Unit Eleven: Education, Religion, and the Mass Media

collegegraduationceremonyEducation is an institution that has undergone a tremendous change over the last century.  In the United States alone, 3 out of 10  people are involved in education on a daily basis either as a student or a staff member.  This section will look at how education has  changed and what new educational problems face society today.

Education is the social institution which has taken on the primary role of transmitting information and knowledge from one generation to the next.  In pre-industrial societies,  the work of transmitting important information was either done inside the family unit or by a small group of individuals within the community.  In industrial and post-industrial societies, education takes the form of schooling, or formal learning under the direction of specially trained teachers.

For much of human history, few people have been able to receive an education.  In ancient Greece and ancient China, only the sons of the aristocracy could receive instruction from teachers such as Aristotle and Confucius.  Today, most societies attempt to educate as many of their citizens as their resources allow.

Each of the major sociological perspectives make an important contribution to understanding the relationship between education and society.   Below is a brief description of each perspective.

Sociological Theories on Education

The Structural-Functionalist Perspective

Sociologists in this perspective are concerned with the consequences of educational institutions for the functioning of society.  Educational institutions contribute to the maintenance of society, as well as a force for change.   Structural-functionalists see the manifest function of society as the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.  But there are other functions of educational institutions as well.   Those additional functions are:

1)  Cultural Reproduction.  Schools are instrumental in transmitting society’s culture from one generation to the next.  Schools expose each new generation to the beliefs, values, norms, language, and history of the society. Students in the United States will learn to speak English, as well as the contributions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Students in France will learn about the French Revolution and how to speak French.

2)  Social Control.  Schools are responsible for socializing the young into patterns of conformity.  Students learn punctuality, discipline, obedience, and responsible work habits.  Skills necessary to function in other areas of society, such as the world of work.  Teachers, administrators, and parents often rely on the rules and regulations of schools in order to maintain order.  But this may have a negative side, as the desire for control and discipline override the learning process.

3)  Promoting Social and Political Integration.  Schools function to assimilate persons from diverse backgrounds.  In the United States, schools have historically played an important role in socializing the children of immigrants.  The common identity and social integration fostered by education contributes to social stability. Students entering American schools will learn   individualism, competition, and patriotism.

Structural-functionalists have recognized that education can also be dysfunctional.  An institution as large as education is bound to have some negative consequences.  Education has  been criticized, and found dysfunctional,  for the following reasons:

bannedbooks1) Generation Gap.  The new knowledge students learn may drive a wedge between generations.  Values about evolution, sex, and multiculturalism, may conflict with the values held by the students’ parents.  There are increasing debates over course content in school curriculum.  Many parents and religious organizations have attempted to ban or censor works of literature that they deem to be inappropriate.

2)  Custodial Care.  Schools are viewed as a place to keep young people off the streets, out of the labor force, and out of trouble.  Schools enable parents to enter the labor market, as well as relieving them of the parental responsibilities.  School today do double duty as babysitters for families where one or more of the parents work.

3)  Youth Subculture.  Educational institutions have contributed to the creation of a unique youth subculture.  Some of the values learned in this subculture conflict with the values of the family and society at large.  Students share attitudes towards music, clothing, and sex that put them in conflict with their parents values.

4)  Perpetuation of Inequality.  Probably the biggest criticism against education is how schooling benefits some groups over others.  As an institution, schools seem to function to maintain and reinforce the existing social-class hierarchy.  In many areas of our country prior to the Brown vs. Board of Topeka case, whites and blacks were taught in segregated schools.

  1.  100 Most challenged Books By Decade

The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

According to symbolic interactionists, people create  meaning out of labels.  Such labels can lead to the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy.  If a child is labeled a troublemaker often enough, he or she may begin viewing themselves as troublemakers and act accordingly.  Students from particular racial and ethnic groups, or students from low-income neighborhoods may receive different treatment at school.  Administrators and teachers may have lower expectations of members from these groups.  In recent years, American education has increased educational opportunities for students with learning, emotional, and physical disabilities.  Ask yourself how these students have been labeled.

Symbolic interactionist research on face-to-face classroom interactions has contributed important insight into the mutual relationships of teacher expectations, student grouping, and student achievement.

In 1968 two social psychologists, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen, created a new test for a grade school in San Francisco, CA. After the test, teachers were told that certain students would “spurt ahead” during the academic year. Teachers were asked to monitor the progress of these students but not to let the students or parents know they were student “spurters.” At the end of the school term, a post-test revealed that the IQ’s of the alleged “spurters” had jumped 10-15 points higher than those of the other students.

However, in reality, this “test” was a hidden experiment. The researchers had administered standard IQ tests to the students, and then randomly chosen 20 percent of the students as “spurters.” Although they were no different at all from the other members of the class, they had really excelled in their performance. Researcher-designated smart students (spurters) had become smarter students, or in other words, had created a prophecy in the minds of the teachers which the students had fulfilled. (Later research along these lines uses the designation “Rosenthal Effect” as synonymous to the Thomas Theorem, or self-fulfilling prophecy). The teachers expected more from the “sputters” and responded by adjusting their teaching methods so that the students learned more and performed better on tests.

The Conflict Theory Perspective

conflicttheoryeducationConflict theorists agree with structural-functionalists that schools reproduce culture and socialize young people to conform to society’s norms and values.  But conflict theorists see the institution of education as a system of inequality designed to benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else.  Schools act to reinforce existing social class inequalities, as well as, to discourage more democratic visions of society.  There are three major problems in education according to conflict theorists. They are:

1)  The Hidden Curriculum.  Because schools are highly bureaucratic and have many rules and regulations, order and discipline sometimes can take precedence over learning.  The term hidden curriculum refers to the standards of behavior that are deemed appropriate by society and taught subtly by the schools.  Examples would be raising your hand to ask a question, or waiting for your turn.  More broadly applied, it might mean learning to conform, competitiveness, and obedience to authority. It might also include subtle messages concerning issues of gender, race, and social class.  conflict theorists stress that the hidden curriculum helps to perpetuate social inequalities.

In a classroom where obedience is emphasized, students will learn quickly that pleasing the teacher and remaining quiet are rewarded over creative thinking.

1.  The Hidden Curriculum

2)  Credentialism.  Credentialism refers to the use of educational credentials to measure social origins and social class.  Credentialism describes the increase in the lowest level of education required to enter a field.   For example, years ago a high school diploma was all that was needed for entry into the paid labor force.  Today a college education seems the minimum.  Conflict theorists would point out that the escalation in qualifications promotes social inequality.  Members from the poor classes often lack the financial resources needed to obtain advanced degrees.  Credentialism  plays a “gatekeeper” role in that advanced degrees are used as a way to sort people out who have the proper manners, attitudes, and even skin color favored by employers.   Credentialism can increase the status of an occupation and is crucial to demands for higher pay.

