Social Groups And Religion

Have you ever wondered why women are more religious than men? 

Social Groups And Religion Social Groups And Religion

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    There have been certain trends among the religious beliefs and participation of different social groups. People of different genders and from different ethnicities and social classes have distinctive attitudes towards religions. Age is also influential in the formation of patterns of religiosity in society.

    Social structure and religion

    Individuals' roles and places in society are determined by the social structure of that society. The social structure is built on the shared values, rules and culture of the society, which are usually influenced by the different religions practised by the people. There are various types of religious beliefs, and they are significant in people's lives to various degrees. Religions can influence different social groups of the same society differently. Later, we will look at certain patterns around this.

    The social structure of society is usually hierarchical, and religion often plays a role in determining the basis of hierarchy and social status. In the past, social stratification was often based on religion; and even today we can witness the influence of this in societies all over the world, claim scholars of sociology.

    Social stratification and religion

    Religion is often the source of social hierarchy in society. Major religions often hold power over minority religions within the same society, and even within specific religions, there is stratification based on the religious positions people hold or the different branches of the religion people belong to.

    Religious stratification in the Western world

    Religious stratification took many different forms in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Christianity spread hastily, conquering the whole continent and adopting the status of the main religion, which stands to this day. Many countries in Europe have tried to convert all citizens to Christianity, sometimes by reason and preaching, but often by force. Non-Christians were often mistreated, were not allowed to practice their own religious rituals, and were often excluded from certain privileges that Christians were granted.

    For example, in the Middle Ages and even during the Renaissance, Jewish people were restricted to a specific area in the Venetian Republic, called the ghetto. They were only allowed to build houses and synagogues there. They were not allowed to participate in society to the same degree that Christian Venetians and Christian foreigners were.

    Hinduism and the caste system

    Hindu society in India used to be divided into castes. A person's caste was determined at birth and could not be changed in one's lifetime. It also determined one's social status and occupation. In the highest caste were the Brahmins, who usually fulfilled the roles of religious leaders, intellectuals and teachers. Below them were the Kshatriyas, who were mainly politicians and military personnel. Then came the traders, agricultural workers and shopkeepers, the Vaishyas; and finally the Shudras, who engaged in manual labour. The group in the lowest position, so low that they were considered to be outside the caste hierarchy, were the Dalits. They performed the "least desirable" jobs of society, such as collecting rubbish and cleaning bathrooms.

    There used to be serious caste discrimination in Indian society, especially against the Dalits. Since India became independent of British colonial rule in 1947, there have been reforms in Indian society and no discrimination based on caste is legally forbidden. The caste system, however, has not disappeared, it is still very ingrained in Hindu culture and discrimination based on caste is still a common fact of life in India. This is known by accounts of personal experience and of scholarly research of sociology.

    Social groups and religion in sociology

    In the following sections, we will look at the ways gender, class, ethnicity, and age influence religiosity and analyse the reasons behind these trends within sociology.

    Gender and religion

    A.S. Miller and J.P. Hoffmann (1995) found that women are more interested in religion than men, have stronger commitments to religious movements, and attend church services in higher numbers than men.

    Steve Bruce’s (2012) research points out that while women are leaving traditional churches in higher numbers than men, there are twice as many women as men in sects and New Age movements.

    Why are women more religious than men?

    There are several explanations in sociology for why women are more religious than men.

    Traditional social role theory

    The most common sociological explanation for the higher number of female followers of religion comes from the ‘traditional social role theory’. Traditional femininity assumes a caring, nurturing, emotional, passive, and submissive role for women, which were all seen as virtues by many religions, including Christianity. The women who accepted these roles could easily find comfort and support in the traditional religion, more so than men.

    According to Bruce, women's caring, emotional, and less aggressive attitudes to life brought them closer to the New Age movements as well. New Age practices were often based on intuitiveness and healing, which have traditionally been seen as feminine attributes.

    Some sociologists argue that women’s direct connection to birth make them more interested in the ultimate questions of life and its meaning, which is one of the main concerns of all religions. As the main caregivers of children, it is thought that women are drawn to religion for advice and guidance in raising them. Women have also been the primary caretakers of the elderly and the sick. This places them in direct connection with death. Most religions provide answers to questions about death and the afterlife, which might help women in dealing with the loss of relatives they cared for, argues Andrew Greely (1992).

    Simone de Beauvoir (1949) argued that women turn to religion for compensation for their inferior social status in male-dominated society. She raises the point that this compensation is only an illusion and is harmful in the long run, because it reinforces women’s second-class status.

    Other explanations

    • Some sociologists argue that the higher rate of female participation in religion is connected to age trends, not to social role theory. Older people tend to be more religious than younger people; since women live longer than men, there are more women among those who practice religion.

    • Miller and Hoffmann (1995) claim that women are more likely to work in part-time positions, so they have more time to get involved with religious activities.

