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The Sociology of Religion

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Yuen Ching CHAN Religion is a social institution involving specific statements that people hold to be true and specific things people do in daily lives based on a sense of awe, reverence, and even fear. Thus, it involves beliefs and practices. The sense of awe, reverence and fear is a conception of the sacred, which is the contrary of the conception of the profane. The profane is, Durkheim explained, people defining most objects, events or experiences surrounded us as ordinary elements of everyday life. People distinguish sacred from profane, for example, statues of a person are to remember who have great importance in the history and treated as profane, but a statue of any God in its respective religion would be sacred. (Macionis & Plummer, pp462-3) These are just few basic ideas of what religion is to our societies. This essay is to compare and contrast the views of Durkheim and Marx towards the social implications of religion in classical sociology. Marx is a sociologist who has taken the conflict paradigm. He saw the conflicts generated from different classes' interests. Religion, according to Marx, is a compensating and comforting illusion and that would be made unnecessary when human beings lost their need for illusions. ...read more.


"The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, the society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world consciousness, because they are an inverted world. [...] It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma. [...] It is the opium of the people." (quoted in Marsh, pp 88-9) By the term "opium of the people", Marx meant that consolation given by religion in whatever kind would only give a temporary relief to the repressed or those who suffered. Not only that it would decrease the functioning of senses, but also would produce undesirably side effects as any other drugs do. Hence, religion provides no real solution to suppression. Instead, "it tends to inhabit any real solution by making suffering and repression bearable" (Hamilton, pp93) Furthermore, not only the oppressed classed are "addicted". ...read more.


Divorce is for sure regarded as wrong and unjust. The last function of religion in the society is to provide meaning and purpose of life. Strengthened by such comforting convictions, human beings are less likely to commit suicide when they have to confront their most difficult times in lifetimes. For example, in Christianity, the death of a beloved family member is celebrated in the church with family and friends and such actions put religious implications that the died person would be peaceful in the heaven with the prayers from family and friends and his or her sins is forgiven hopefully due to the goodness he or she had made. The result is not that the died person is in heaven or not, but the fact that their family and friends felt faithful to this friend until the end and they would not collapse in great despair. (Macionis & Plummer, pp463) Both Marx and Durkheim saw religion as a social construction. On one hand, Durkheim overlooked the dysfunctions of religion. Religion could generate social conflict as Marx stated. On the other hand, Marx also somehow downplayed the positive changes and equality provided by religion. In conclusion, the theories of Marx and Durkheim thus make up a better and more complete view of the social implications of religion rather than considering anyone per se. ...read more.

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