1.  Graphs on Educational Attainment in the United States


3)  Reproducing Inequality.  Conflict theorists stress that schools sort students according to social class backgrounds.  Money contributes to the disparity.  Schools in the United States are funded primarily from the property tax.  Wealthier school districts can therefore offer more courses, purchase better equipment, and recruit the best teachers.  This gives them a distinct advantage over poorer school districts.  Unequal education funding is a long-standing problem in the United States. The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that disparities in school funding aren’t a violation of the constitution. School financing works differently in every state. The states that rely most heavily on local property taxes tend to have the biggest disparities between rich and poor.In wealthy communities, where property is worth a lot, people can be taxed at a lower rate than in poor communities and still generate more school funding per pupil.  For example, taxing $100,000 of property at 3% yields $3,000, while taxing $50,000 at 5% yields only $2,500.   Unequal funding of districts also benefits white students over minority students.  This is one reason why some districts participate in “busing”, which is the transportation of students to achieve racial balance and equal opportunity in schools. In his book Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol compared average spending in Chicago city schools with spending in an upper-middle class, suburban Chicago school  and found that spending per pupil at the suburban school to be 78% higher. The richest 25 percent of school districts receive 15.6 percent more funds from state and local governments per student than the poorest 25 percent of school districts, according to the federal Department of Education in a report from March, 2015. That’s a national funding gap of $1,500 per student. For more information on the consequences of unequal funding, click on the links below.

1. Unequal Funding in California Schools

2.  National Report Card on Unequal School Funding From March 2016

There is also the problem of tracking.  Tracking occurs when evaluations are made early in a child’s education that determine what educational program the child will be encouraged to follow.   Often students are “tracked” into a “fast learner” track or a “slow learner” track.  These tracks can set students on a path to either attending college or dropping out of school.

1.   The Pro’s and Con’s of Tracking

Schools as Modern Bureaucracies

Today’s schools are similar to factories, hospitals, and businesses in that they are formal organizations with large bureaucracies.  As in any bureaucracy there exists the potential for problems related to an emphasis on order and efficiency.  Our bureaucratic schools are filled with passive, bored students.  The small, personal schools that served local communities in the past have evolved into huge educational factories.  The following are a list of characteristics of school bureaucracies:

1)  Division of labor.  Schools employ specialized experts in both administrative and teaching positions.  These experts teach particular age groups and specific subjects.  Students are shuffled between different specialists every 50 minutes during the school day.

2)  Hierarchy of Authority.  Those in the education chain are answerable to those above them, starting with students, moving to teachers, and ending with administrators.  With policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, this accountability now flows up to the national level.  This hierarchy means students are not empowered to learn on their own, and teachers find they have little say in to what and how they teach their classes.

3)  Written Rules and Regulations.  Teachers and administrators must conform to a number of regulations in the performance of their duties.  This can be dysfunctional.  For teachers, time spent on filling out required forms could have been spent on preparing lessons.  School officials often focus on attendance rates, dropout rates, and achievement scores.

4)  Impersonality.  The size of schools makes it difficult for everyone involved in the education process to know one another.  It becomes difficult to focus on individual learning styles and needs.

5)  Employment based on technical qualifications.  In order to teach you need specific college education.  This can be positive in that society has qualified people teaching children, or negative, where it may be difficult to replace a poor teacher.

Can it be that the pressures from the educational bureaucracy and parents make it difficult to create a love of learning for students?  The graph below may help to understand why many students are not interested in school.


Problems Facing Education

Educational institutions, both in the United States and around the world, are facing problems and challenges.  Below is a short description of some of those problems.

1)  Cultural Differences.  Education is viewed differently around the world.  For example, in Japan competition between individuals in discouraged.  Students are encouraged to work more in groups.  In some poorer societies, there is either not enough money to send all children to classes, or in some cases, just the male students are allowed to attend.

2)  Self-Esteem and Mediocrity.  This concern is especially acute in the United States.  In the past few decades there has been an emphasis on improving student’s self-esteem.  Some observers believe that more attention is placed on student’s gaining a positive self-esteem instead of mastering challenging material.  This has contributed to problems of grade inflation, social promotion, and functional illiteracy.

1.  Functional Illiteracy in the United States

2.  Grade Inflation in the United States

3)  Teachers as Employees and Instructors.  Many teachers feel alienated from their jobs because of an emphasis on covering material by a certain date, interference of rules and regulations in the classroom, and prohibitions against creativity in the classroom.

4)   Violence in the Schools.  One of the dysfunctions of schools is the violence which takes place within educational institutions.  Students and teachers alike face personal safety concerns around the nation.  Educational opportunities suffer when school buildings become fortified with armed guards and metal detectors.  School violence in the U.S. reached a peak in 1993, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That year, there were 42 homicides by students in total, as well as 13 “serious violent crimes” — rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault — per 1,000 students at primary and secondary schools. By 2010, the latest figures available, those numbers had decreased to two homicides and four violent crimes per 1,000 students.

1.  Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2015 (Bureau of Justice)



Education Hot Topics in the United States

Access to Higher Education.  Since the path to a good job is through education, and that the most important factor affecting access to higher education is money, it is important that our society attempts to make higher education affordable. Over the last two decades, the cost of attending college has increased far faster than the inflation rate. This has meant that many low income students and minority students are prohibited from attending college.

From 1990 to 2010 states’ funding per full-time equivalent student dropped 26.1 percent. By investing less in higher education, states are effectively shifting costs to students and their families in the form of escalating tuition and fees.

Between 1990-1991 and 2009-2010, published prices for tuition and fees at public four-year universities more than doubled, rising by 112.5 percent, after adjusting for inflation, while the real price of two-year colleges climbed by 71 percent.

Median household income in the United States in 2010 was just 2.1 percent higher than in 1990.

To bridge the gap between cost and financial aid, increasingly students are borrowing from federal loan programs and private sources like banks. The volume of outstanding student loan debt has grown by a factor of 4.5 since 1999.1

1.  Increased Cost of Attending College

2.  College in the United States is the Most Expensive of Any Country in the World

Sex education in schools.  The debate over whether sex education should be taught in our schools is an outgrowth of the culture wars.  Beginning in the 1970s, concerns over teen pregnancy– and later HIV/AIDS– galvanized widespread public support for sex education in schools. Most states today have a policy requiring HIV education, usually in conjunction with broader sex education.

