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Compare and contrast the six main sociological theories of religion as well as examining the way in which these theories are formed/based.

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Compare and Contrast Sociological Theories of Religion This essay is going to compare and contrast the six main sociological theories of religion as well as examining the way in which these theories are formed/based. The main point Marx makes concerning religion is its function to control the proletariat. In capitalist society, the wealth of the bourgeoisie depends upon exploiting the proletariat. However, to prevent any rebellion the bourgeoisie need to impose two forms of control, violence, or the threat of violence, and values. Violence is the less satisfactory from of control, as it is difficult in the long term to maintain order solely through this. Furthermore, the use of violence lays bare any claim to legitimacy by the ruling class. Violence is used, where necessary, by the police and, in extreme situations, by the army. Those who are the recipients of violence are likely to be the marginalised that have the smallest stake in society. Control of the proletariat via values is the most efficient mode of control. By gaining control of the very values of society, what benefits the bourgeoisie is regarded as benefiting all of society. Religion was so powerful up to this century, when with the advent of modernism formal education and the mass media effectively took over, because there was no way to disprove the values of religion. God punished the disobedient after death. Marx believed that religion was useful to capitalism in that it acted as a form of consolation to people, keeping them happy in their positions, the opiate of the people. ...read more.


Durkheim's analysis is primarily on the cohesion functions of religion, and he sees religion as a conservative force. Therefore there is little awareness of religion as an agency that brings about change. Durkheim does not see religion as having a dynamic, innovating role, but rather one that reflects social values. When it comes to social change, therefore, he accepts that religion will change, indeed he foresaw its decline, but as a response to wider social changes. Crucially, Durkheim differs from Marx in that he sees religion as a beneficial force, whereas for Marx, religion is a means of oppression. Following on from Durkheim, Parsons examines the positive aspects of religion for society. He suggests that the functions of religious beliefs provide the guidelines for action and that life consists of uncertainties and anxieties concerning unforeseen events. Religion helps to explain these random events, and provide an explanation, it gives meaning to life, and religion also creates and reinforces values to help provide harmony in society. The functionalist perspective emphasizes the positive contributions of religion to society and tends to ignore its more dysfunctional aspects. With its preoccupation with harmony, integration and solidarity, functionalism neglects the many instances where religion can be seen as a divisive and disruptive force. It bypasses the frequent examples of internal divisions within a community over questions of religious dogma and worship, divisions that can lead to open conflict. It gives little consideration to hostility between different religious groups within the same society, such as Catholics and Protestant in Northern Ireland of Hindus and Muslims in India. ...read more.


Berger and Luckmann argue that religion is probably the most effective mechanism for the legitimation of universes of meaning. Unlike other sources of legitimation, only religion links meaning with ultimate reality. However, Berger and Luckmann's views on religion are open to a number of criticisms. Rather like functionalists, they tend to assume that religion unites society and they neglect examples of societies where religion is divisive or causes conflict. Furthermore, they tend to think that religious beliefs are widely held, and they fail to account for the continued existence of societies where many members are indifferent to religion. Religion can be a source of change. Despite the examples that can be used to support the functionalist and Marxist view that religion promotes stability, other examples contradict their claims. There are a number of cases where religion has undermined stability or promoted change, such as in Northern Ireland where Roman Catholicism has long been associated with Irish Republicanism, or in South Africa Archbishop Tutu was a prominent opponent of apartheid. Examples such as these lead to the conclusion that far from encouraging people to accept their place, religion can spearhead resistance and revolution. In many cases when religion has been a force for change in society, the society that results may be strongly influenced by that religion. Despite the considerable effort devoted to discussing Weber's theory by historians and socialists alike, no argument has been reached about its accuracy. Nevertheless, whatever the merits of this particular study, I believe that Weber does successfully highlight the theoretical point that ideas, in this case religious ideas, can conceivably lead to economic change. Alexis Cormano 1 ...read more.

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