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Explain sociological challenges to religious belief.

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(a) Explain sociological challenges to religious belief. The sociological approach to religious belief looks at how society behaves on a whole, to answer the question, "Why are people religious?" Durkheim tried to show that religion, despite its importance to the religious individual, was a separate social experience. He defined religion as a "unified system of beliefs and practices related to sacred things." Therefore we must understand sacred symbols and what they represent. As a Functionalist, religion maintains social stability by removing tension that can disrupt social order. Religion is seen in a positive light, promoting harmony in society. He studied the Australian Aborigines, where each clan had a symbolic, usually of nature, totem, to identify itself by and used in sacred ceremonies. He therefore concluded that since the totem was involved in scared ritual, it was a symbol of both society and God, so the Aborigines worshiped both God and society. He suggested that we worship society because just as sacred things were superior to man, so was society. ...read more.


A slightly different perspective came from Weber, who was more concerned with trying to discover links between types of religion and social life, with a particular emphasis on economics. He believed that religion grew from the belief of magic and they were an attempt to make sense of the world. Over time religion grew apart from magic by a process of rationalisation, until it gained an independence from it. To Weber, religion is a response to the difficulties in the world. He saw only a connection between deprivation and religion, not a source of the cause of religion like Marx. He thought that religion had a more active role, by saying religious movements could often be important agents of social change. He argued that ascetic Calvinist Protestantism preceded development of capitalism and that Capitalism developed initially in areas where religion is influential. E.g. China had the knowledge, labour and individuals motivated to make money, but as they had no religion that persisted and helped the development of capitalism, i.e. ...read more.


Social reformers such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King show this. Engels argues he saw early Christian sects as radical challenge to authority of Roman law. If God is society as Durkheim suggests, then how its mistakes be explained such as the Liberation Theology Movement, where they looked to the Gospels for its inspiration, an, which ironically was criticised by many for being "too Marxist". This shows that religion is one of the few things that can stimulate revolt. Recently, Catholic priests have acted against interests of bourgeoisie, but Weber did recognise that religious movements could often be important agents of social change. Sociology does not give a total explanation to religious belief. In criticism to Weber, that the first capitalist countries may have been Protestant, but not all Protestant countries are capitalist. There are other ways in explaining religious belief, such as from a psychological approach, where Jung for example said that religion performs the function of harmonising the psyche and as such it is beneficial. The removal of religion would lead to psychological problems, unlike Marx, where the removal of religion would benefit society, revealing to them their true reality. Rachel Tsang 12H1 ...read more.

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