1.  Sex Education in America

2.  State Policies on Sex Education in Schools (March 2016)

Public vs. private schools.  Approximately 90% of primary and secondary students in the United States attend public schools.  Of the remaining 10% of students most attend a private school, usually operated by a church.  This leads to the question of whether students learn more in a private school or a public school. Studies indicate that on average, private elementary and middle schools are no better than public schools.  In her book  All Else Equal: Are Public And Private Schools Different, Dr. Martin Carnoy, a professor of education and economics at Stanford University states that,  “There is no significant difference between how kids do, given their socioeconomic background, their family background, in private schools and in public schools.”  What seems to be crucial is family income.  In wealthy neighborhoods, public schools are just as successful as private schools in those neighborhoods. And the same is true for public and private schools in poor neighborhoods: Kids are learning the equivalent lessons, and at the same rate.  Click on the link below to learn more about the debate.

1.  Are Private Schools Better Than Public Schools?

2.  Performance Based Teacher Contracts?

Student and school assessment.  This issue covers many areas.  The first question to ask is how should students be assessed- through local, state, or national tests?  There is also the question of when and how often students should be assessed.  There are a number of school districts across the country that have instituted mandatory graduation tests.  In 2002 President George W. Bush  initiated a new educational policy called “No Child Left Behind” that focuses on student achievement and school accountability through periodic national tests.  Visit the links below to learn more about these issues. President Obama has expanded on NCLB with his “Race to the Top” education reform. There have been over the years a great deal of criticism of American schools and how they compare both nationally and internationally. A recent study done by the Department of Education showed the influence of poverty on the reading performance of fourth graders.  schools were classified into five categories on the basis of the percentage of students in the school eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The percentage of students eligible and the average reading score in each category are as follows: less than 10 percent (605), 10 to 24.9 percent (584), 25 to 49.9 percent (568), 50 to 74.9 percent (544), and 75 percent or more (520). In all cases, children from schools with a lower level of free lunch eligibility had a higher average score than children from schools with a higher level of free lunch eligibility.  Compared with 2001, the U.S. average score was 14 points higher in 2011 (542 in 2001 vs. 556 in 2011).  Many Americans have not been pleased with the No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top education policies, especially the stringent testing requirements and have protested for change. In December 2015 President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act with strong bipartisan support which removes many of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act and gives the individual states more say into evaluating school quality.

1.  Graduation Tests- Do They Work?

2.  A Favorable View of the “No Child Left Behind Act”

3.  An Unfavorable View of the “No Child Left Behind Act”

4.  Educational Standards and the Probability of Error

5.  Teachers Questions Obama’s “Race to the Top”

schoolprayerSchool choice.  Many people in the United States believe that schools do a lousy job of teaching because, as public schools, they have no competition.  Advocates of school choice want to bring the “market” to public education and let parents and students “shop” for the best school.  Critics believe that promoting school choice takes away funding from public schools, especially in urban areas where the need is greatest.  School choice may involve “magnet schools“, which promote a particular education theme, such as computers, science, or the arts.  Another option for school choice is the “charter” school.  Charter schools are allowed more freedom to experiment with teaching methods, while at the same time they are not bond to comply with state and federal educational laws and mandates.  A third option in school choice is “for-profit” schools.  These are schools run by private companies.  For-profit schools seek to use the principles and practices of business to improve schools. Therefore, the main concern of management is realizing profits and promoting growth. Proponents of for-profit schools claim business models will benefit students, because financial success depends on providing a quality education. Schools must improve if they are to compete for students. Opponents fear for-profit schools will make students a secondary concern and eliminate beneficial programs that are too expensive or take short-cuts to enhance profitability. Finally, “vouchers” can be used to attend private schools.  School vouchers mean that parents can use public money to send their children to a private school.  In most cases these private schools are religiously based. The use of public funds to be spent in religious schools has brought up the first amendment question of state sponsorship of religion.   Click on the links below to learn more about school choice issues.

1.  School Choice Information

2.  The School Voucher Debate

3.  Nine Lies About School Choice: Answering the Critics

4.   The Myths About Charter Schools

5.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Charter Schools, and the Lack of Accountability

Mandatory School Uniforms in Public Schools.  Private school students have always had the ability of wearing uniforms to schools.  In recent years there has been a movement to mandate school uniforms for public school students.  This movement has focused primarily on large, urban school districts.  Visit the links below to learn more about the school uniform debate.

1.  School Uniform Debate

2.  School Uniform Debate:  Pro’s and Con’s

Home schooling.  Another option for teaching children outside of public schools is to teach them at home.  More and more Americans are choosing to home school.  According to the National Center of Education Statistics, in 2013, approximately 1.7 million students in the United States were home schooled, which is 2.2% of the school age population.  Over the past few decades, concerns over school crime, what is taught in the curriculum, and overcrowded schools have made parents decide to teach their children at home.

1.  Homeschooling Statistics

schoolprayerPrayer in public schools.  Another culture war issue that has moved into the nation’s public schools is the debate on whether there should be allowed school directed prayer.  In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that school directed prayer is a violation of principle of “separation of church and state”.  In 1990, the Supreme Court issued another verdict, where it declared that religious groups can meet on school property, as long as the meetings are voluntary,  are held outside of regular class hours, and students rather than adults run them.  To learn more about the school prayer debate, visit the links below.

1.  Pro’s and Con’s of School Prayer

2.  How to Have Prayers in Public School Classrooms…. Legally



In the previous unit on education, we saw that in the United States, education is for the most part compulsory.  This differs from religion, where we make a choice to participate.  Most people around the world choose to participate in an organized religion.  Religion is an important part of social life.  Sociologists want to examine how society affects religion and how religion affects society.  This unit will look at the role of religion in society, in particular, as an agent of social order and social change.

It is important to keep in mind that when sociologists discuss religion, they are not looking to discover the “correct” one.   Sociologists are interested in what religion is and how it shapes society The first place to begin in understanding religion in society is to define what religion is.

What is Religion?

Sociologists define religion as a system of beliefs and practices related to sacred things that unites believers into a moral community.  Religion as an institution has helped people to cope with events that seem beyond are control and understanding: tornadoes, droughts, and plagues.  Religion is created by people and is part of culture.  It is a normative system, defining immortality and sin as well as morality and righteousness.

The sociologist Emile Durkheim in his book, The Elementary Forms of Religion, described three elements which he believed defined religion.  Those elements are:


1) A distinction between the sacred and the profane.  The profane represents the ordinary and routine aspects of everyday life.  These are things that are known and can be controlled and understood.  The sacred, represents aspects of life that we hold in awe and reverence.  These are things which we can neither understand nor control.  For Jews, Christians, and Moslems, their religious texts (Torah, Old and New Testaments, and the Koran) are sacred. For Hindus, it is the river Ganges.  Rituals, or formal ceremonial behavior, also signify that which is sacred.  Muslims, for example remove their shoes when entering a Mosque.

