Sociology of Religion – 8 and 12 mark questions.

Essay by SmellB+, January 2009

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1 (a) Identify and briefly describe two differences between a church and a sect (8 marks)(b) Using material from Item A and elsewhere, briefly examine some of the reasons why certain types of religious beliefs appeal to members of certain social groups. (12 marks)(a) A church has a much larger, more universal membership than a sect - there are 2 billion members in the Catholic Church worldwide and countries such as Spain and the Philippines are predominantly Catholic. Whereas sects are on a much smaller scale and usually concentrated to a certain area, for example the Peoples Temple all lived together communally in various places including, finally, Jonestown, Guyana.

A church's teachings focus mainly on crucial events in the past - Muslims base their religion around prophets from thousands of years ago. A sect's teachings are more concerned with events which have not happened yet, like the end of the world or their next life.

(b) Most likely to participate in religion are young, white, working class males, and least likely are elderly, Asian, middle class females.

The under 15 and the over 65 age groups are the most likely to be involved in religious activity. Although children may be forced to go to church, it could be argued that children simply enjoy religion more than adults; they are more naïve and haven't started to question their religion or make up their own minds. There are a number of reasons why the elderly are also among the most likely to be religious - perhaps religion is declining due to rationalisation and new scientific explanations for life, and they are the last generation that is not questioning or doubting the church, due to their upbringing.

Sects and cults are most likely to be joined by young adults, it has been suggested that this is the most impressionable time in a person's life; they have few responsibilities and are trying to decide what direction their lives should take. A cult or sect which seems to understand their problems and promises help will be very appealing. Women are also more likely to become involved with certain types of sects. This could be due to the fact that mainstream religions undermine the role of women through lack of female clergy, male dominated scripture etc. Women may also be attracted to new-age religious movements as they emphasise female characteristics such as child bearing, healing and caring.

In the UK, ethnic minorities have a higher rate of religious participation than the white majority. It has been claimed that this is due to religion providing them with a sense of belonging and identity in a multi-faith society. Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims in the UK have been found to identify themselves primarily as Muslim, rather than Pakistani, Bangladeshi or even British, showing just how important to their identity their religion is.

Bibliography: notes I made in class.