‘The relationship between religious beliefs, religious organisations and social groups is complex and diverse. Different groups have different needs and priorities.’ To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence support this view? Statistics show that women have a greater participation rate in religious organisations than men. Women are more likely to express a greater interest in religion, to have a stronger personal faith and believe in life after death. They are more likely to involve themselves in religious rituals and worship, for example, attend religious services and lead a more religious life generally. There are many sociological explanations as to why women are more religious than men. Firstly, Miller and Hoffmann suggest that gender socialization means females are brought up to be more compliant, obedient and nurturing than males. They state that women are more involved with feelings, co-operation and caring for others.
However, Walter and Davie see women as more exposed than men, to the ups and downs and changes of life. This is because of their biological involvement through childbirth, and through their greater participation in paid caring jobs, for example as teachers, nurses, social workers. Davie suggests that these factors give women a closer association with birth and death than men, and these are also central issues for many religions. They make women more aware of the helplessness of human life, and more familiar to the spiritual dimensions for human existence. Women are also more likely to turn to religion as a result of feeling deprived; they are more likely to experience poverty, family problems, less self confidence and less power. This means they turn to religion for comfort, particularly in religious sects and new religious movements which provide theodicies explaining their feelings, as well as solutions and support.
Status frustration may be experienced by some women, who lack personal fulfilment or status as a result of being restricted to the home by the constraints of housework and childcare, or are in unsatisfying lower-middle-class jobs, which are mainly done by women. Religious participation, particularly in religious sects or new age cults, may help to overcome or compensate for this. Due to women staying at home for child care or having part time jobs, some would argue that this allows women to have far more spare time to be able to attend religious groups, therefore increasing their attendance. Statistics show women’s attendance to religious organisations are higher than men’s, however some Marxist feminists such as Bevoir and Bird argue that religion is used to oppress women. The view that religion has negative consequences for women is conveyed in the study by Bevoir, who sees religion as patriarchal and oppressive.
She supports the Marxist perspective and suggests that religion is oppressive and serves to control and reimburse the second class status given to woman. Which is similar to Marx’s viewpoint on the polerteriants who believe religion gives women a false belief that they will be compensated for their suffering on earth by equality in heaven. This argument suggests that religion is patriarchal therefore it is inevitable that it will end up having negative consequences for women. According to feminists there are countless example of patriarchy which have been used to control and later oppress women. Places of worship show this as they often segregate the sexes. An example of this is the Jewish synagogue in which women are placed behind screens separate from the men who in turn are situated in the main centre space. This highlights the marginalisation between the men and women. Although there are some rising female readers of religion, scriptures were first and foremost written and interpreted by men and it is men that are the head of the churches in Islam and Catholicism.
This could mean that many values and ideologies such as wearing the Burka, beatings, female circumcision and bans on contraception may have been misinterpreted for men’s gain and passed on through generation to generation. May religious women are still not permitted to become priests or are only allowed to work themselves up to a certain level before they hit a religious ‘glass ceiling’, identifying where they want to be, but not being able to reach it due to the constraints set upon them. On the other hand, there are views to suggest that women are no longer oppressed in religion. For example, many cults are run by women and Paganism, from which many New Age religions originate, remains the most female-friendly approach to religion with a strong feminist element, where God is a mixture of male and female, and strong female leadership is common. Individuals seem to develop a greater attachment to religion as they grown older.
Religious belief is lowest among those under 34, and highest among those over age 55. Young people are not only less likely to participate in mainstream religious activity than older people; more than half of them say they don’t regard themselves as religious at all, as shown in such studies as the British Social Attitudes survey and the European Values study. There are three main reasons as to why older people might be more religious than the younger generation. The first being disengagement. This means that as people get older, they become detached from integrating mechanisms of society, such as participation in workplaces through paid employment. Older people may face increasing social isolation as partners and friends die. Participation in religious organisations provides a form of social support in this situation, and a network of people to relate to.
The second is religious socialization, where older people are more likely to have a greater emphasis places on religion through the education system and socialization in the family when they were younger. Lastly, ill health and death. Older people tend to be faced with declining health, and death looms on the horizon. These are the very things that religion concerns its self with. The aging process and disengagement from society may therefore generate an engagement with religion for comfort, coping, meaning and support. Young people are less religious in terms of their expressed religious belief in surveys and their participation in mainstream religions, however this may be because these are simply being expressed in new, private ways which are difficult to record in surveys.
Lynch suggests that young people may be running away from conventional ideas of religion as they can now go ‘spiritual shopping’. This involves an increasing exposure and accessibility to a diversity range of religious and spiritual ideas. This has encouraged new ways of exploring religion and spirituality. Young people may be choosing to take of their religion, of whatever faith or mix of beliefs, as a private matter. Davie expressed this in the words ‘believing without belonging’. This is where individuals may have a belief in something, however they do not chose to practice this belief.
Secular spirituality and the sacred, Lynch suggested that young people may not have lost all religiosity , but that is simply finding new forms, many of which are associated more with the secular and non-religious world than with religious as it is currently understood by most people. Pragmatic reasons also mean there are a range of possible more practical or pragmatic explanations for the decline of religious belief and commitment amongst young individuals. Leisure activities have become a much bigger part of life, and shops and pubs all open for very long hours, including Sundays. Young people have more demands on their time and they may simply have more interesting ad enjoyable things to do.
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