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Religion is an incredibly important issue within society in general, it played an important part in the past and is still at the forefront of attention even today when some claim it is in recession. Key religious figures are often seen in the media, like the Pope or Archbishop of Canterbury because they hold a position of respect and their opinions are seen as important. Therefore this topic is one which is extremely emotive and can produce major results. This is why religion can be seen as a cause of conflict and social division while also being categorised as a form of cohesive measure.
However these seemingly contradictory ideas stem from the fact that the role of religion is also undefined and not agreed on. This important debate within the sociological world has been a huge dividing point but despite copious research neither argument can produce substantial evidence to prove their claims. The functionalist viewpoint is one which has led the way for the idea that religion is a tool which generates an agreed set of values that hold society together.
Functionalism is one of the mainstream sociological viewpoints from the social systems perspective which believes that society is held together through consensus. This means that society is a unit of elements working together in order to maintain social order. This stems from the idea promoted by Durkheim that religion is a form of “social cement”. This statement means that religion provides values which “hold society together”. In this way he believed that religion created stability, identity and a “collective conscience” which kept social order and reduced social change, revolution and conflict.
In this way the functionalist perspective does not believe that religion causes conflict and division. Within this viewpoint Parson’s has also developed the opinion that religion allows social solidarity to take place by formally setting out the parameters of behaviour and social expectations. In this way religion is a measure of moral guidance and it generates consensus through an appropriate set of values and functions that hold society together. However opposing this viewpoint is that of the Marxists who are the counter and the competing mainstream sociological viewpoint.
Their beliefs stem from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles who came to the conclusion that society was structured on the basis that the ruling class exploit the proletariat and keep them in a position of sustainable poverty. Marx hypothesised based on his observations of the world that eventually the proletariat would become aware of their false class conscience and the ideological state apparatus that was holding their position and then they would rebel. This was called the polarization of the classes.
Marx called religion the “opium of the masses”, which meant that it was a part of the ideological state apparatus which helped to keep the proletariat in their exploited position. This demonstrates that the Marxists believe that religion acts as a temporary cohesive measure in that it helps to blind the workers from the truth but ultimately religion leads to conflict and division. Revolution is seen as “inevitable” by Marxists and religion is seen as disguising division within society.
One major example of the Marxist perspective in practice comes from the idea that the Church is one of the biggest landowners in the country and most faiths are now run as businesses with the Vatican being a wealthy enterprise which funds and invests in other aspects of society. From a Marxist perspective this clearly shows the infiltration of capitalism into even the Church. New Religious Movements are often synonymously intertwined with merchandise like videos and ornaments and are run like businesses.
There is also the view of the feminists which is a more modern structuralist interpretation. They believe that religion serves to maintain the patriarchal characteristics of society. Therefore they believe that the bible is written and promoted in a way which portrays women as inferior to men and the church itself is organised in a way which discriminates against and exploits women. This can be best seen from the fact that there was a major debate within the church as to whether to allow women to become priests because they were not seen as suitable to act as God’s representative.
The Catholic Church also has teaching about abortion and contraception which lead to women holding a primarily domestic role in bringing up a family. This is seen as a major form of social control by women. Hence feminists believe that religion functions in a way that creates and maintains divisions within society. Finally, Interactionists like Weber wrote a great deal about religion in their studies which covered a wide variety of topics. He believed that religion when coupled with certain factors was a force for social change and revolution.
He identified the Calvinist Church protestant ethics as a change which brought about capitalism. Therefore rather than holding society together Weber argued that religion being the emotive topic that it is can lead to huge changes, division and conflict. Hence religion could be used in a way which either legitimated or challenged the status quo. This is important because it demonstrates that religion could be seen as holding different purposes. This can be seen in today’s society because with the world changing and different countries holding a multitude of different religions it is possible to identify co-operation.
Religious campaigns against racism, violence and even experimentation on live animals have been highly successful. A good example of this consensus can be seen from the protests against the invasion of Iraq which clearly showed a varied degree of religions joining together. However conflict can be seen within different nations as obviously both today and in the past there have been religious wars and power struggles which come hand in hand with religious tension. The Taliban are a fundamentalist Islamic group who have attacked capitalist America because of religious teachings and a misalignment in beliefs.
Another example is that of the Northern Ireland conflict with the Catholics and Protestants fighting which is deep rooted within ethics and politics. These sociological arguments show no clear answer to this issue. Religion does act in many different ways sometimes to bring people together and sometimes to cause conflict. However it is important to remember that whatever religions function it is a major part of life and affects a vast majority of people. Therefore with a huge amount of religions worldwide it is not surprising to see both co-operation and conflict arising as a result.
Many religions are founded on conflict and consensus and this is what makes them so powerful because religion has the ability to do both. I believe that conflict and consensus arises as a result of individual uses of religion. For instance is religion promotes cultural identity then it can be seen as unifying and at the same time dividing and this is where the argument lies. Thomas Cranfield 13 AJB 06th October 2004 Sociology Essay Questions 1a) Identify and explain two reasons why church attenders are predominantly female. (8 marks) Church attenders can be seen to be predominantly female because of the socialisation of women.
Women are taught to be passive and obedient and have traits which are compatible with religiosity. These include a loving and caring perspective which is often synonymous with child bearing. Miller and Hoffman (1985) suggested that this was enough to explain the fact that women were more religious than men because it gave them easier access to the church. Greely (1992) complements this idea from his theory that women often join the church after child birth because they have ‘care’ responsibilities. However there is also the point that there is a differentiation in the roles of men and women that affects religiosity.
Women are stereotypically more orientated with the domestic sphere and have less professional and paid work. With more time spent rearing children and within the home environment there is also a closer link with community spirit and therefore church attendance. As more women enter the world of full time paid work they also often still attend church because it is socialised into them and internalised from gender role models i. e. parents.