2)  A set of beliefs.  Beliefs center on things considered sacred.  Beliefs center around uncertainties in life, such as birth, death, creation, and facing a crisis.  Religion differs from the scientific method that the field of sociology relies on in that it deals with ideas that transcend everyday experiences.  Religious beliefs then, are based on faith, which means a belief founded on conviction, rather than scientific evidence.  Faith can pose problems for groups in society if it becomes dogmatic. Dogmatism is  a stubborn assertion of a belief as if it were an established fact. Dogmatism can be a problem for both insiders and outsiders who don’t share a group’s faith.  Outsiders may be labeled as heathens.  Insiders may be labeled as heretics. Historically, group members labeled as heathens or heretics have suffered due to not conforming to a group’s faith.  Click on the link below to view a short, humorous account of dogmatism from the comedian Emo Philips.

1.  Dogmatism

3)  A moral community based on a set of rituals and practices.  Religion brings people together through ritual and practice those things they hold sacred. Religious rituals can be seen in such things as organized services or in ceremonial events, such as weddings and deaths.

Types of Religious Groups

Every religion has to confront the form and character of the society around them.  Some religions make compromises with the world.  Others religions reject the world around them. This is one of the main distinctions between the different types of religious groups.

Ecclesia.  Ecclesia are religious organizations that are a formal part of a state or nation and claims all citizens as members.  No one signs up or voluntarily joins an ecclesia- they are born into it.  Ecclesia is a bureaucracy that has ties to the government.  The principle of “separation of church and state” is unknown in societies with a strong ecclesia. Examples would be Sweden, where Lutheranism is the official state religion, and Iran, where the religious Ayatollahs are part of the ruling government.

Churches.  Churches are religious organizations that have been institutionalized.  They have endured for generations,  support society’s norms, and play an active role in society.  Churches tend to have the following characteristics: 1) The tendency to compromise with the larger society and its values and institutions, 2) Membership occurs by being born to parents who belong, 3) Hierarchy of authority, with those at the top being trained for their vocation, and 4) Acceptance of a diversity of beliefs, and tolerance of popular vices.

Sects.  Sects are religious organizations that reject the social environments in which they exist. Sects usually form as breakaway groups from established religious organizations.  To maintain membership, many sects actively recruit or proselytize new members. Sects often, over time, develop into churches. There are several traits that distinguish sects from churches.  They are: 1)  There is a fundamental withdraw from and rejection of the world, 2) A sect is a moral community separate from and often hostile toward the secular world, 3) Membership is via conversion, and adult (voluntary) baptism is the only accepted form of baptism, 4) Organization is informal and unstructured. Ministers are untrained, 5) The belief system is rigid; a holy book, such as the Bible is the source, and it is interpreted literally; and 6) Popular vices are prohibited.   As sects adapt to their social environments, they become established sects.  The Mormon community, which has been around for over 160 years, is an example of an established sect.  Examples of non-established sects include the Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Nation of Islam.

religioiuscultCults.  A cult is a new, independent religion, whose teaching and practices put it at odds with the dominant culture and established churches. Cults tend to rise in times of social stress and change and are often formed by a charismatic leader.  the charismatic leader often offers a new, and compelling message about life.   Cults often urge their members to radically alter their lives and withdraw from society.  Because of their heavy demands, and how they do little to help people cope with their everyday lives, cults generally remain small and short-lived.  Many do not survive the death of the charismatic leader.   Here is a question to consider.  If we apply the traits of cults to most of the world’s religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism) can it be correctly said that they started off as cults?

Sociological Theories of Religion

Each of the major sociological perspectives make an important contribution to understanding the relationship between religion and society.   Below is a brief description of each perspective.

The Structural-Functionalist Perspective

Sociologists in this perspective view religion as serving a essential role in preserving social order.   Structural-functionalists see religion as functional to a society in that it helps reinforce group identity, offer solace in times of crisis, and promote morality.  Emile Durkheim described four major functions of religion. Those functions are:

1)  Social Solidarity.  Religion is seen as something that unites a community of believers and establishes them as an in-group.  The common beliefs and practices of a religion helps foster a common identity that binds members together.  Think of how fasting during the holy month of Ramadan unites Muslims around the world.

2)  Social Control.  As was discussed in earlier topics, social control is necessary to maintain social order.  Religion as an institution helps to maintain social order.  The beliefs, norms, and teachings of religions help shape human behavior.  Think of how the 10 Commandments have been used as a form of social control over the centuries.  In medieval Europe,  monarchs claimed their authority to rule through the “divine right of Kings”.

3)  Providing Meaning and Purpose to Life.  Religion is a source of answers.  There are questions people ask in all societies, such as, “What happens to me when I die”, or “Why did this bad thing happen to me?”

4)   Psychological/Emotional Support.  People turn to religion in a time of crisis.  Religion can offer psychological comfort in times of extreme stress.  There seems to be some evidence that prayer can even have positive physical affects.  Researchers at the Harvard Medical School report that praying can lower brain wave activity and heart and breathing rates, which in turn can have positive effects in the areas of pain reduction and reducing unnecessary medical procedures.

Can Religion be Dysfunctional?

cover-holy-warStructural-functionalists have been criticized for emphasizing religion’s role in maintaining social order and not focusing on its role in social change.  Religion can also be dysfunctional.  Throughout history, religion has been used to ignite severe social conflicts, even war.  Strongly held religious beliefs can generate social conflict.  Many nations have marched off to war under the banner of their god.  Click here to visit a link that looks at modern military conflicts around the world and their connection to religion.  At the micro-level, religion can be dysfunctional where people turn to religion for emotional support and security, only to find church members taking advantage of them.  This can be seen by the recent sexual abuse of children scandal by Catholic priests. Religion has also been dysfunctional in helping to preserve social inequality.  This is a criticism made by conflict theorists which will be discussed in more detail below.

1.  Can the Bible Promote Evil?

The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

receivingcommunion3According to symbolic interactionists, people create religious meaning out of their need to explain events in their lives and the world around them.  All religions use symbols to create group identity and solidarity.  Christians rally around the cross, Jews around the Star of David, and Moslems around the crescent moon and star.  Religious symbols are a form of communication.  If you enter a person’s house, or church, temple, or mosque, the religious symbols present convey to others the beliefs and values of that person or religion.  Religious rituals and practices help unite people into a moral community.  The rituals associated with baptisms ( water) and communion ( bread and wine) for Christians, help to unite group members.

Some sociologists are critical of the symbolic interactionist perspective because it overlooks the social and historical influences of religious beliefs and identity.  Many sociologists are critical of this perspective because it ignores religion’s part in maintaining social inequality.

The Conflict Theory Perspective

Quotes That Support the conflict Theory view of Religion

Conflict theorists have a different view of religion.    Their biggest criticism is how religion has been used to maintain the status quo. Karl Marx considered religion to be the “opium of the people“.  What he meant by this is that the ruling class in a society uses religion to maintain its position of dominance over the lower classes.  Religion is like a drug that helps people to forget how miserable their lives are.  Rebellion against oppressive conditions is prevented by promising the poorer classes a better life in “heaven”.  According to conflict theorists, the poor are told to not pay attention to how bad things are in this life, but to be concerned with the “next” life.  The quotations above are examples of the conflict theory of religion.

