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,
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
Religion as a force for stability and change
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
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
• 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
• 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
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
• 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.
• Functionalists also see religion as something that inhibits change. But they
view this as a good thing – something that creates social order based on
• 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.
• 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
• 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
• 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.