The Sociological Challenges to Religious Belief Essay

The Sociological Challenges to Religious Belief Essay

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The 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

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. In worship, man finds it difficult to direct his feelings
to something, which is superior to him, so he directs his feelings at
a symbol. Individually experienced, religion is then a representation
of the realities and forces of society itself.

Upon the influence of Durkheim, Marx approached religion from Hegel's
evolutionary dialectic of society evolving through the three
principles of; a thesis produces an opposite (antithesis), the two are
then resolved in a synthesis, this a new thesis that can be
challenged. He applied this dialectic to the material, in the form of

... middle of paper ...

...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.

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