Term Paper: Beliefs and Deviance

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From the beginning of the study of society or sociology, sociologists have been interested in the definition of society and other similar question. For example, Talcott Parsons in Harvard's Department of Sociology, dealt with major concerns that of interest from sociology's beginnings: What keeps a society together? What is the relationship between beliefs and institutions? How do these beliefs change? Other sociologists, such as Robert Merton, who looked at the structure of society, and Paul Lazarsfeld, who helped developed quantitative methods, asked similar questions. George Herbert Mead integrated sociology and psychology and looked more closely at American urban life (Straus, 1994).

Emile Durkheim, often known as the "Father of Sociology," Durkheim saw society in two different ways. First, he defined society as an interdependent set of beliefs and ideas, linguistic symbols, religious beliefs, moral norms and legal formulas. Second, he also viewed society as a structural system composed of individuals or subgroups. In each case, the individuals in the social group or subgroup share similar interests. Culture is the systems of knowledge and communication shared by a relatively large group of people. Some of its shared areas include skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and purposely continued from one generation to the next through the institutions and education. In every society there are those individuals who do not fit in, for one or more of myriad reasons. These people are considered deviant or nonconforming to the ideas that are accepted by most of society (Pickering, 1991)

Society also differentiates between deviant beliefs/thoughts/ideas and deviant behavior. Although some people have beliefs that are considered unusual or strange, they may be ignored, stigmatized or laughed at without any further action being taken. At this point they are not considered a major threat. However, when the threat becomes more imminent and the society's way of belief is threatened, action is most often taken. The person can be banned, punished or even killed. Throughout history, for example, individuals with different religious beliefs have been victimized by a range of persecution from name calling to mass destruction. Deviant behavior, or when ideas become acted upon, can be seen as very threatening and give society more cause for retaliation. A person who defiles a church will surely be punished for his or her actions.

Prejudice evolves from judging those individuals or a group of individuals, because they share different thoughts or behavior. Racism or religious prejudice, for example, includes fearing or hating members of other groups and assuming the worst about them because of stereotypes. It also consists of refusing to change one's negative and irroneous judgment regarding an individual or group based on firsthand experience to the contrary. Discrimination goes another step beyond prejudice, because people act out on their beliefs and values… [END OF PREVIEW]

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