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Discuss the Formation and Social Impact of Religion and Belief Systems

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Discuss the Formation and Social Impact of Religion and Belief Systems Belief systems, religions and societies have been around since the beginning of recorded time. Based on their longevity alone, it is easy to postulate that their origins and functions must be mutual, or at the very least, have a history of interaction. Therefore, unsurprisingly we find belief systems present in all known societies, and consequently, beliefs systems and religion have a social impact. To assess this social impact one must first be able to define and distinguish them in order to qualify their impact. A belief system is a set of organised convictions, predicating a way of thinking that pertains to acceptance or accreditation of something. Religion is centred in religious beliefs and the stylised enactment of them. However, in attempting to define religious beliefs we must encompass all varieties of religious belief without incorporating phenomena that are not normally thought of as religions. To overcome this problem two approaches have been adopted relying on functional and substantive definitions. Functional definitions see religion and its beliefs in terms of what functions it performs for society or individuals. For example, Yinger defined religion as "a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life" (quoted in Hamilton, 1995). However, as with many functional definitions, it is too inclusive regarding belief systems and often puts forward functional means that can be addressed by other aspects of human life. ...read more.


On the other hand, Malinowski may have taken a particular function or effect that religion sometimes could be attributed to have (dealing with uncertainty) and mistaken it for a feature of religion in general. Obviously, by its own nature, the functionalist perspective of belief systems and religion does not account for the dysfunctional aspects the disruptive force of religion can manifest. These divisive aspects of religion also have a social impact and must be considered. The Marxist perspective focuses on the force behind religion, addressing both the functional and dysfunctional effects it can have on society applying a more holistic view. When comparing present society to his perfect ideal society, Marx saw religion as the 'opium of the people' (Marx in Bottomore and Rubel, 1963). He suggested religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain produced by oppression in a number of ways: Promising a paradise of eternal bliss in life after death; Making a virtue of the suffering produced by oppression; Offering hope of supernatural intervention to solve dire problems; and to justify the social order and a person position within it. Therefore, from a Marxist viewpoint, religion does not simply cushion the effects of oppression, it also acts and an instrument of that oppression. In terms of religion's social impact, the Marxist perspective sees religion as a potent mechanism of social control. He saw religion impacting on society to produce a false class consciousness, diverting peoples attention from the real source of their oppression with false justification and encouragement, and so helping to maintain ruling-class power. ...read more.


This gives support to secularisation and also the formation of sects and denominations. In my opinion, we are all inescapable social Darwinists and religion and belief systems are inherent forces being both product and producer of society. Importantly many theories (e.g. Marxim & Feminism) imply religion and belief systems to be an instrument of manipulation, this actually tells us nothing of their true underlying formation and social impact. For instance, just because art or drama can be utilised for ideological purposes this does not explain the existence or function of art or drama. As we move forward into a global society, the future formation and continuation of religion and belief systems is becoming more personal, born out of many different cross pollinations of cultures and societies. Postscript Theories cannot be based on undefined foundations, such as the word society and religion. Both can be interpreted in many different ways and consequently one theory's perspective will work for their interpretation of the words religion and society. Thankfully, the definition of belief system is irrefutable and so has little controversy when applied and built on. There is more than one approach to perspectives of religion and society and unfortunately many authors and critics I have read have allowed themselves to become fixated with useless simplified criticism. For example, all textbooks critique functionalist approaches by stating the perspective emphasises the positive contributions of religion to society while ignoring the dysfunctional aspects. They would be well advised to notice the word functional, not dysfunctional in 'functionalist approach' and stop writing about the blinding obvious. Only a fool would criticise the dictionary definition of a cat by saying it needed to encompass the definition of a dog. ...read more.

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