Ethnicity and Crime

The whole debate about ethnicity and crime stems from ethnic differences in crime statistics. The stats show that ethnic minorities (Black and Asian) are more likely to commit a crime than a white person. Sociologists began to look deeper into  the matter and found that the stats were basically an exaggeration. But there were other sociologists who were in support of the statistics. Then the question that always stirs up emotions was born:

Are ethnic minorities actually commiting more crimes or do the stats simply reflect discrimination?

Let’s start with the argument that supports the belief that ethnic minorities are commiting more crimes. Left Realists Lea and Young argue that crime is the result of three factors: marginalisation, relative deprivation and status frustration. They argue that ethnic minorities are more likely to experience these than whites. This is caused by racism which makes them feel marginalised and these racist attitudes can sometimes prevent blacks and Asians getting jobs leading to relative deprivation and poverty. Then you got the media spitting out images of goods they can’t afford but they are told they need making them frustrated with their current status.

They then go on to say how this causes ethnic minorities, males in particular, to join gangs in order to raise their status. If you can’t gain respect by working in a bank, you can sure get some by stealing from one! It’s also a two-birds-one-stone situation because you can use that stolen money to buy a Ferrari Enzo and mansion so you feel less deprived. Happy days! But if money can’t shift all that anger built up inside, Lea and Young say ethnic minorities will vandalise or riot to express the frustration of being marginalised.

This is why ethnic minorities are heavily represented in crime stats. But what about the police that will arrest a brother for walking wrong, do I hear someone ask? To that, Lea+Young respond that 90% of recorded crimes are reported by a member of the public rather than a police arrest. This negates the whole racist arrest argument… or does it? Victim surveys conducted in England and Wales found that victims would identify their offender as a black man even if they were not sure. In my sociological opinion, this is because the media and police force have successfully joined forces to label blacks as inherently criminal. The public believe it and therefore report more crimes committed by ethnic minorities despite an uncertainty. The police see it as approval of their belief so they target ethnic minorities and the vicious cycle continues.

Hence why other sociologists are critical of Lea and Young’s theory. The first argument that supports discrimination in the criminal justice system focuses on how cases with ethnic minority offenders are treated at different stages within the system. Bowling and Phillips found that the police had ingrained negative stereotypes about ethnic minorities – probably heightened by their canteen culture. Figures showed that blacks were 3.6x more likely to be arrested than whites. However, when these cases reached the Crown Prosecution Service are vast majority were dropped and for the few that actually got to court, the jury were less likely to find the offender guilty – 60% of white offenders were found guilty as opposed to 52% of blacks and 44% of  Asians. The figures suggest two options: a) ethnic minorities are somehow bribing juries or b) the police are targeting and arresting ethnic minorities on weak, racist grounds that are of little or no value in a court of law. (I’ll let you decide which option’s more likely…)

Neo-marxists agree and argue that the stats do not reflect actual levels of crime. Instead they see crime stats as a social construct that shapes ethnic minorities as inherently more criminal. Gilroy sees ethnic criminality as a load of rubbish and argues that ethnic minorities aren’t committing crimes but are simply protesting against a racist society. Remember how the West charged into Africa, burned down homes, tore families apart and forced everyone to work on farms? Well, the previous generations of ethnic minorities were a part of the anti- imperialist actions against this injustice. Gilroy argues they would pass these beliefs onto their children. So when these second-generation ethnic minorities began to experience oppression and racism, they rioted or vandalised against it. A good example would be the riots caused by the Mark Duggan shooting. The big hole in this theory is intra-racial crime. What point is an Asian making by shooting another Asian? Surely the previous generation would have taught them about loyalty to your own kind?

Therefore, Hall offers an alternative argument. They argue that the whole “black criminality” scandal serves the interest of capitalism. In the 1970s there was a capitalist crisis that led to high unemployment, high inflation, widespread strikes and intense student protests. Sound familiar, Cameron? Well, before all this happened the state was able to  keep control and power through consent – pump out some malarky that some people are leaders and others followers or some other nonsense. But the public wasn’t buying it anymore. They were beginning to realise that the real source of their problem was…dare I say it?…CAPITALISM! And that scared leaders more than anything. So they had to find a way to restore control but it had to be done with force rather than consent. That’s when, quite suspiciously, the state pronounced there was currently a sharp rise in this “new” crime called muggings. I put “new” in quotes because in reality this crime had been around for ages but simply had no official name and, while we’re on the topic, showed no signs of an increase whatsoever. But the media, politicians and police pooled their resources together to successfully associate muggings with blacks.  Black muggings soon became the symbol of the social disorder caused by capitalism. Blacks became the state’s scapegoat. The public began blaming the blacks in their midst for their problems which led to a public divide which in turn weakened opposition to the state. Miraculously, the state had been able to restore power over the masses and even find support for policies that gave them greater control, all by labelling blacks as criminals.

