Reasons Why Sociologists Disagree on Religion

Reasons Why Sociologists Disagree on Religion

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Reasons Why Sociologists Disagree on Religion

What is religion? How can you define it? Can you give it one universal
definition? Highly unlikely, as religion can be, and has been, defined
in many ways. It can be called a belief in some kind of supernatural
power by one person, then a set of moral values that guide action by
another. It all depends on the simple fact of from what viewpoint you
are looking at religion from.

Durkheim defines religion as shared beliefs and practices that unites
communities and creates social solidarity. Durkheim studied Australian
Aborigines. The Aborigines each had a totem, be it a plant, animal or
object. This totem was a symbol of both their God and their clan. In
other words they were worshipping their God on a conscious level and
themselves on a sub-conscious one. What he’s trying to say is that
it’s not a belief in supernatural powers, but a certain admiration and
respect for what that group of people considers sacred, which could
be anything. This view has been criticised for being too broad,
allowing anything to be sacred, eg, football. Football has become what
you could call a ‘national religion’ in the UK. Millions of fans
follow the game, attending every game as if it were some sort of
religious ritual. These people might miss Church every Sunday but make
sure they attend every match their team plays without fail. The
stadium has become their Church where they stand in worship of their
‘Gods’. However even the sacred may lose it’s sacred status.

Hamilton found that in Italy people directed their prayers at statues
of the saints, if the people had been praying for pro-longed periods
of time without having their prayers answered the statues were tipped
on their heads and whipped. The same goes for football, if a player
scores a winning goal he is considered a God, if he misses a winning
shot then he is immediately shot down. This in effect shows that
people tailor their ‘religion’ to suit their needs, showing respect

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and admiration only where they see fit. The Saints didn’t answer their
prayers so they are punished even though they’re considered sacred and

Malinowski (1954) studied the Trobriand Islanders. The Trobriand
Islanders prayed to and worshipped the sea, in other words if bad
things happened people begged the sea for mercy and if something good
happened they praised the sea for its kindness, and accept this for
the simple reason that ‘that’s just the way things are’. He found that
religion played a big role in promoting social solidarity in times of
emotional need and stress, eg, weddings, funerals, engagements.
Basically he’s trying to say that religion acts as the foundation of a
culture, a supporting structure you could say that keeps everything
working the way it should be.

Parsons (1965) followed on from Malinowski to say that religion is our
source of meaning, how we answer the difficult questions such as, ‘why
do people die?’, it’s a way for us to forget our problems and load
them on somebody else’s shoulders, for example, God’s shoulders. If
this is the case, why are there so many people out there still
‘searching for the truth’ when it’s right ‘under their noses’.

Bellah believes that it is an ‘overarching civil religion’, that
unites people, eg, American people and their faith in God and their
country. Americanism goes hand in hand with God. Americans tend to be
very patriotic so it can be said that it is their faith in the power
of their country that drives them, God is merely an afterthought.
America is so large and diverse that there are many religions
co-existing in the country, not all of them involve one God.

Beckford (2003) went on to verify and criticise Bellah’s findings.
Beckford agrees that on some occasions eg. Diana’s funeral (1997),
Queen\s golden jubilee (2002), civil religions draw a nation together,
he then went on to say that it’s doubtful that these few occasions can
compensate, if a country has a civil religion it’s usually occasional
and very weak.

Marxists describe religion as a way of controlling people, chains to
hold people down, distorting their reality, promising rewards in the
after-life and hope in this one. Basically a set of chains to hold man
down, to dominate and oppress man, keeping any social change from
happening. They believe that someone who is truly liberated has no
need for religion. That ‘Man makes religion, religion does not make
man, in other words religion is the self-consciousness and slef
feeling of man who has either not yet found himself, or has already
lost himself again.’ (Marx). This makes sense when the growing amount
of religions over the past few decades are taken into consideration.

As you can see, there are many ways to look at religion, all with
points that make sense and points that don’t. Religions differ from
place to place, culture to culture, many have similarities, but,
overall, they’re not the same. Besides, when looking into religion
from a sociological perspective, one answer brings about more
questions, this creates criticism for that definition. Because so many
perspectives attempt to give a religion a ‘personalised’ definition
they find themselves overlapping, all with a point or no point at all,
or maybe a combined point, it depends on how devoted to their
perspectives the sociologists attempting to give the definition are.
In other words, Marxism, Functionalism, etc, the actual sociological
perspectives of each group in society reflects their perspectives on
religion, and as they all have different view points and opinions,
they cannot agree.
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