    • Glock and Stark (1969) and Stark and Bainbridge (1985) assert that religion is appealing to women because they suffer from deprivation in higher numbers than men.
      • Organismic deprivation: Women are more likely to suffer from illnesses and mental health problems, which makes them turn to religion for healing and comfort.
      • Ethical deprivation: Women are more likely to believe that the world is in moral decline, so they turn towards religion for traditional value systems.
      • Social deprivation: Women are more likely to suffer from poverty. They turn to religion for comfort and guidance.
    • Callum Brown (2001) and Linda Woodhead (2007) believe that women have been joining new religious movements (NRMs) and New Age Movements in high numbers because they provide a more 'freeing' alternative to conservative traditional religions, helping them to escape conventional social roles and find freedom and independence.

    Social Groups and Religion, Female figurines Meditating in Nature, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Women have turned to New Age practices, such as meditation, in higher numbers than men because they find them freeing alternatives to traditional religions.

    Social classes and religion: before and now

    Voas and Watt researched the Church of England and made three observations that are connected to social class (2014).

    • People attend church in higher numbers in rural areas compared to urban areas.

    • In the South of England, people attend church in higher numbers compared to the North.

    • In cities with very good church schools, people attend church in higher numbers, compared to areas with less well-performing religious educational institutions.

    They conclude from this that middle-class people attend church in higher numbers in the UK than working-class people. At the same time, Ashworth and Farthing (2007) claim that working-class people are more likely to believe in God.

    Caroline Lawes found that atheists usually come from higher educational and professional backgrounds, usually from the middle classes (2009).

    Social classes in Christianity

    Methodist, Pentecostal, and Baptist denominations tend to attract people from the working class more than from the middle class. Followers of New Religious Movements and members of cults are often from middle-class backgrounds.

    Why are lower-class people more religious?

    Max Weber argued that there is a connection between religiosity and poverty (1920). He said that certain sects and religious movements appeal to people of the lower classes because they offer support and comfort in times of financial troubles and social deprivation.

    Following Weber, Ken Pryce asserted that the core values of Pentecostalism, e.g. the importance of community, family, and hard work, are all useful guidance in coping with poverty and emotional deprivation, which the lower classes and ethnic minorities often suffer from. No wonder, he said, that British Pentecostalism is more popular among ethnic minorities and the lower classes, which often overlap (1979).

    Difficulties of studying religion and social class

    Andrew McKinnon (2017) points out the lack of research on the link between religion and social class. This lack of data makes it impossible to make direct connections between trends, so sociologists have to rely on indirect indicators.

    The data that does exist can be misleading. For instance, the fact that middle-class individuals attend church in higher numbers does not necessarily mean that the middle-class is more religious than other classes. People attend church services for several individual reasons other than being devoted believers. They might be under social or family pressure to attend, or they might want to have better chances of getting their children into church schools, which tend to perform well academically.

    Ethnicity and religion

    The UK is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, where Christians represent the biggest religious group, while Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs are also significant in number.

    Most Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs are from ethnic minority backgrounds, while many Christians are Afro-Caribbean. British Muslims are often of Pakistani heritage, while Sikhs and Hindus are usually of Indian heritage.

    Tariq Modood et al. (1997) found that the rate of religious participation is higher than average among ethnic minorities in the UK. While less than one-third of Christians said they practised religion regularly, 80% of Muslims and around two-thirds of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews reported that religion is an important part of their everyday lives.

    O’Beirne found that Muslims, Hindus, and Black Christians determine religion to be a significant factor in their identity formation (2004). White Christians rarely attribute any importance to their religion in their identity.

    Black Christians are more likely to be active churchgoers than their white counterparts, and they comprise the majority of Pentecostal church membership.

    Social Groups and Religion, Religious Affiliation Statistics ONS, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 - The number of Christians has declined in the UK since 2001.

    Why are ethnic minorities more religious?

    Sociologists argue that there are four main reasons for the higher level of religious involvement among minority ethnic groups.

    Cultural defence theory

    Steve Bruce claims that religion can be a source of emotional support for those who live in an uncertain, and often hostile, new cultural environment (2002). He adds that individuals of a cultural minority can find a community and a sense of home through religion. These religious communities provide space for the preservation of the minority culture and language in an oppressive, sometimes racist atmosphere.

    Black African and Caribbean immigrants moved to Pentecostal churches after they experienced a lack of acceptance and support in white Christian churches in the UK.

    Cultural transition theory

    Most ethnic minority migrants in Britain came from rather traditional, religious societies; religion has helped these migrants cope with the practical and emotional difficulties of adjusting to a new culture. Religious institutions provide a sense of community and a common cause for all their followers.

    According to cultural transition theory, once a community has settled into a new environment, their religiosity gradually decreases. Third and fourth-generation immigrants are more integrated and therefore less likely to be as religious as their parents and grandparents.

    Weberianism

    Max Weber drew a connection between religiosity, ethnicity, and poverty (1920). He claimed that ethnic minorities usually experienced higher levels of social and economic deprivation; living in poverty eventually turned them towards religion. This is because religious faith can provide guidance and support in difficult circumstances.

