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Flashcards in Theories Of Religion Deck (38)
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Summarise the key features of substantive definitions.

- Focus on content or substance of religious belief.
- They're exclusive (draw clear line between religious and non-religious beliefs).


Summarise the key features of functional definitions.

- Define religion in terms of the social or psychological functions it performs for individuals or society.
- Durkheim defines religion in terms of the contribution they make to social integration.
- Yinger: Religion is an individual issue not for whole society.
- They're inclusive (allowing wide range of beliefs and practices that perform functions e.g integration to be included).
- No bias against non-western religions e.g Buddhism.


Summarise the key features of constructionists definitions.

- Interpretivist approach: focuses on how members of society define religion.
- Not possible to produce a single universal definition of religion.
- Social constructionists: how definitions of religion are constructed, challenged + fought over.
- Aldridge: Scientology


What is society's most basic need?

Social order and solidarity so that its members can cooperate.


According to functionalists, how is order possible in society?

The existence of value consensus. Without this, individuals would pursue their own selfish desires.


Explain what is meant by 'the sacred'.

Things set apart and forbidden, that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder, and are surrounded by taboos and prohibitions.


Explain what is meant by 'the profane'.

Things that have no special significance. Things that are ordinary and mundane.


What is the significance of the totem in clan worship?

Totem: clans emblem e.g an animal or plant that symbolises the clans origins and identity.
Totemic rituals: serve to reinforce groups solidarity and sense of belonging.


Explain what is meant by the collective conscience.

The shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between individuals possible.


Explain how rituals reinforce the collective conscience.

Binds individuals together reminding them they're part of a single moral community to which they owe their loyalty.


Briefly outline two cognitive functions of religion.

In order to think at all, we need categories such as time, space, cause, substance, number etc.

- In order to share our thoughts, we need to use the same categories as others.


Give three criticisms of Durkheim's views on religion.

- Worsley: No sharp division between the sacred and profane & different clans share the same totems. Even if he's right about totemism, doesn't prove he's discovered essence of all other religions.

- May apply better to small-scale societies w/ single religion. Harder to apply to large-scale societies, where 2 or more religious communities may be in conflict. May explain social integration between communities, not conflicts between them.

- Mestrovic (postmodernist): can't be applied to contemporary society as increasing diversity has fragmented the collective conscience so there's no longer a single shared value system for religion to reinforce.


According to Malinowski, how does religion promote social solidarity?

By performing psychological functions for individuals, helping them cope with emotional stress that would undermine social solidarity.


Briefly outline the two types of situations in which Malinowski suggests religion promotes social solidarity.

Where the outcome is important but is uncontrollable and thus uncertain:
- Trobriand Islanders (contrasts ocean & lagoon fishing)
- Lagoon fishing: safe, uses predictable & successful method (poisoning), no ritual.
- Ocean fishing: dangerous & uncertain, 'canoe magic' - sense of control, eases tension, confidence to undertake hazardous tasks & reinforces group solidarity. Sees ritual serving as 'god of the gaps'.

At times of life crises:
- Events such as: birth, puberty, marriage and death mark major and disruptive changes in social groups.
Religion: helps minimise disruption
E.g: funeral rituals reinforce feeling of solidarity among survivors, while notion of immortality gives comfort to the bereaved by denying fact of death.
Malinowski: death is main reason for existence of religious belief.


According to Parsons, what are the two essential functions of religion?

Creates and legitimates society's central values.

- It's the primary source of meaning.


Briefly outline how religion acts as a source of meaning.

It answers 'ultimate' questions about the human condition e.g why the good suffer & why some die young. Religion provides answers to such questions, for example by explaining suffering will be rewarded in heaven.


Explain what is meant by civil religion.

A belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself.


Briefly explain how civil religion binds Americans together.

- Involves loyalty to the nation-state & a belief in God, both equated with being a true American.
- Expressed in various rituals, symbols & beliefs e.g pledge of allegiance.
- Sacralises American way of life & binds together Americans from many different ethnic & religious backgrounds.


Briefly outline three criticisms of the functionalist view of religion.

- Emphasises social nature of religion and the positive functions it performs, but neglects negative aspects e.g religion as a source of oppression of the poor or women.

- Ignores religion as a source of division and conflict, especially in complex modern societies where there's religious pluralism (e.g Northern Ireland) it's hard to see how it unites people & promotes integration.

- Idea of civil religion overcomes this problem to some extent, arguing that societies may still have an overarching belief system shared by all, but is this really religion? - especially if its not based on the belief in the supernatural?


How do Marxist see society?

Divided into two classes, one which exploits the labour of the other.


According to Marx, how will exploitation be overcome?

Marx predicted the w/c would become conscious of their exploitation & unite to overthrow captialism.


What will happen to religion in a classless society?

There'll be no need for religion in classless society and it'll disappear.


Define ideology.

A belief system that distorts people's perception of reality in ways that serve the interests of the r/c.


Briefly outline how religion acts as an ideological weapon. Give an example of this.

- Used by the r/c to legitimate suffering of the poor as something inevitable and god-given.
- Religion misleads poor into believing that their suffering is virtuous and they'll be favoured in the afterlife.
- E.g Christianity: its easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven.
- Creates false consciousness: prevents poor from changing their decision.


What did Lenin mean by the claim that religion is a 'spiritual gin'?

- An intoxicant doled out to the masses by the r/c to confuse them and keep them in their place.

- Lenin: r/c use religion cynically to manipulate the masses & keep them from attempting to overthrow r/c by creating a 'mystical fog' that obscures reality.


Explain how religion legitimates the power and privilege of the dominant class.

Makes their position appear to be divinely ordained.

For example:
- The Divine Right of Kings (16th Cent.): belief that the king is God's representative on Earth and is owed total obedience.
- Disobedience: illegal & sinful challenge to God's authority.


Define alienation.

Becoming separated from or losing control over something that one has produced or created.


Briefly explain how religion is a product of alienation, according to Marx.



Briefly outline three criticisms of the Marxist view of religion.

- Marx: ignores positive functions of religion e.g psychological adjustment to misfortune. Neo-Marxists: see certain forms of religion as assisting not hindering development of class consciousness.

- Some Marxists (e.g Althusser) reject concept of alienation as unscientific and based on romantic idea that humans have a 'true self' This would make the concept an inadequate basis for a theory of religion.

- Religion doesn't necessarily function effectively as an ideology to control the pop. E.g Abercrombie, Hill and Turner argue: in pre-capitalist society, while Christianity was a major element of r/c ideology, it had limited impact on peasantry.


Define patriarchy.

Rule by father. Male dominance.