Now for the rounding argument: actual crime or discrimination? In my opinion, it’s a mixture of both. I think ethnic minorities are more likely to commit crime mainly because all that frustration from discrimination has to go somewhere. But discrimination in the criminal justice system has led to the actual difference becoming distorted. However, that is just my opinion, what do you think?


6 Arguments for Secularisation

1. Rationalisation

Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th Century led to rational ways of thinking replacing supernatural beliefs. It led to the belief that God simply created the world and does not intervene in it. This is known as disenchantment and it contributed to secularisation as people began to view and understand the world scientifically.

Possible critique(s): The theory only focuses on the West and Catholocism.

2. Structural Differentiation

Structural differentiation is the process of speecialisation that occurs through the development of industrial society. Parsons argues that this led to religion being being disengaged from modern society. Before the Industrial Revolution religion was the main source of education and social welfare but these functions have been lost to a secular state and religion is now a privatized part on religion that is personal choice. This is shown by the number of countries that keep religion and the state seperate such as USA, France and Britain.

Possible Critique(s): Northern Ireland is an exception. It is modern and industrialised but the Church js closely linked with the state.

3. Social and Cultural Diversity

Wilson and Bruce argue that the Industrial Revolution led to secularisation. It caused the break up of small, close-knit communities that often expressed themselves through their religion because therecwas a need for the workforce to geographically mobile (move around easily). This meant that new people with various backgrounds and religious beliefs were entering these communities. This reduced the plausibility of religion as everyone’s belief could not be true. The lack of a dominating religion also made it difficult for people to remain religious as it is easier to believe in something if many people practice it as well.

Possible critique(s): Despite the cultural diversity, people may use religion as a form of identity – this links to Huntington and the Clash of Civilisations. Also some religions have created ‘imagined communities so that they feel more connected in a globalised world, e.g televangelism.

4. Religious diversity

Berger argues Catholicism held a monopoly on truth and society was under a ‘sacred canopy’ (basically one belief system). After the Protestant Reformation, the rise of Protestants and other sects that broke away from the  Church led to a ‘plurality of worldviews’ – varying interpretations of the truth. This led to a crisis for credibility and secularisation.

Possible Critique(s): Berger changed his mind later on and now argues that religion can stimulate interest and participation – links to spiritual shopping and religious market theory. Beckford argues that religious diversity has the ability to strengthen faith not always weaken it.

5. Cultural Defence & Cultural Transiton

Bruce argues that religion is used for either cultural defence or cultural transition. Cultural defence is when religion is used as a way defending a culture that is under threat. For example, in Poland Catholicism was a key part of Polish culture that was being oppressed by a Communist state. However, some people still practised their religion in secret as it was a way of expressing their culture. The Catholic church eventually played a key part in overthrowing the state which is another example of religious social change.

Cultural transition is when religion is used to help with the transition to a new society – mainly used by ethnic minorities. E.g when migrants enter the Uk, Bruce argues they will uses places like Mosques or Synagogues as a meeting place where they can make mini communities, find out about job/housing vacancies or feel connected to their culture.

Although it seems to disprove secularisation, Bruce shows religion only thrives when it provides a function to the individual that is more than relating to the supernatural. If you look at Poland, now that they are free to practice their religion, church attendance has fallen.

Possible critique(s): What about the people who are not migrants and are not under threat that practice religion continuosly?

6. A Spiritual Revolution?

Heelas and Woodhead had a theory: Traditional religion is declining and being replaced by New Age spirituality such as crystal healing, aromatherapy, self help books etc. They tested this theory and found out the following:

In Cumbria there were two types of groups – the congregational domain (traditional religion) and the holistic milieu (New Age). Traditional religion was in decline and they argued that this was  because it demanded high discipline and objective which did not fit into post modern society that places importance on the individual. Hence why the New Age and Evangelical churches were growing in Cumbria, they had a subjective view encouraged self-growth and healing.