    Neo-Marxism

    Neo-Marxists, led by Otto Maduro, claim that religious institutions can generate revolutionary change for the oppressed in society thanks to their economic independence. Ethnic minorities are often exploited in society; neo-Marxists have observed that their resistance was often based on religious institutions.

    The Neo-Marxist explanation applies more to the US than to the UK.

    Age and religion

    Older people are more likely to be religious than younger people.

    Social Groups and Religion, Image of hands of an Old Woman Praying, StudySmarter

    Fig. 3 - People turn towards religion as they get older.

    Minority religions have a younger base than Christianity in the UK. While only 55% of Christians are younger than 50, 85% of Muslims are aged below 50.

    There has been a great decline in Sunday school attendance among young Christians over the past century. In 1900, 55% of the British population attended Sunday school. In 2000, this had come down to 4% of the population (Bruce, 2001).

    On the other hand, Eileen Barker researched the world-rejecting sect, the Unification Church (also known as Moonies) and found that most of its members are aged between 18 and 30.

    New Age Movements are most popular among middle-aged people.

    Why are older people more involved with traditional religions than young people?

    Voas and Crockett (2005) establish two main reasons for the age trends in sociology.

    The ageing effect

    The theory of the 'ageing effect' highlights the fact that people seem to turn to religion and spirituality as they get older. It seems that as people approach death, they think more about the afterlife, and search more for answers to the ultimate questions of life.

    Older people (especially women, who tend to live longer than men) have seen more of their friends and partners dying, which again turns their attention towards the possibility of an afterlife. Religions offer various explanations and answers and generally promote the idea of heaven, which might be comforting for people as they get older and closer to the end of their lives.

    The generational effect

    The generational effect refers to the idea that, as a result of secularisation, each new generation is less religious than the previous one. The older population, who attend church and are overall more religious, grew up in a society where religion was much more a part of everyday life, socialisation, and education than it is in the lives of the young now. Bruce adds that Christianity, for instance, has failed to socialise young people into religion in the 21st century (2001).

    Sociologists also argue that the rising levels of higher education in society result in economic development, which means less stress on an everyday level. People no longer need religion to provide solace and refuge for their everyday troubles.

    Social Groups and Religion - Key takeaways

    • Religion is often the source of social hierarchy in society. Major religions often hold power over minority religions of the same society, while even within specific religions, there is stratification based on the religious positions people hold or the different branches of the religion people belong to.
    • Women are more interested in religion, have stronger commitments to religious movements, and attend church services in higher numbers than men. The most common explanation for the higher number of female participants in religion comes from the ‘traditional social role theory’.
    • There is a lack of research on the link between religion and social class. Middle-class people attend church in higher numbers in the UK than lower-class people, but working-class people are more likely to believe in God.
    • The rate of religious participation is higher than average among ethnic minorities. There are four main reasons for the higher level of religious involvement among minority ethnic groups: cultural defence theory, cultural transition theory, Weberianism, and neo-Marxism.
    • Older people are more likely to be religious than younger people. There are two main reasons for the age trends in religion: the ageing effect, and the generational effect.

    References

    1. Modood, T., Berthoud, R., Lakey, J., Nazroo, J., Smith, P., Virdee, S. and Beishon, S. (1997) Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diversity and Disadvantage.
    2. Office for National Statistics (2012, December 11). Religion in England and Wales 2011. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/religion/articles/religioninenglandandwales2011/2012-12-11
    3. Bruce, Steve (2001 July 1st). Christianity in Britain, R. I. P. Sociology of Religion. Volume 62. Issue 2. Pages 191–203. https://doi.org/10.2307/3712455
    4. Baker, Eileen (1984). The Making of a Moonie.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Social Groups And Religion

    How are religion and society related?

    There have been certain trends among the religious beliefs and participation of different social groups.

    Are religious groups social groups?

    As religion is a crucial part of human society any kind of religious group can be considered a social group.

    What is the importance of religion and social groups?

    Individuals' roles and places in society are determined by the social structure of that society. The social structure is built on the shared values, rules and the culture of society, which are usually influenced by the different religions practised by the people. There are various types of religious beliefs, and they are significant in people's lives at various degrees. Religions can influence different social groups of the same society differently.

    What does social group mean in sociology?

    Sociologists usually distinguish between social groups according to four criteria: gender, race/ethnicity, age, and social class.

    What is religion?

    Religion is a set of beliefs. Commonly, these beliefs explain the cause and purpose of the universe and include a moral code intended to guide human conduct. Religion does not have a universal definition, but one of its distinguishing features is that it is faith-based.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these religions is not an example of an ethnic religion in the UK?

    Statistics show that Christianity, the Church of England in particular, is a predominantly white religion in the UK.

    Roman Catholics in the UK are never from White Irish or Eastern European backgrounds.

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