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Critically examine the relationship between different social groups Essay

There are significant differences between social groups and their religious beliefs and practice… There is a very significant ethnic pattern in the participation of religion. The minority groups in britain are a lot more religious than the majority of the population (white christian) . For example, it is much more likely to find black christians(who make up 40% of the membership) in a pentecostal church than white christians… In opposition to that, Modood found that while minorities have higher participation rates, there is a decline in importance of religion for all ethnic groups.

There are clear ethnic patterns in religious participation, with minority groups having a higher level of religious participation. The UK today is a multi ethnic and multi religious society, with Muslims, Hindus and Black Christians more likely than white Christians to see religion as important and a central part of their lives. Among Christians blacks are more likely than whites to be found in Pentecostal churches, where they make up 40% of the membership.

However Modood et al found that despite minority’s having higher participation rates, there’s decline in importance of religion for all ethnic groups and that fewer were observant, especially amongst the second generation. Sociologists have argued several reasons for ethnic differences in religiosity. One argument that most ethnic minorities originate from poorer countries with traditional cultures; these characteristics produce higher levels of belief and practice. Once they migrate into the UK they and their children uphold the pattern they bring from their country of origin.

However it’s argued this disregards the impact of their experiences as immigrants and as minorities in a new society, and how this can give religion a new role in cultural defence and cultural transition. Bruce (2002) argues religion in such a situation offers support and a sense of cultural identity in an uncertain and hostile environment. Bird (1999) argues religion among minorities can be a foundation for community solidarity and a means of preserving ones culture and language as well as a way of coping with oppression in a racist society.

For example the experience of African and Caribbean Christians, where they found white churches weren’t welcoming to them, thus they founded their own black churches which explains their high Pentecostal membership. Religion can also be a means of easing the transition into a new culture by providing support and sense of community for minority groups in their new environment. Will Herberg (1955) argues this as an explanation for high levels of religious participation among first generation immigrants to the USA.

Bruce identified a similar pattern of immigration into the UK, where religion provided a focal point the Irish, Caribbean and south Asian communities. However she argues once a group has made the transition into the new culture and wider society religion loses its role and declines in importance, as was the case with Irish catholic immigrants. Ken Pyrce (1979) studied the African Caribbean community in Bristol. He found evidence of cultural defence and cultural defence being important.

He argues Pentecostalism is a highly adaptive religion of the oppressed which provides migrants with values appropriate to their new world in which they find themselves in. Pentecostalism helped African Caribbean’s adapt to British society by playing a protestant ethic role by helping members succeed by encouraging self reliance and thrift. Religion played a role in giving mutual support and hope of improving their situation. However, Rastafarianism represented a different response for some African Caribbean’s, as they radically reject wider society as racist and exploitative.

The general pattern concerning age and religious participation is that the older a person is, the more likely they’re to attend church or religious service. However there are two exceptions to this pattern; the under 15’s and over 65’s. The under 15’s are more likely to go to church then other groups as they’re forced to do so by their parents. The over 65’s are more likely to be sick and disabled, thus they’re unable to attend. Higher death rates also make this a smaller group, which reduces the total number available to attend.

Voas and Crockett (2005) argue there are two main sorts of explanation fir age differences in religious participation. One argument is the ageing effect. This is the view that people turn to religion as they get older. For example using evidence from the Kendal project Heelas found people become more interested in spirituality as they get older. She argues as we approach death, we naturally become more concerned about spiritual matters and the afterlife, repentance of misdeeds and so on. Thus that age group is more likely to go to church.

Another explanation is the generational effect. This is the view that as society becomes more secular each new generation is less religious then the one before it. Thus there are more old people than young people in church congregations today, not because they’re more attracted to religion as they get older but because they grew up in a time when religion was more popular. Voas and Crockett argue the generational effect is the more significant of the two explanations for age difference in religious participation.

They argue that each new generation is only half as religious as their parents. Thus we can expect a continuing average age rise in church goers as the young become less willing to attend. The number of 15-19 year olds attending church has fallen significantly since 1979 and two-fifths of churches have no one under the age of 112 attending services. 30% of church goers are now over 65; Bruce predicts this trend will continue and soon the over 65s will become the majority. Bruce argues the only exception to this trend is Pentecostal churches which continue to attract young members.

