restricts
     have a close                       social change and
 relationship to the                       justifies social
 State – reinforcing                      inequality. It is
a political and social                    patriarchal and
      ideology.                           condones many
                                         to suffering here
                                              on Earth.
   Religion as a force for stability and change
                                                Radical religious
Some religious organisations                   movements fight for
  emphasise doing good here                     change in society.
on Earth. These organisations                  The Religious Right
are more likely to bring about                   in America have
 change. Liberation Theology                   great influence over
   emphasises salvation from                      politicians and
   repression – particularly                    leaders in society.
       in Latin America.         Religion

                                             Religious groups that
   Religious groups                         recruit their members
  with a strong sense                        from less-privileged
   of authority and                         people are more likely
  good organisation                         to want social change.
    are more likely                          E.g. Roman Catholic
    to bring about                              priests in Latin
    social change.                           America and radical
                                                Islamic groups.
Religion and Social Class
        • Mainstream religions are inclusive so
          recruit from a broad range of classes.
        • Established religions like the Church
          of England tend to be middle class,
          with its leaders tending to come from
          privileged backgrounds.
        • Many denominations tend to have
          more working class members.
        • Cults often recruit from deprived and
          marginal groups in society, though
          they can attract a cross section of
        • NAM and NRM tend to appeal to the
          middle classes, particularly young
Religion and Age Groups
        • The old and young tend to be more
          religious, though many established
          religions have support from a wide age
        • The elderly often “turn to religion” as a
          comfort or social experience.
        • Middle aged groups are more likely to
          be attracted to NAM and world affirming
        • Young people often rebel against the
          religion of their parents or chose to opt
          out. Many become attracted to cults and
          sects – often as a result of a change in
          lifestyle or influenced by the Mass
          Media or peer groups.
Religion and Gender
       • Though the Anglican Church is male
         dominated, women are more likely to
         attend church than men.
       • Women are also more likely to be
         involved in NRM and NAM.
       • Women are often attracted to NAM
         because they emphasise “feminine”
         characteristics such as caring and
       • Older women turn to religion for a
         sense of community.
       • In most religions women play a
         secondary role to men, often
         sidelined or marginalised, which
         many see as a form of social control.
Religion and Ethnicity
    • Many ethnic groups are more
      religious and participate readily in
      religion, as it is more significant to
      their culture.
    • People of Afro-Caribbean descent
      have a huge input in the rise of
      Pentecostalism and Gospel
    • There has been a steady rise in the
      number of people in the UK attending
      non-Christian places of worship.
    • Many non-Christians in the UK see
      their religion as a way of life rather
      than simply an act of faith.
    • Religion can maintain a cultural
      identity and a form of community
      amongst ethnic groups.
Growth of Alternative Religions
        NRM & NAM
     •   Postmodern society has led to increased choice and
         diversity, creating greater emphasis on individualism.
         Individual beliefs are trusted more than established
     •   Founders of new religions develop new ideas/products to
         convert people to.
     •   Many people reject traditional religious explanations of
         spirituality and do not accept/trust scientific theories of
         the natural world.
     •   Many people feel marginalised by society and seek new
         movements to make sense of their lives/the world.
     •   Social change such as cultural diversity, breakdown of
         society, secularisation, crisis of identity, terrorism,
         general uncertainty, give new movements greater appeal.
     •   People who have become dissatisfied with established
         mainstream religions, seek alternative belief systems.
Growth of Christian Fundamentalism
            •   People have rebelled against globalisation,
                postmodernism and secularisation, accepting
                the certainty that fundamentalism provides.
            •   Relaxation of the divorce laws, legalised
                abortion, gay rights, the increase in
                pornography, secular education, have given
                rise to powerful groups such as the New
                Religious Right in the USA. They believe that
                liberal reforms have brought about a state of
                moral crisis and wish to return to the literal
                interpretation of the Bible.
            •   Strong charismatic leaders promoting their
                views through mass communication can
                provide trust and meaning in times of
            •   E.g. of Christian Fundamentalism – bombing
                of abortion clinics; challenging, through the
                courts, the teaching of evolution.
Growth of Islamic Fundamentalism
             •   Globalisation, postmodernism and
                 modernising governments have led to a
                 rise in Islamic Fundamentalism, seeking
                 to return to Muslim beliefs.
             •   Western values are seen as corrupt,
                 creating uncertainty, class inequality and
                 an erosion of tradition and traditional
             •   Strong charismatic leaders, promoting
                 their views through mass communication,
                 promise salvation and eternal life to
                 adherents who carry out their orders –
                 e.g. suicide bombers.
             •   E.g. of Islamic Fundamentalism – Iranian
                 Revolution 1979; al Qaeda – Osama bin
                 Laden; bombing of Pentagon and World
                 Trade Centre 2001; July 7th bombing in
                 London 2005.
    Religion – Marx
•   Marx viewed religion as something that inhibits change – a form of social
    control that keeps the working classes in a state of false consciousness.
•   “Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless
    world…. It is the opium of the people.” Religion acts as a drug that does not
    solve problems but merely eases the pain.
•   Religion is a tool of class exploitation – it provides the basis of ruling class
    ideology and justifies the social order. The hymn All things bright and
    beautiful contains the verse.. The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his
    gate, God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.
•   Religion is a conservative force which prevents social change. The masses
    are promised rewards in heaven, so they put up with suffering on Earth.
•   Religion, therefore, involves the distortion of reality. It is ideological, in that it
    legitimises an unjust social order that makes it appear inevitable and
                             Religion – Weber,
                          Berger and Interactionist
•   Weber assumed that as societies advanced technologically and
    scientifically then individuals would cease to rely on religious meanings.
    They would use rational explanations to understand their world, which
    would become less enchanted and sacred.
•   Weber suggests that religion deals with the problem of theodicy (justice
    of god) – how to make sense of a benevolent god in a world full of evil
    and suffering. E.g. Calvinist belief in pre-destination; Hindu belief that
    everyone, no matter how unfortunate, deserve to be in the position they
    are in.
•   Berger suggests that one of the most important aspects of religion is its
    ability to explain phenomena such as evil, suffering and death.
•   Berger speaks of the theodicy of disprivilege – the promise of salvation
    may be seen as compensation for poverty. Such ideas promote the view
    that it is pointless trying to change the here and now.
         Religion -

