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Describe and briefly explain the variations in religious beliefs in the British Isles today.

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Introduction

Religion - A2 Question - Total marks : 60 mks Time allowed : 90 minutes 1. (a) Using material from Item A, describe and briefly explain the variations in religious beliefs in the British Isles today. (12 mks). Ans. As Item A indicates there are considerable regional variations in religious beliefs within the British Isles and between Great Britain and the Irish Republic. It has long been the case for example that church attendance in N.Ireland has been much higher than other regions of the U.K. - particularly England. This could be explained partially due to the significance of fundamentalism and fundamentalist denominations (eg. Free Presbyterian, Baptist etc.) in N.Ireland - which promote a literal interpretation of the Bible and are strongly opposed to liberal theological trends. The influence of fundamentalist beliefs is particularly evident in the table in relation to the variation between G.B. and both parts of Ireland - with regard to literal 'truths' such as belief in : Life after death; Heaven; Hell; the Devil; Miracles - with much higher percentages believing in such concepts in N.Ireland and Irish Republic than in Great Britain. Of course we should be cautious about any statistical measures of religious beliefs - since religion is such an intensely individual phenomenon and therefore difficult to quantify. ...read more.

Middle

Many sociological theories of religion have emphasised the importance of religion as a social institution, functionalism in particular giving religion a central role in the integration of society. Functionalist theory assumes that religion forms part of the value consensus in society, operating for the general good of society and consequently benefiting individuals as well. Durkheim saw religion as reinforcing the 'collective conscience', with its sacred power giving credibity to common values, duties and obligations. To Durkheim, religion is a source of social cohesion and integration, binding individuals together as a kind of 'social glue'. Functionalists also see religion as offering meaning and identity to individuals within society. Parsons has followed Durkheim in emphasising the role of religion in creating social order. Religion establishes general moral guidelines and is part of the process of socialising individuals into understanding and accepting the pattern of norms within a culture. Such consensus view have traditionally sharply challenged by conflict theorists - particularly Marxists who reach very different conclusions about the role played by religion. Rather than acting in the general interest of society, religion acts in the interests of the ruling class. In Marx`s words, religion is an 'opiate', dulling the pain of oppression in an exploitative society. ...read more.

Conclusion

were working-class and that the most troubled areas (which also happened to be the most deprived areas) were working-class areas. However, Neo-Marxists have modified the traditional Marxist claim that religion acts in the interests of the ruling class - to recognise cases where religion has challenged the ruling class. Maduro for example, points to the examples of Catholicism in Eastern Europe, Liberation Theology (the combining of Marxist theory with Christian Theology) in Latin America and the churches opposition to Apartheid in S.Africa as examples of religion acting to effect social change and side with the oppressed (rather than the ruling class). In conclusion then we can say that sociological accounts of the role and functions of religious institutions and movements in contemporary society have, of necessity had to be modified to take into account the many changes which religion is undergoing in the twenty-first century. Traditional Functionalist theories emphasising the cohesive function of religion are as outdated as classical Marxist perspectives portraying religion as the ally of the ruling classes and a means of oppressing the working-class. Clearly society has moved on and the certainty of early, deterministic perspectives of religion (namely functionalist and Marxist) have been challenged by the apparent variety in contemporary social life - including the extent to which individualism and diversity is presenting a challenge to sociological Grand theory. D.McCready 3.07.01 ...read more.

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