Y13 NRM essay

Assess the view that cults, sects and New Age movements are fringe organisations that are inevitably short-lived and of little influence in contemporary society. (20 marks)

Intro – quick definitions of cults, sects and NAMs. Also give a little background about NRMs and when they became popular.

This question needs to be answered in three parts:

1. Are cults, sects and New Age movements fringe organisations (Slide 37, 38, 39, 40, 68)?

2. Are cults, sects and New Age movements inevitably short lived (Slides 32, 33, 61, )?

3. Are cults, sects and New Age movements of little influence in contemporary society (Slides 44, 46, 51, 52, 53, 72, 73, 74)?


– When you answer each question, make sure that you compare cults, sects and New Age movements because they are significantly different from one another.

– Refer to our key case studies: Cults – The Unification Church (the Moonies); Scientology. Sects – Isis, The People’s Temple, Branch Davidians, Amish, Mormons




A2 homework: Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate the view that religion and science be seen as different varieties of belief system

Item B

Ziaduddin Sardar’s view is that although human knowledge at times converges with the Qur’an, the text should certainly not be treated as a scientific encyclopaedia. In support of this view, Sardar lamented the emergence of the I’jaz movement, which insists the Qur’an contains descriptions of modern scientific phenomena ranging from quantum mechanics to accurate descriptions of the stages of embryology and geology. In Sardar’s opinion, this stems from insecurity and a personal need to vindicate Islam to others.

Jim Al-Khalili contends that science could be regarded as a form of ideology, he argues science is substantiated through the mechanisms of experimentation and reproducibility rather than relying on “blind faith”. Whilst individual scientists may carry personal bias, dogma or have vested interests, the process of science itself is self-correcting. He admitted this isn’t always the case when it comes to daily practice. For example, string theory is still a mathematical game rather than a bona fide theory as we don’t yet have a testable way to verify it. In his opinion, we should keep searching for answers – it is intellectually lazy to not investigate further.

 Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate the view that religion and science be seen as different varieties of belief system?

(20 marks – 30 minutes)


Define belief system.

Set up the argument – some such as Dawkins view them as radically different, others such as Polanyi acknowledge significant differences but also some similarities, others such as Giddens argue that many members of the public have rejected both…

Part one: religion as a belief system

Compare the belief systems of different religious groups such as Islam, Church of England; fundamentalist groups such as Isis or the Amish; new religious movements such as Scientology – how open are they to questioning? What happens if people try to leave these religions? What happens if people ‘blaspheme’ (offend religion).

Give examples of how critics of religion such as Richard Dawkins view religion.

Item B

Part two: science as a belief system

Completely different – Karl Popper, Robert Merton, Richard Dawkins, Comte etc. The effect of the enlightenment period

Some similarities – Kuhn, Polanyi, Lynch, Item B

Part three: beyond science and religion




Can religion and science be considered similar belief systems? Are some religions more open than others?

Why religious belief systems are still relevant today (why haven’t Comte’s predictions been proven completely correct?)

Will people continue to need belief systems provided by institutions or will we largely pick and mix and have more individual belief systems? Or will become Nihlists?






Y13 Exam Advice

Hi all,

Satvir sent me an essay to mark and he was happy to share it with you:

Functionalism Essay_Satvir

He also asked about what could be included in a fundamentalism answer, so here are my ideas:

definition of fundamentalism using Steve Bruce who identifies that there are two types of fundamentalism – the Western version (NCR in USA) which is a response to liberalisation and the post colonial response (Isis, Iran and Taliban).
An exploration of examples of fundamentalism – what are their features (sects or cults – deviant; closed belief systems; extreme; high commitment etc use Troeltch)? Compare to other forms of belief such as denominations, atheism or political ideology
discussion of why fundamentalism has occurred – apply Anthony Giddens, Stark and Bainbridge, Lyotard and Bruce (cultural defence, failure of science metanarrative and response to late/postmodernism)
– also compare to Comte’s predictions of a positive stage and Weber’s rationality (why hasn’t this occured?
– You could use functionalism, in particular, Talcott Parsons and also Norris and Engleheart to help explain that people often require security and a point to life
– also secularisation has conversely encouraged fundamentalism because the secular world allows freedoms which leave a vacuum for fundamentalism
– globalisation has also allowed fundamentalism to flourish – sharing ideas via social media etc. and it is easier to organise and mobilise
– from a Marxist perspective you could explore ideas that fundamentalism is the ultimate example of how the powerful utilise religion to socially control
– from a similar conflict perspective, feminists would also argue that fundamentalism often allows the tight regulation of women (no contraception, abortion etc in USA; stoning of women but not men for adultery in Afghanistan)
– a really good UK sociologist to use is Ramji who argues that Muslim men utilise Islam as an excuse to exploit women and often justify their patriarchal actions with religion
– another sociologist to use is Akhtar who argues that young Muslims have become radicalised by the political events in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan…
The future – will fundamentalism increase or decline? Why?

Essay writing: critical links

#In addition to discursive markers, critical links help you evaluate the previous point/views/theories/evidence (A02 at A level). These will illustrate that you are attempting to evaluate. You could also use some of the following expressions to help you structure your essay answers:

  • An alternative theory to…view…was developed by…who…stated that…..
  • A major criticism of the…view is….
  • A major weakness of the…theory is….
  • Whereas the…view focuses on…the…view explores….
  • Analysis may stretch further when examining….
  • Although the…theory is supported by a variety of evidence, certain evidence contradicts the theory
  • A different explanation of…. Has been offered by…
  • A major strength of the…theory is….
  • Once a paragraph has been introduced, the following points may help you structure the paragraph. A paragraph must contain the following features…..
  • It should be attempting to make one point
  • It should begin with an opening sentence, which expresses the main point; the opening sentence might well link with previous paragraphs.
  • Support sentences should follow. These support sentences should include…. An example if applicable. In addition, a brief mention of further examples could be included to broaden the scope of the main point.
  • Finally, the paragraph should end with a concluding sentence. This may well clarify your main point and can help lead into the next paragraph.