Despite this, Heelas and Woodhead found that the rise in the New Age was not equal to the fall in tradition. So the New Age was not replacing traditional religion.

Possible critique(s): The study is based one country which means that it is not representative and therefore cannot explain the world.

Theories of science

Science seems like an odd topic in an a Unit that is mainly about religion but the Unit is called Beliefs and science is a belief system.

An open belief sysetem

According to Popper, science is an open belief system that is governed by falsification. This means that the aim of science is to constantly try and prove existing theories as false so knowledge improves. This means that in science there is no absolute or sacred truth and everything is open to scrutiny by the scientific community which means there is a possibility for a theory to be proven wrong. What this shows is that scientific knowledge is constantly building up – it’s cumalative. This differs from religion which has a fixed, sacred truth that cannot be challenged.

The CUDOS norms

Merton, a Functionalist, argues that every belief system has a set of norms and values. These are the norms for science:

Communism – scientific knowledge is not private, it must be shared so it can grow.

Universalism – scientific knowledge is judged by universal, objective criteria (not influence by age, gender or ethnicity etc)

Disinterestedness – committed to studying science for science’s sake – no vested interest

Organised Sceptism – no knowledge is sacred and everything is open to scrutiny

Types of religious organisations

Below are the characteristics of the 4 typologies (ways of grouping religion) created by Troeltsch and Niebhur.

NOTE: Here a Church doesn’t refer to Christianity alone but to the group of religions that have the characteristics of a Church.


  •   Large
  •   Very inclusive
  •   Claims a monopoly on truth
  •   Run by a bureaucratic hierarchy   – deacon, priest, Pope, Imam etc
  •   Open to all but mainly attracts upper/middle class because it is very conservative
  •   Doesn’t demand high   commitment

E.g Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism


  •   Demands high commitment
  •   Usually attracts the working   class or relatively deprived
  •   Run by a charismatic leader
  •   Claims  monopoly on truth
  •   Detached from wider society and hostile towards it

E.g Manson Family, People’s Temple, Jehovah’s Witness


  •   Not as inclusive as a Church but not as exclusive as a sect
  •   Doesn’t claim a monopoly on truth and is tolerant of other religions
  •   Demand a moderate level of commitment
  •   State some rules but are not very fussy about it

E.g Pentecostalism, Methodism


  •   Small, loose knit groups
  •   Highly individualistic (the individual is more important than the group)
  •   Shared themes and interests but no sharp, defined belief system
  •   Are usually led by ‘practioners’ or ‘therapists’ who claim to have special knowledge
  •   Are tolerant of others and do not demand strong commitment
  •   Claim to improve life

E.g Scientology

Feminist theories on religion

Feminists argue that in religion there is evidence of an oppression against women. Feminists  highlight  4 ways in which religion oppresses and subordinates women:

  1. Sacred texts – sacred texts feature predominantly male gods and profits as well as being written and interpreted by men. Women in sacred texts are presented in a negative light. For example, Eve and Lot’s daughters . However, this ignores positive descriptions of women in the sacred texts such as the Virgin Mary.
  2. Places of worship  – there are often rules that only pertain to women that prevent women from participating fully. For exactly , not being able to touch holy books when on menses or not being able to speak in the religious place. Women are often segregated and marginalised (poor seating). Holm refers to this as the devaluation of women in contemporary religion.
  3. Religious laws and customs – they can end up giving women less rights than men and influence the way in which a nation is run. Many religions legitimate and regulate women’s traditional and domestic role.
  4. Religious organisations – many are male dominated and prevent women from being in positions of leadership despite women having a higher attendance than men in religion. Armstrong refers to this as the marginalisation of women.

However, religion has not always been like this as there was a time when religion was very she woman centred, e.g mother goddesses, fertility cults and women priesthoods. It was the rise of male dominated, monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Juaism that led to the opression of women in religion. According to El Saadawi, it was the interpretation of religion in a male dominated patriarchal society that led to male domination in religion – not religion itself.