Conflict theorists have been critical of religion’s role in maintain social inequality.  Religion has often been used by the people at the top of society to maintain social order.  Examples of this would be viewing the leaders at the top as either being a god, or the offspring of god.  Examples of this would be the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the reverence attached to the Emperor of Japan, and the notion of ” the divine right of Kings”, who were supposedly ordained to rule by god.  As recently as the 1850’s,  religion used to justify slavery.

Gender and Religion

womenreligionVirtually all of the world’s major religions encourage male dominance.  In many early human societies, God was seen as feminine- a fertility Goddess who made crops grow and gave life to the world.   As human societies evolved and became more patriarchal,  God underwent a change from female to male.  The world’s religion’s began to ban female participation in the hierarchy and regulated women to second class status. Gender inequality can still be found in religion today, as evidence by the  Catholic Church prohibition on female priests, or the segregated prayer at Mosques. Most U.S. religions follow a typical pattern. The clergy (organizational power structure) is male, while the vast majority of worshipers are women. If one looks at the world’s major religions, it is very difficult for a  women to become a Jewish Rabbi, Buddhist monk, or Roman Catholic priest. Looking at the Old Testament, male supremacy is found in many ways. Images of God are male. Females were second to males because Eve was created from Adam’s rib.  The New Testament seems to support gender inequality as well:  Women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says.”(1 Corinthians 14:34).  The issue of gender inequality in Islam has been studied extensively both by Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. Religion is often used to deny the fundamental women’s human rights. It is used to justify women’s marginalization in decision making positions, which in return has alienated women from participating and influencing civil and political lives. Click on the links below to see how some of the world’s major religions view the role of women.

1.  Insults to Women in the Quran

2.  Women in the Bible

3.  Insults to Women in the Book of Mormon

4.  Quotes From the bible That Treat Women as Inferior to Men

5.  Electronic Tracking Ankle Bracelets and Saudi Arabian Women

Religion as an Agent for Social Order and Social Change. One of the critiques of the conflict theory of religion is that it always views religion as oppressive.  Organized religion has been an agent for both social order and social change.  For example, there is a segment of Roman Catholics who believe that women should be ordained priests.  Yet the Catholic Church remains opposed to such an idea, and so acts as a force for social order.  On the other hand, African American churches played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  These churches were a force for social change.

Liberation Theology

One approach that tries to put religion on the side of social change which addresses issues like social inequality is called Liberation theology.   Liberation theology is a doctrine that advocates Christian principles with political activism, which is often Marxist in character.  Adherents to liberation theology believe that church officials have a responsibility to demand social justice for the marginalized peoples of the world, such as landless peasants and the urban poor.  Although liberation theology has Roman Catholic origins, it has been condemned by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, including Pope John Paul II.  Despite this criticism, liberation theology has grown and is especially active in Latin America.

Religion in the United States

The institution of religion has been an important part of American society since its beginning (1st Amendment Right) to the present day ( 95% of Americans say they belong to a church). The following topics will offer a framework of how religion in expressed in the United States.

uscivilrelgionU.S. Civil Religion.  Americans share a set of a set of institutionalized rituals, beliefs and symbols described by sociologists as a civil religion. Civil religion includes such things as pronouncing the pledge of allegiance, singing the national anthem, displaying the flag,  believing that God has a special destiny for the United States, and that Americans are enjoined to stand up for certain principles (e.g., freedom, individuals, and equal opportunity).  For many people in the United States, civil religion and regular religion are inseparable.  The phrase, “in god we trust” on our coins is testimony to this.  U.S. Civil Religion entails a belief in “American Exceptionalism”.   This is a belief that God has selected the United States to lead the rest of the world towards freedom, democracy, and everything else that is good.  The sociologist, Robert Bellah first introduced the term U.S. Civil Religion with the following quote:  “What we have, from the earliest years of the republic, is a collection of beliefs, symbols and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity … American civil religion has its own prophets and its own martyrs, its own sacred events and sacred places, its own solemn rituals and symbols. It is concerned that America be a society as perfectly in accord with the will of God as men can make it, and a light to all the nations.”- Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” 1967

1.  U.S. Civil Religion


Trends in Religiosity.  Some sociologists believe religion plays an increasingly less important role in society.  Other sociologists disagree. Recent surveys seem to indicate that religion is still an important part of many American lives.

biblebeltCharacteristics of Members.  With respect to region, the South has the highest percentage of Church membership. This is one reason why the South is often referred to as the “Bible Belt.”  There is also a connection between social class and religion.  Each religion draws members from all social classes, but some religions draw a large share from particular social classes.  For example, more Episcopalians and Jews come from the top social classes.  Local churches, even more than denominations, tend to be homogeneous in socioeconomic status. This is due to: 1) Residential patterns and 2) People want to feel comfortable in their surroundings.  Common indicators of religious involvement all demonstrate a relationship to socioeconomic status, with high status persons more involved than lower status persons in the following: 1) Church membership, 2) Attendance at church services, and 3) Participation in church activities.  Religiosity: although middle and upper class persons tend to be joiners and more likely to belong and participate in formal activities of the church, working-class persons tend to be more religious than white-collar persons in terms of doctrine and belief.

As with social class, each religion draws membership from the various racial and ethnic groups in the United States.  However, some religions have a disproportionate share of its members from a particular group.  For example,  African-Americans are more likely to be Baptists, and Irish and Hispanics more likely to be Roman Catholics. Local churches are among the most segregated organizations in society. They tend to be exclusively made up of one race or ethnic group. This segregation is the result of: 1) A reflection of residential segregation patterns; 2) Past and present discrimination; and 3) Denomination loyalty.  It is important to note that for African Americans  their local churches are one of the few organizations over which they have control. Churches have been a key component of the Black community and our nation’s history.

Consequences of Religion. Research has shown that attitudes and behaviors are shaped by religion.  People who rate themselves as religious tend to be more conservative on issues of sexuality and personal morals.  Research also indicated that people who rate themselves as religious are more satisfied with their lives and marriages.

fundamentalismChristian fundamentalism vs. Secularization.  Fundamentalism in the United States has experienced a revival. Although Christian Fundamentalism is influential in the United States, most of the world’s religions have a fundamentalist side to them.  Membership in fundamentalist churches has increased over that past few decades at the expense of traditional churches.     Fundamentalism is a conservative religious doctrine that opposes intellectualism, secularism, and worldly accommodation in favor of restoring traditional, otherworldly religion. The majority of such groups are Christian based.  Their shared beliefs are: 1) The Bible is the word of God and that the Bible should be interpreted literally, 2)  Jesus Christ is their savior, 3) The Biblically based world view is, in principle, all-encompassing,  4) Tradition must be upheld, 5) God/Jesus needs to be experienced personally, so there is an emphasis on adults being “born-again”,  6) a conviction that some religious beliefs are true while others are not, and 7) an opposition to secularization or secular humanism, which tends to look at scientific experts rather than God for guidance on how to live.