Hence men have less connection and accessibility to the Church and also less time to enter into religion. b) Examine the extent to which religion acts as an agent of social control over women. (12 marks) The idea that religion is a form of social control stems back to ideas of Marxism and false class ideology. Karl Marx famously commented that: “Religion is the opium of the masses. ” By this he meant that religion was a form of ideological state apparatus which was being used by the state to compensate for the poor living and working conditions of the proletariat. Religion provided a justification for the inequalities of life and gave optimism to the people whom were being exploited through its ideas of a just heaven.
However more recently religion has been accused of acting as an agent of social control over women. The term “agent of social control” literally means a tool utilised by an agency which diverts power away from a group and maintains the stratification of power and order of an institution or structure. For instance prisons are a form of social control within society as they act as a deterrent to deviant behaviour and hence keep order and maintain the power structure. The idea that religion acts as a form of social control is one that stems predominantly from the sociological theory of patriarchy.
This is the idea that within religion men have all of the power and that women are almost subservient and second class because of this fact. Firstly there is the idea that the holy scriptures and testaments of many religions contain quite patriarchal, loaded vocabulary and messages. The Orthodox Jewish Prayer places the role of a women firmly beside the role of a slave: “I was not a slave… I was not a woman” This is also seen within the Church of England and Catholic Church which contains many books written with sexist language, the ten commandments are even written addressing men as opposed to women.
The fact that men are made in the “image of God” is hugely patriarchal and women are depicted as “for the glory of men”. This idea reaffirms gender divisions within religion. The Qu’ran follows this trend with much of it’s teachings placing women below the status of men: “Men are in charge of women” The Buddhist Church associates women with the secular, powerless, profane and imperfect. This is hugely important and clearly identifies that women are presented in a very different way to men.
This differentiation can be seen as a form of social control because it gives a justification for women being exploited and oppressed within society and life. It can be argued that this is a contributing factor to the struggle for women to gain high status jobs in society with religion being a traditional and powerful institution. It is definitely true that the Church itself has not given positions of power within it to women regardless of their high attendance and commitment. Even today with changing legislation and social attitudes many churches are incredibly reluctant to alter their traditions.
Women were not allowed to become priests or rectors until very recently, 1992, because it was believed that only a man could offer the link between the people and God. This is justified by the Church through the fact that Jesus was male and that all priests assuming his role must be too. Hence women normally fulfil roles of little status and often upon a voluntary basis within the Church. Within religion social control can also be seen through the use of mainly male role models such as Jesus, Moses, Mohammad etc. Each of these are charismatic leaders who are presented as heroes.
There are very few female icons with most appearing in a very negative manner. Many were prostitutes or figures of sin including Mary Magdelin who is often presented as the devil in many modern day interpretations of the bible. Eve is also presented as creating the “original sin” and fall of mankind which led to the removal from the paradise of Eden. Extending this, the snake in the creation story, the devil, is Adam’s first wife who refused to lie beneath him and so was turned into a snake. Therefore it is possible to argue that women are presented as both the root and cause of the fall of mankind.
This idea of a link between women and sin is carried through to modern day traditions with women being associated with danger and pollution of rituals. Women are seen as distracting men from their worship and in religions such as Islam are actually segregated from men by a screen. Bird (1999) points out that it is ideas like this which lead to the promotion of celibacy and asceticism. These ideas once again are a form of social control as they allow women to be targeted as dangerous and not worthy of having power within the Church or other organisations.
Mary Daly (1973) comments that Christianity is a patriarchal myth that eliminated the first Goddess religions through its “male sado-rituals”. This is important because she is identifying the loss of female power as a direct result of patriarchy. Simone de Beauvoir (1953) is a Marxist feminist and hence takes Marx’s theories and applies them to women. She believed that religion led to false consciousness that oppressed women under the ideology that equality is provided in a sexless heaven. This idea therefore also demonstrates the existence of religion as a form of social control because it actually oppresses women.
However, in evaluation there are some perspectives which believe that religion is not necessarily patriarchal. Holm and Bowker (1994) highlight the existence of institutions exclusively for women that develop a sense of identity and give strong status within society e. g. nuns. This is important because this could arguably be seen as the forerunner of modern women’s movements. If this perspective is taken then patriarchy theory loses some of its affect because women can be seen to have power and hence not be pinned down by social control or oppressed by religion.
Leila Badawi (1994) and Leila Ahmed (1992) even go so far as to view religion as liberating, positive for women and creating more involvement for women in society. This destroys the idea that religion is somehow oppressive and that religion is a form of social control. Veiling is often criticised by the West as being repressive; Burchill (2000); “carry round a mobile prison” However it is important to remember that this is a very ethnocentric view point that is challenged by a high Muslim response. Watson (1994) identified through interviews that felt safer and more liberated.
Once again this challenges the idea that religion is a form of social control because religion is seen as benefiting women. Women also have higher attendance in sects with Bruce (1995) recording a ratio of 2:1, many were even established by women pointing to the fact that religion is not oppressive and a form of social control but actually once again positive for women. With regards to the issue of role models it is also important to remember that Mary is presented as a very important figure within the Catholic Church. She is pure and in no way presented as having any connection to sin or negative attributes.
In conclusion I believe that religion is a form of social control, however I subscribe more to El Sadawi’s (1980) theory that men have interpreted the bible in a patriarchal manner. Over time the power of man, which stemmed from the expansion of the monotheistic religion has led to religion being altered to better suit man. A key example of this comes from the execution of women by the Christian Church as witches in the middle ages for administering medicine. Personally this appeals to me the most because it explains the transition from the previously very matriarchal religions to patriarchal domination.
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