Like El Saadawi, there is Woodhead that argues religion is not opressive to women. She argues that women can use religion to liberate themselves and to feel more valued. E.g in the Evangelical Church, the combination of the saying “you should practice what you preach” & “husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church” can be used by women to prevent abuse by their husbands. In Islam, women wearing the headscarf gives them ability to have jobs and experience the world without losing their identity, thus liberating them from the housewife role.

Other criticims

  • Marxists would argue the working class are truly opressed by religion – not women.
  • Functionalists would argue that is not oppressive but is helping women to know their gender role, thus creating social cohesion.
  • New Age religions such as crystal healing and feng shui are dominated by women so are not oppressive. But are New Age practices religions?
  • Even if religions were oppressive, Leymah Gbowee shows how women can overcome that and use religion for their own liberation.

Bruce: Religion and Social Protest

Bruce argues that religion can be a force for both progressive and regressive social change. Progressive usually means making society better by taking on more modern views, while regressive means making society better by re-kindling traditional values.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Our example of progressive social change given by Bruce, is Martin Luther King Jr’s Civil Rights Movement. The purpose of this movement was to end the discrimination against against black people in America. Now MLK was a reverend’s son, and then he became one himself, but the significance of it is that his religion influenced his form of protest. He approached social change in a peaceful manner.

The influence of religion is further shown by the role the church played within the movement. It became a safe place for the black  community – or anyone, to be frank – to express political dissent (a view that goes against the generally accepted political view). Due to the common belief that the Church is meant to be an unbiased, fair institution, it became a place where most negotiations took place. It was also extremely successful at gaining support from across America through successful campaigning.

The Civil Rights Movement did successfully end the segregation and persucution towards black people in America. Bruce believes that this is because their campaig was based upon the universal America belief that “all men are born equal before God” And because we all love it, here is that famous speech…


Chicago protest 2006

On the other hand, there is the New Christan Right which is an example of regressive social change. The New Christian Right are a politically and morally conservative Protestant fundamentalist movement that seeks to take America ” back to God” and away from godless, spineless leaders [that] have brought our nation floundering to the brink of death.”They believed that:

  • Creationism should be taught in schools rather than evolution
  • Instead of sex education, kids should be taught abstinence before marriage
  • They were very ANTI-CHOICE!

If you haven’t guessed already, they were not very successful and this was mainly because they did not connect with mainstream beliefs. America is all about the freedom of choice…

Marxism, religion and change

Marxists recognise that ideas, including religious ideas can have a relative autonomy. This means that the ideas can be partly independent of the economic base of society. In other words, society can be saying one thing but religion can be saying something completely different. This brings about the concept of religion having a dual character.

Engels argues that religion can prevent change by disguising inequality – refer to Marxist theory of religion. On the other hand he argues that religion can challenge the status quo and encourage social change.

Bloch argues religion can be an expression of the principle of hope. Their religion gives the streams of a better future – a form of Utopia. And others can deceive us in may help us try and picture a better world and this combined with good organisation and leadership can lead to social change. A huge example of this is Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement also Leymah Gbowee and her success at ending the civil war in Liberia

Liberation theology

This Archbishop was killed because he opposed the unrest in Latin America

This is a movement by the Catholic Church in Latin America with a strong commitment to the poor and opposition to military dictatorships

The emphasis in liberation theology is Praxis – practical action guided by theory. Liberation theology led to social change as it is created based communities, the church was a protective shield and educated the poor.

Neo-Marxist interpretation

Maduro – religion can be revolutionary force that brings about change

Löwy – questions Marxist view that religion always legitimates social inequality.

Gramsci: religion and hegemony

Gramsci was a sociologist during the Fascist regime in Italy. He argues that the ruling class maintain power in society through hegemony. Hegemony is the ideological domination of ideas in society. Once established he argues that the ruling class maintain power by relying on popular consent.

Although, Gramsci argues that hegemony can never be guaranteed as a working class can develop an alternative vision of society – a counter hegemony. For example the revolution in Libya would be an example of counter hegemony because members of the society no longer agree with the ideas of their government. Gramsci argues that the dual nature of religion has the ability to help workers through the ruling class hegemony in their society. He sees clergymen as organic intellectuals – educators, organisers and leaders I can help workers see through their situation and create working-class organisations such as trade unions. All these help build a counter hegemony and threaten ruling class domination.

NOTE: Most of his theories came to being while he was put in prison by the Mussolini – could Gramsci have had a political bias?