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 society.

He studied the Australian Aborigines, where each clan
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Marx had a utopian vision of the future in which all people would be equal because the class system would no longer exist and no one would be exploited. He thought society fell into two groups, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The ruling class owned the means of production whilst the working class could sell their labour to the ruling class. The ruling class exploited the proletariat by paying them very little. This resulted in the proletariat feeling alienated from society. He believed that the only way out of this situation was for the proletariat to rise up against the ruling class and seize the means of production. Once the people owned the means of production, social classes would disappear and there would be no need for religion, since it existed only under the old social conditions.

Religion was seen as an illusion, it dulls the pain of oppression for the proletariat but at the same time it blinds them form their true reality, stopping them seeing what needs to be done to end their exploitation, as Marx infamously puts it, "It is the opium of the people".

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
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