Belief Systems. Belief Systems And Ideology A Belief System is a ‘framework of ideas through which an individual makes sense of the world’ Ideology is a set of beliefs or principles. Belief Systems. Reading the above definitions is a little confusing – are they not the same thing?
The current paradigms of physics, chemistry
and biology suggest that such things as
homeopathy have no scientific basis yet
many researchers are assured
of their success– will this lead to a
whole new scientific paradigm?
1. What people believe
2. Why people believe
3. The organisational context of beliefs e.g. church,sect
4. How religion affects peoples lives
As sociologists our interest is not in the validity of religious beliefs
and you don't have to have religious convictions to study religion -
on the other hand religious commitments should not bar you from studying religion sociologically
1. Functional Definitions
These involve what religion does
It answers questions such as
What happens when I die?
Why are people poor?
And gives guidelines on how to behave
Functionalists see religion as important for social cohesion
2. Substantive Definitions
These say what religion is rather than what it does
e.g. belief in God and other supernatural beings
There are a number of important elements to this definition
Durkheim sees religion as a combination of belief and practice
i.e. doing is as important as believing
The community basis of religion gives rise to possible conflicts between communities
e.g. N Ireland
Religion can unite and divide people at the same time
Weber - The problem of theodicy
This is about how people see the world with all its problems as meaningful
Religion helps to answer the why questions in life
Why have I got cancer?
Why is our community oppressed?
Why did that accident happen?
Stark & Bainbridge 1985 - Compensators
religion makes up for things lacking in this life
promise of rewards in the next life if you are suffering now
suffering becomes a test of faith
Ways of dealing with the problem of theodicy have social consequences.
Weber saw a link between protestantism and the growth of capitalism.
Islam believes that suffering is crucial and has important consequences for such as Iraq in the face of Western sanctions.
Criticisms Of Functional Definitions
They tend to include many things some would not regard as religious
perhaps science has replaced religion in answering some of the fundamental questions
Criticisms Of Substantive Definitions
Many are based on Western monotheistic beliefs and are too narrow.
Thus the difference between the 2 approaches is one of practice versus belief. This is very important to remember when we look at the secularisation process later. Those who prefer the functional definitions see religion as still being important in the job that it does in society. Those who prefer substantive definitions are more likely to agree with the supporters of secularisation thesis – that religious belief has declined and has been replaced with rational, scientific thought.
As we would expect Functionalists see religion as functionally necessary.
In particular the contribution of religion to the needs of society and the individual.
It’s role in maintaining social solidarity is very important.
‘Religion is the opium of the masses’
Again as we would expect there is a clear link to class-conflict. Religion is an illusion which eases the pain of exploitation in capitalist society.
In a communist utopia religion ceases to exist because there is no need for it.
Feminists see religion in a similar vein to the Marxists - causing pain and oppression –
the difference here is that this stems from Patriarchy.
Religion serves the interests of men.
Tends to see religion as meeting the needs of individuals.
As such religion is still very important in helping to answer the big questions.
Post Modernists too focus on the individual and how he/she makes sense of their lives.
People no longer accept ‘universal truths’ and as such adopt a pick’n’mix mentality to religion –
often taking bits from different beliefs to make their own sense of things.
Most sociologists suggest that ‘church’ refers to a large organisation which is often linked to the state e.g. The Church Of England. Most churches fit in with the status quo of the society they belong to meaning that members go along with the norms and values of that particular society.
The sect/cult difference is one which does offer a lot of confusion. Generally sects are seen as a little bit deviant but generally do conform to the way things are in this world even if they have a different ‘take’ on it. Sects are generally smaller than churches and often have grown out of mainstream churches in protest over some issues.
Of all the terms here the ‘cult’ classification is the most difficult to tie down.
They tend to be seen in ‘world rejecting’ terms i.e. they are usually critical of mainstream society and of other religious organisations.
They tend to be small in size with highly committed members. Some cults have very charismatic leaders and require their members to cut their ties with their old lives when they join e.g. with family, friends, jobs etc.
New Religious Movements
New Religious Movements (NRM’s)
Is a term that is used more these days to get away from the Sect/Cult definition problem. It usually refers to a group of worshippers (not necessarily Christian)
These have usually undergone an intense conversion experience and are often regarded as ‘weirdos’ i.e. with suspicion by the rest of society (often via media amplification).
Wallis talks about
Members are expected to cut ties with past lives, jobs, family etc and often live in a new community.
(e.g. Moonies, Hare Krishna)
2. World Affirming NRM’s
These see the external world more benevolently – members live in the real world but see themselves as finding new ways of relating to it
and therefore their ‘enlightenment’ brings more joy and contentment
(e.g. Transcendental Meditation, Scientology)
3. World Accommodating NRM’s
These tend to emphasise the importance of individual religious experiences.
Members live and work in the real world
(e.g. Charismatic Christian Groups)
New Age Movements
NAM’s refer to a large number of groups emerging since the 1970’s. The ‘new’ bit is often a rather paradoxical label because many have their routes in very old belief systems.
Bruce 1996 has suggested 2 categories of NAM
‘these resemble loose knit lecture circuits where members participate in lectures, seminars and workshops.
Involvement is rather sporadic and is less face to face and more likely to involve reading literature (either in hard copy or on-line).
Astrology is one of the best examples of this type of NAM.
2. Client Cults
These groups offer services to their members.
Therapists have grown up in lots of different fields to ‘help’ clients get to grips with aspects of their lives, e.g. crystal therapy
Critics have argued that many NAM practices are more concerned with making money than offering real benefits to members.
Why do people join NRM’s?
many members hope to gain something from joining, either financially, spiritually or just a sense of happiness and well being.
3. Relative Deprivation
Weber – Sects attract those on the margins of society
‘Theodicy of Disprivilege’ – gives people hope of something in the next life!
Wilson (1970) a variety of situations lead to marginalisation -
Wars, natural disaster, economic collapse
Wallis 1984 –Not always economic marginalisation. Some MC whites feel cut off from society
5. Social Change
Wilson – sects arise in periods of rapid change –traditional norms are disrupted
Bruce (1996) agrees and says that secularisation and weakening of established churches leads many to look elsewhere.
Established religion is too watered down for some
Wilson – Sects are ‘last outposts of religion’
Wallis (1984) pointed to a number of social changes helping NRM’s to grow in the 1960’s
NRMs are popular with young adults. Such groups have left childhood behind but haven’t become tied down by careers, families of their own and other commitments.
World rejecting NRMs are particularly popular as they offer a ‘certainty’ to many young people at a time of uncertainty in their lives.
Barker in her study of the Moonies (The Unification Church) in the 1970’s found that many members were young and came from comfortable middle class families.
The group offered a surrogate family setting for them and provided a lot of mutual support. Despite many fears of brainwashing in the media,
Barker discovered that the high drop out rate suggested a short term fulfilment of temporary needs.
1. Commitment levels too high