Secularization refers to the historical process by which religious influences on thought and behavior on matters of the supernatural and the sacred are reduced. Science and technology have assumed roles that were once the domain of religion.  For example, at significant events in life such as birth and death, religious leaders (knowledge based on faith) were present, compared to today, where physicians (knowledge based on science) are present.  Many of the culture war issues discussed in unit four (school prayer, human cloning, evolution) have a secularization vs. fundamentalism thread to them.

The Electronic Church.  With the advent of new technology, a new type of church has emerged.  The electronic church is almost exclusively fundamentalist in doctrine.  The various churches raise billions of dollars.  Their shows are watched by millions of people daily. Televangelists such as Robert Schuler and Pat Robertson easily recognizable public figures.  Scandals beginning in 1987 led to viewer decline, but despite setbacks, television preaching continues to thrive.  Recently the electronic church has moved to the internet. Many of the electronic churches offer discussion groups and other services on their web pages. Audiences tend to be less well off and less educated.


The Mass Media

Recent studies indicate that the number of hours an average American is exposed to television, the internet, and other media sources has increased over the past decade.  What role does the mass media play in shaping the lives of individuals and formulating public policy?  This unit will explore how the mass media influences American society today.

The best place to begin in understanding the mass media is through a definition. The mass media is a medium of communication ( such as newspapers, radio, television, the internet) that is designed to reach the mass of people.

But the mass media is more than just this. The mass media has become  pervasive in our daily lives.  The mass media may inform, entertain, or persuade, but its primary goal is to make money.  The mass media ties communities together by providing messages to entire populations so they share similar interests and ideas.  The power of the mass media is not in telling people what to think, but in telling people what to think about.   As the world slowly gets itself linked together, the influence of the mass media will grow.

Types of Mass Media

Books.  Although many people have speculated on the book’s demise, it has not yet happened.  The book is perhaps the oldest and most powerful form of media ever created.  Recently, electronic books have become available.  Books are produced both by giant publishing houses which hope to convert a popular book into a blockbuster movie, and small, niche publishers. Books generate more income than the combined sales of movie tickets and musical recordings.  Since the invention of the Gutenberg press, books have had an enormous impact on religious, political, and social thinking.

newspapers2Newspapers.  Most newspapers provide local residents with information about current events that occur around the world as well as locally.  Until the arrival of radio, television, and the internet, most people received their viewpoints about worldly affairs through the newspaper. Over the last few decades, newspapers have faced declining circulations, particularly among young people.  To stay competitive, most newspapers have created online editions. Approximately 1,286 newspapers print a daily edition as of 2016.  Newspapers have changed over time.  Most newspapers originally carried a political slant.  Then the newspapers moved into sensationalism (yellow journalism, tabloids).  Newspapers became a much more visual medium in the 1980’s with the introduction of USA Today.  Although some newspapers remained owned by families, most have become the property of large, multinational corporations.  The problem for newspapers in generational. Older Americans still get their news from newspapers, whereas younger Americans are getting their news from other sources.  Many Americans prefer to get their news from local newspapers. But there are some newspapers that have a national appeal.  Newspapers that draw a national audience include The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Within many in academic, political and media circles, The New York Times is highly respected and considered “the paper of record”.

1.  State of the News Media 2017

Magazines.  Magazines have survived by targeting specific readers. Today, only a few major magazines ( Time, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek) have mass circulations.  Most magazines survive by attracting specific readers by focusing on special interests.  About 7,216 publications reach 214 million readers in the United States.  In order to attract younger readers, many magazines have created electronic versions available on the internet.

Recorded Music.  The American Thomas Edison invented recorded sound. The music industry today spans a wide variety of formats, from rock and roll to gospel. The music itself has reflected cultural influences and has served as an expression for many subcultures, especially for the young ( rock and roll, heavy metal, rap).  For a long time the recording industry has been controlled by a few companies.  With the arrival of the internet, the relationship between artists and recording companies has changed.  The downloading of songs may change the traditional way that music has been marketed and distributed.

Radio. The influence of radio as a medium has undergone change since its inception.  Radio has the distinction of being the first medium to transmit information and entertainment over airwaves, as well as being the first medium to undergo heavy government regulation (licenses).  the primary regulatory agency for over-air broadcasting in the United States is the Federal Communication Commission.  The FCC grants local stations a monopoly to broadcast over a specific bandwidth. With the arrival of television, and then the internet, radio has lost its position as a dominant media. Today, the internet has offered radio a way to survive by creating an opportunity to reach audiences previously untapped.

tvmediaTelevision.  From its beginning, television has been the dominant media outlet. Its success is due in large part to its ability to communicate messages visually. Because of this ability, it has been criticized from the beginning by countless groups (sociologists, parents, politicians, various ethnic groups) for the messages sent to viewers.

It must be remembered that television is an industry. Its main function is to provide viewers to advertisers.  That means to attract viewers, programs are often created to appeal to lowest common denominator, with respect to humor, sex, and violence. Today, TV viewers can choose from hundreds of channels. Each year the major networks lose viewers to new specialized niche channels. New technology like the DVR or new websites such as Youtube and Hulu allow more access to television, whenever we want it.

With the recent arrival of digital technology, television will once again undergo a major change.  With more choices, programs will be targeted to specific viewers.

Film and Movies.  Films were the first media form to take advantage of continuous visual images. The first movies were “silent” in that they were visual only and did not contain sound. The film “The Jazz Singer” is recognized as the first movie containing sound. The ability to transmit powerful social messages has brought them much acclaim and criticism.  This power is evident in the government’s decision to regulate movies (ratings).  In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America  (MPAA), through the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), issues ratings for movies. The system was instituted in November 1968 and is voluntary; however, most movie theater chains will not show unrated domestic films and most major studios have agreed to submit all titles for rating prior to theatrical release.

The motion picture industry is where power rests with a few major corporations.  Major studios use proven themes to produce blockbuster movies.  In the near future, digital technology will make it cheaper and easier to produce, distribute and market films.

The Internet.  Hundreds of millions of people in every country of the world use the internet daily. The internet consists of three main parts: email, Usenet, and the world wide web.  Email allows individuals to send information from their computer to another computer.  People  talk to one another in discussion groups that focus on specific topics.  The world wide web allows people to instantly access a wide variety of information.