Gill (1998) argues children no longer receive religious socialisation, thus those brought up without religious beliefs are less likely to become church goers later on in life. Thus it’s likely within two generations Christian beliefs will only be held by a minority. Class differences also have patterns in the level of religious participation between the working and ruling classes. Marx argued that the working classes are more likely to be religious because of alienation, where the exploitation of capitalism leads them to look to religion as a source of consolation.

Marx argues that that religion was the opium of the people; it dulls the pain of exploitation but masks the pain rather than treating the cause. Marx argued the upper classes were less religious as they had wealth and power to compensate, and he argued they used religion cynically to manipulate the working classes. However, Marx has been criticised by Althusser, who argues alienation is unscientific and based on the romantic idea of humans having a true self. This would make the concept an inadequate basis for theory of religion.

However, Stark and Bainbridge have identified high religious participation among the middle and upper classes. They argue this is because of relative deprivation. Relative deprivation is where there’s a subjective sense of being deprived. Thus although the middle class are materially well off, they feel spiritually deprived, especially in today’s materialistic and consumerist world which they perceive as lacing emotional or moral warmth. Thus Wallis argues they turn to religion for sense of community.

There are clear gender differences in religious belief and participation; while priesthoods of most religions are male women are likeier to participate in activities and have belief in god and the supernatural. For example in 2005 1. 8 million women in England were church goers, compared to just 1. 36 million men. Miller and Hoffman (1995) found women express greater interest in religion; they have a greater personal commitment and go to church more. They found that this was true for all religious organisations, ages and faiths.

Bruce (1996) estimated there are twice as many women than men in sects. Heelas and Woodhead (2005) found in their study of Kendal 80% of holistic milieu participants were female. These gender differences can be linked to the way men and women see god; as a god of power and control or a god of love and forgiveness. Sociologists have given several arguments for gender differences in religious belief and practice. Miller and Hoffman argue women are more religious as they’re socialised to be more passive, obedient and caring.

Religion values all of these characteristics, thus women are more likely than men to be attracted to religion. It’s noted that men who also have these qualities are also more likely to be religious. Miller and Hoffman also argue that women are more likely than men to be employed in part time work or be full time carers, thus they have more time to organise around religious activities. Women also look to the church as a source of gender identity. Greely argues taking care of other family member’s increases women’s religiosity as they have responsibility to their ultimate welfare as well as day to day needs.

Davie (1994) argues women’s closeness to birth and death, through child bearing and caring for the sick, brings them closer to ultimate questions such as the meaning of life which religion is concerned with. This is also linked to the way women and men see god. Women are more likely to be attracted to the new age because women are more associated with nature and the healing role. Heelas and Woodhead found 80% of participants in their holistic milieu study in Kendal found were women. They argue such movements celebrate the natural and involve cults of healing; this gives women a higher status and sense of self worth.

Bruce argues women’s experience of child rearing makes them less aggressive, more goal orientated, cooperative and caring. Where men wish to achieve, women wish to feel. Bruce argues this fits the expressive emphasis of the new age. The importance of being authentic rather than acting out roles, for example gender roles, in the new age also attracts women as women are more likely than men to see their ascribed roles as restrictive. Callum Brown (2001) argues the new age self religions, which emphasise subjective experience rather than external authority, attract women through their appeal for autonomy.

However it can also be argued that women are attracted to fundamentalism because of the certainties of traditional gender roles women gain. Glock and Stark (1969) and Stark and Bainbridge (1985) argue people participate in religion because of the compensators for social, organismic and ethical deprivation that religion offers. Glock and Stark argue that these forms of deprivation are more common among women; this explains their higher level of sect membership. Organismic deprivation stems from physical and mental health problems; women are more likely to suffer from ill health thus they seek healing through religion.

Women are more likely to be ethically deprived as they’re more likely than men to be morally conservative, thus they regard the world as in moral decline, and thus they’re attracted to sects who share this view. Women are more likely to be socially deprived as they’re more likely to be poor. This further explains why women’s membership is higher then men’s in sects, as sects tend to attract poorer groups. However, despite traditional gender differences in participation, women are now leaving the church at a faster rate than men. Brierly (2005) found a huge decline in church going for women aged 30-45, with a 16.

4% fall in Sunday church attendance between 1990 and 2005. Brierly argues this could be due to pressures of the home; family and work have become intense for women. Women in this age group are more likely to have a young family and Sunday working is particularly high for women. All this equates to having little time for church. Callum Brown argues that since the 1960s women have begun to reject traditional subordinate gender roles. Christianity was closely bound to these traditional roles, thus women’s rejection of subordination leads them to reject traditional religion at the same time.


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