•   Functionalists also see religion as something that inhibits change. But they
    view this as a good thing – something that creates social order based on
    shared values.
•   Durkheim – The sacred (holy or spiritual) stands for the values of society or
    the community. By worshipping the sacred people are effectively
    worshipping their society.
•   Religion maintains social solidarity by providing unifying practices and
    beliefs – a collective consciousness.
•   Religion strengthens values and promotes a sense of belonging and
    commitment. Social change and deviant behaviour are restricted, as religion
    binds people to society.
       Religion -

•   Parsons – Religion lays down guidelines for individuals and societies in
    terms of core values.
•   Religion helps integrate people into a community or society and helps
    make sense of their lives.
•   Malinowski – Religion helps deal with the emotional stress and anxiety of
    events such as death. Religious ceremonies at funerals create group
    unity and help manage tension.
•   Bellah – Civil Religion (secular symbols, rituals and ceremonies) creates
    social cohesion. Thus flag waving, royal marriages and deaths bring
    about a collective feeling that generates order.
•   Functionalists see religion as a force to socialise and integrate people into
    society, to maintain societies norms and values – preventing anomie, and
    to enable people to come to terms with life changing events.
               Religion - Feminism
•   Women see God as a god of love, comfort and forgiveness – men see God
    more as a god of power and control. (Davie, 1994)
•   Women are often excluded from power in many religions – Roman
    Catholicism allows only male priests, Orthodox Jews only male Rabbis and
    Islam only male Imams.
•   Feminists believe that religion is patriarchal justifying male domination.
    Scriptures and religious texts often state that women are imperfect,
    temptresses or distractions to men. E.g. Eve created from Adam; Eve and
    the apple.
•   Though many women are venerated in Christianity, it is generally through
    acts of chastity, charity or as child bearers. The virgin Mary is seen as
    divine through being the mother of Jesus.
•   The ordination of women priests in the Anglican Church has led to great
    divisions. Many see this as further proof of the subordination of women in
•   “A process whereby religion loses it’s influence over the various spheres of
    social life”. (Wilson, 1996)
•   Church attendance and membership has gone down by over 1 million in the
    last 20 years. In 2000 only 7.5% of the population attended, and church
    membership was 10% of the population. (Religious Trends, 2000)
•   Baptisms have decreased by nearly 40% since 1900. (Religious Trends,
•    The average age of church goers is increasing rapidly and only 4% of the
    population attend Sunday School. (Religious Trends, 2000)
•   Church weddings now account for 50% of marriages compared to 75%, 30
    years ago.
•   In 1900 there were over 45,000 clerics in Britain. This has dropped to just
    over 34,000 clerics in 2000 – despite the population having doubled.
•   The UK has become increasingly multi-cultural and established churches
    are losing their influence in integrating people into shared values.
•   Science and rational explanations are undermining religion.
Secularisation – an over-generalisation?
•   It is difficult to measure secularisation – different groups measure
    membership in different ways.
•   Religion is a private experience for many and therefore may not be reliably
    measured. Davie (1995) has characterised the situation in Britain as
    “believing without belonging”.
•   Surveys still show high levels of religiosity or some religious beliefs. In
    1998, 21% of those surveyed agreed to the statement “I know God exists
    and I have no doubt about it”. Only 10% said that they did not believe in
    God at all. (British Social Attitudes survey, 1998)
•   Religious programmes such as Songs of Praise on the BBC attract between
    7 and 8 million viewers.
•   While established religions may be in decline in Britain the growth of the
    immigrant population has led to an increase in religiosity. Islam is the fastest
    growing religion in Britain and non-Trinitarian church membership is
•   Religious participation also varies between social groups, with ethnic
    minority groups continuing to be religiously committed.