Because it is relatively new, the impact of the internet on our society is difficult to measure.  Already, some social observers are concerned about the growing divide among rich and poor nations concerning the exchange of information. Worldwide, low-income groups, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents and the citizens of developing countries have far less access than others to the latest technologies such as the internet. This gap is referred to as the digital divide.  Others are concerned about how the internet has been used to promote hate, encourage violence, sell sex, and invade one’s personal privacy.

In a few short years the internet has caused a revolution in mass communications.  People can access information, purchase goods and services, and download music and films.  It is possible that the internet may replace television as the most important form of mass media. The internet has produced a new form a journalism called the blog.  The blog is an online journal where the author can air his or her opinions directly to audiences.

The recent growth of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have had a tremendous impact on human society. These new media platforms have had both a positive and negative influence.  The various social media have increased advertising opportunities for businesses, allowed for more communication, and allowed social awareness of important issues. But it has also had negative impacts from bullying, to stalking, to spreading false information, and to contributing to emotional and mental health issues.

1.  Internet Speed in the United States Lags Behind Many Countries


The impact of media technology on society has been great.  However, its impact has not been without debate.  Some people believe that media technology has had a positive influence on American society, others believe a negative.

The Impact of the Media on Human Society

Over the past few decades a new term has entered out nation’s vocabulary: global village.  The term global village refers to a theory that states that the electronic media has allowed people throughout the world to experience similar thoughts and feelings at approximately the same time. This process has enabled people to communicate as though they lived in the same village.

One of the most important ways the mass media influences society is through a process known as gatekeeping.  Gatekeeping refers to how mass media outlets emphasize certain news items, while ignoring or rejecting others. Thus, material must pass through a series of gates (or checkpoints) before reaching the public. This means a small group of people decide which images and stories to bring to the consuming audience. This is one of the main sources of power for the media because they can control what is being presented to the public. Why does this happen? Because the media is made up of a number of large businesses in which profits are generally more important than the quality of the programming. This means that content that makes a profits is going to be promoted over content that does not-even if the content may have public benefits. For example, in the recording industry, gatekeepers may reject a popular local band because it competes with a group already on their label that is already proven itself in the market.

The media form with the least amount of gatekeeping is the internet. But even the internet is not totally without restrictions. Many nations may regulate content on issues such as gambling and pornography. Some countries such as China, will regulate political and religious content.

The next time you read a story in the newspaper or see a story on the TV news, ask yourself how did it get there and what stories were you prohibited from being exposed to?

1.  Project Censored

2.   Where Are the Women in the Media?

3.  Stephen Colbert White House Roast

4.  Almost No Mention of TPP Trade Agreement in the Mainstream Media


Violence in the Media

violenceinthemediaThe role of violence in the media is a controversial one.  There are some who believe that the mass media has an enormous impact on human behavior, particularly young people.  What happens when children grow up being constantly bombarded with powerful visual and verbal messages demonstrating violence as the preferred way to solve problems? Aggressive Stimulation is a theory that believes that mass media violence triggers real life violence. Others believe that it is not the mass media by itself, but other factors, that influence the tendency to act violently.

1.   Violence in the Media 

2.  Violence, Women, and the Media



The Media’s Impact on Cultural Values

sexinthecityBesides promoting violence, there are a number of social critics who claim that the mass media negatively  influences other cultural values.  Such critics believe that the mass media de-emphasizes family values, promotes sex, encourages consumerism, reinforces stereotypes, and minimizes the role of religion in people’s lives.

1.  Sexuality, Contraception, and the Mass Media

2.  Negative Protrayals of Women in the Mass Media

3.  Diversity in the Media- Where Are We on TV 2017 Report


Media Monitoring

The term media monitoring is used to refer to interest groups’ monitoring of media content.  A variety of groups monitor the media to determine if their group is being underrepresented, misrepresented, or if negative stereotypes are being enforced.  For example, the way the media covers crime can unfairly get the nation’s focus on one particular race or ethnic group, while ignoring the crime committed by other groups.   Women’s groups will monitor the media to see if women are being stereotyped, if issues important to women are being ignored, or if women are being denied opportunities within the industry. Parents might monitor the media to keep up with the violence or sex that is allowed in television shows.


The Media’s Impact on Democracy

mediaanddemocracyThere are many people both inside and outside of politics who believe the mass media, particularly television, has had a negative impact on how a democratic society should function.  Since the Nixon-Kennedy debate, candidates for office seem to be slick actors, who package platforms that are heavy on style and lacking in substance.  Since most people get their news from television, political candidates need to raise huge sums of money to run ads on television. The amount of money spent on advertising has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Where do politicians get this money?  Mostly through large organizations like corporations and unions.  This gives the appearance, if not the reality, of being beholding to these organizations for their elections.  One of the proposed solutions is to force media outlets, especially television, to offer free time to candidates to express their views.  However,  television stations are the main opponents of reform because they make millions of dollars in profits from political ads. A study by the research firm Borrell Associates discovered that election spending in 2016  reached  a stratospheric $9.8 billion, vs. about $9.2 billion in 2012. (The figures include 13,000 statewide, congressional and municipal races, as well as the presidential election.)

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” – George Orwell


The Role of Propaganda in the Media

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” – Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928  This quote suggests the important connection that exists between   propaganda and media complicity.  The press/media has been described as a “fourth power” or “the fourth estate” because of its considerable influence over public opinion (which in turn affects the outcome of elections), as well as its indirect influence in the branches of government by, for example, its support or criticism of pending legislation or policy changes.  If it is functioning properly, it should restrict government power or abuse of power. The media  seeks to prefigure our perception of a subject with a positive or negative label. Some positive ones are: “stability,” “the president’s firm leadership,” “a strong defense,” and “a healthy economy.” Who would want instability, weak presidential leader ship, a vulnerable defense, and a sick economy?  Some common negative labels are: “leftist guerrillas,” “Islamic terrorists”, “conspiracy theories,” “inner-city gangs,” and “civil disturbances.”

In their book “Manufactured Consent: The Political Role of the Mass Media” by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, the argument is made that the mass media serves to mobilize support for the special interests that dominate the state and private support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity.  Media bias arises from “the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints” of a series of objective filters. Hence the bias occurs largely through self-censorship. Debate within the dominant media is limited to “responsible “opinions acceptable to some segment of the elite. On issues where the elite are in general consensus, the media will always toe the line. No dissent will then be allowed, let alone acknowledged, except, when necessary for ridicule or derision.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”  Joseph Goebbells

1.  Orwell Rolls in His Grave: How Bad is the Media?

2.  From the movie “Network”: Turn off Your TV Today! We are the Illusion!

3.  Court Rules Media Has a Right to Lie

4.  How the Mainstream Media Feel It Is Not Their Job to Question the Government

5.  Social Media Images May Not Be What They Appear:  Venezuela Protests

6.  U.S. Government Repeals Propaganda Ban


The Social Affects of Advertising

anorexiaAdvertisements are media created by businesses and corporations. Everyday people are bombarded with advertisements trying to convince us to buy or do something. To some degree, all forms of the mass media depend on advertising to support their business.  A recent survey found that most Americans have conflicting views of advertising.  About half of consumers viewed advertising positively, while 15% viewed it negatively.  On the other hand, 80% found television advertising deceptive, while only 17% found it informative. according to a report by MAGNA, IPG Mediabrands’ research arm the total spent by brands globally on advertising in 2016 was $493 billion. Messages in advertising help to set beauty and fashion trends, elect political candidates, and get us to spend money on products that we sometimes don’t need.  Many advertisements are deceptive, misleading, and uninformative.

