Marx, Weber And Religion Essay

2924 words - 12 pages

Religion, as defined by the High Court of Australia, is ‘a complex of beliefs and practices which point to a set of values and an understanding of the meaning of existence’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005) and can be studied either substantively or functionally (Berger 1974:126). Substantive studies of religion fall predominantly in the realm of theology and are more concerned with defining religious beliefs; their historical accuracy; and the existence of supernatural entities (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2007:425). Sociology however, concerns itself primarily with the relationship between religion and society, examining religion as a social construction (Van Krieken et al. 2010:350-1) and concerned only with the substance of religious beliefs to the extent that they impact societies behaviours (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2007:426). This functional exposition forms the foundation for Durkheim, Marx and Weber’s sociology of religion explored within this essay. Each theory will be examined in regards to the role religion plays within society and illustrated with an example of religious belief or practice. Examples utilised are predominantly Western constructs of religion, as the three main theorists each originated from Europe, and as such, their theories encompass predominantly Western ideology. Religion’s innate nature to provide impetus for or impediment to social change will be addressed, concluding that it is both a conservative and innovative force in social life.

Emile Durkheim postulated that religion originated in society, and could therefore only be explained by studying society (Morrison 2006:236). Studies conducted from secondary sources of totemism in preliterate Indigenous Australian Arunta, Luritja and Urabunna tribes (Greve 2006:80), lead to Durkheim concluding that religion must be shared; involve both beliefs and practices; and is oriented toward the sacred (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2007:427). Durkheim noted that those values, convictions, beliefs and practices which were collectively shared, inevitably assumed a religious character (Cladis 1992:120; Westley 1983:3-4) and were immortalised through rituals, totems, and ceremonies (Mann 2008:29). Religion merely mirrored society, engendering self-consciousness and expression of human sociality (Parsons 1954, cited in Merton 1967:97). Therefore, according to Durkheim, religion is society rendering worship unto themselves (eds. Pickering & Martins 1994:138) and essentially, ‘man is to society as a worshipper is to a god’ (Reynolds & Tanner 1995:15).

This deification of society is evident in what Durkheim terms, the ‘distinction between the sacred and profane’ (Giddens 2006:538; Hosu 2010:189). The sacred, that which commands awe or reverence, is symbolic of the community’s values (Mann 2008:29), while the profane, that which belongs to the mundane and everyday life, lacks an association with religion (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2007:427; Van Krieken et al. 2010:352). ...

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