1.  NRA Advertisement for Guns

2. Dying to be Thin


The Need For Media Literacy

Having thus become aware of the influences of the mass media on American society, what should the responsible citizen do?  Each individual, for his/her own benefit, as well as for the survival of democracy, should become media literate.  What does media literacy entail?  Media literacy means that individuals develop a perspective from which they can interpret the meanings from the messages they receive from the media.  Because the media is always changing, developing a media literacy is a constant, lifelong process.  People who develop media literacy do not accept immediately as truth the messages they receive from the media.

  1. Study Finds Colbert More Effective Than Journalists in Explaining Super-Pacs
  2. Study Finds Fox Viewers Least Informed of All Viewers


medialiteracyOwnership of the Mass Media.   Over the past few decades there has occurred a wave of media mergers.  These mergers have concentrated power into a few global giants. What does this new power mean?   For many social observers, the ownership of the media into just a few hands presents problems.  Our government has a role in controlling the concentration of media power into a few powerful corporations.  But over the last few decades, it has backed off on asserting its power by allowing more and bigger media mergers.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 helped to deregulate the communications industry.  The law eliminated the restrictions on the number of radio stations one company could own.  The law also expanded the percentage of households one television company could reach to 35 percent of the United States, as well as, to allow one cable company to reach 30 percent of U.S. viewers.   In 1999, CBS and Viacom were allowed to merge.  In 2000,  Time-Warner and American Online were allowed to merge. In 2007 the Federal Communications Commission went even further by allowing the consolidation of newspaper and television ownership in cities with only one local newspaper and one local television station.   In 2007 the Federal Communications Commission went even further by allowing the consolidation of newspaper and television ownership in cities with only one local newspaper and one local television station. On August 25, 2014, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and its member groups filed a petition calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable and the swap of additional systems with Charter Communications.  The petition shows that the Comcast-Time Warner merger poses a great threat to competition, consumers and the public interest.  However, in June 2018 a U.S. District Court approved the merger with no restrictions.

Ownership and control of the mass media is a complex business as the following examples illustrate. Some media companies are characterized by horizontal integration or cross media ownership – this refers to the fact that global media corporations often cross media boundaries and invest in a wide range of media products. NewsCorp, for example, owns newspapers, magazines, book publishers, terrestrial and satellite television channels and film studios in several countries.

Some media companies have focused on increasing economic control over all aspects of the production process in order to maximize profits, e.g. film corporations not only make movies, but distribute them to their own cinema chains. This is referred to as vertical integration.

1. Frontline: Merchants of Cool: Media Giants

2.  Corporate Influence of the Media

3.  Who Owns What?  (Graphs)

4.  Ownership of the Media From Free Press.org

5.  Sinclair Broadcasting News Scripts For It’s Many Stations




Does the Media Have a Liberal Bias?  The popular belief is that the media has a liberal bias.  Conservatives have been telling the American public this for years.  Is it true?  Many people believe this to be true. Other observers believe that because of the concentration of media power in a few hands, the media has actually become quite conservative.

1.  Polls Suggest Americans Believe the Media Has a Liberal Bias

2.  Myth: The U.S. has a Liberal Media

3.  CBS Veteran Exposes Liberal Media

4.  Examining the Liberal Media Claim

5.  The Conservative Media

6.  Examples of Liberal Media Bias

7.  Media Propaganda Model and Chomsky

8.  Has the Liberal Media Shifted Right?


   actionSociology in Film

Below are a list of movies that exhibit sociological concepts learned in this unit.

To Sir With Love.  A look at issues of social class and education.

Teachers.  Although it leans towards being a comedy, it touches on many issues facing American education.

Stand and Deliver.  A movie that looks at how it is possible to change the expectations and labels of students.

Dead Poets’ Society.  A creative English teacher motivates a group of boys at a ritzy prep school.

Breakfast Club.   An assistant principal and 5 teenagers interact during a daylong in-school detention session.

Mr. Holland’s Opus.  A creative high school music teacher expects a great deal from his students, and gets it.

Dangerous Minds.  A former female marine gains the respect and cooperation of a tough group of inner city, high school youth.

Dogma.   An interesting look at what happens to the world when God takes a vacation.

The Apostle.  A sympathetic look at a flawed preacher.

The Passion of the Christ.  A film detailing the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Little Buddha.   A young boy is believed to be the reincarnation of a recently deceased Buddhist teacher.

The Truman Show.  An interesting look at how the mass media can influence a life.

 Myth of the Liberal Media.  the documentary shows how corporate interests influence the news coverage of key events




books03 Sociology in Books

Below are a list of books that exhibit sociological concepts learned in this unit.

1.  University Inc.  The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education  by Jennifer Washburn

2.  Savage Inequalities:  Children in America’s Schools   by Jonathan Kozol

3.  Dumbing Us Down:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling  by John Taylor Gatto

4.  Iliberal Education:  The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus   by Dinesh D’Souza

5.  Spiritual But Not Religious:  Understanding Unchurched America  by Robert C. Fuller

6.  When Religion Becomes Evil  by Charles Kimball

7.  The Gospel According to The Simpsons  by Mark I. Pinsky

8.  The World’s Religions  by Huston Smith

9.  Manufacturing Consent:  The Political Economy of the Mass Media  by Edward s. Herman and Noam Chomsky

10.  Hollywood vs. America  by Michael Medved

11.  The Problem of the Media  by Robert W. McChesney

12.   What Liberal Media?  Eric Alterman


1  Decades of State Cuts Threaten Higher Ed


Brym, Robert J.
2003  Sociology: Your Compass For A New World  Canada:   Wadsworth Thomson Learning

Ferrante, Joan

2000  Sociology:  The United States in a Global Community  United States:  Wadsworth Thomson Learning

Henslin, James M.
2000   Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach  (3rd Edition)   Boston:   Allyn and Bacon

Macionis, John J.

1999 Sociology.  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Macionis, John J.

2004 Society: The Basics.  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Copyright ©2002, 2014 Glenn Hoffarth All Rights Reserved


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