Although the research mentioned above shows a dramatic drop in the number of people who believe in Hell, it could be argued that there is actually starting to be a slow increase in the belief in Hell, due to the recent growth and spread of Religious Fundamentalism in places such as the Middle East and in the USA where church membership has trebled since the 1960s.
Religious Fundamentalism is characterised by a literal interpretation of holy texts and strict adherence to the laws set out in these texts which hence means that any verse mentioning the existence of Hell, for example “And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written into the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire. ” [Revelation 20:14-15] and ‘Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’.
‘ [Matthew 25:41], would be taken literally as meaning that Hell exists, and would evoke in people the fear of doing wrong10 that leads to the strict adherence of laws that is so commonly seen in Religious Fundamentalism. However, with the decrease in general religious belief11,12 it would be of interest to see the comparison of religious people who believe in Hell to non-religious people who believe in Hell.
One point of interest related to the growth of Religious Fundamentalism and the organisation of religion in general is the prominence of patriarchy. As Religious Fundamentalism promotes the value of men and undermines women and religion in general is male dominated, it appears important to look at the prevalence of the belief in Hell in males compared to in females. It would seem reasonable to assume that as Religious Fundamentalism is male dominated, it would be the males who believe most strongly in Hell due to their strict obedience to their faith.
However, in western countries, religion is more often followed by women13 and so there is some conflict as to what results would come from this question, making this an important area to study. As a side note, it would also be interesting, because of the male dominance of Religious Fundamentalism and the fact that in the West it is generally accepted that more females are religious, to see whether more males or females are religious and so this will also be covered in this study. This study aims to discover the distribution of the belief in Hell in society.
As stated in the rationale and the context, it will focus on the distribution of the belief in Hell between religious and non-religious, male and female members of society and whether these people’s beliefs have an effect on their lives or not. In order to investigate this topic, this study will make use of a questionnaire containing both closed and open-ended questions, this allows the comparison of data (quantitative data from closed-ended questions) and reasons for the results (qualitative data from open-ended questions).
The questionnaire will therefore be using a mix of positivist and interpretivist methods. Positivists believe that studies should make use of quantitative data as it allows greater reliability and allows the generalisation of results to the rest of society whereas interpretivists believe that studies should focus on qualitative data to ensure the validity of the results. This therefore means that this study should be both valid and reliable.
The questionnaire will be anonymous as people are more likely to answer truthfully if it is not known who they are; this therefore makes the study more valid as it will gain more accurate results, and as a questionnaire is less-time consuming than methods such as interviews, thus allowing extra time for the processing of data. The questionnaire will start by asking whether the participant is religious or not.
This causes a problem as in sociology there is a large debate as to the meaning of the term religion and thus as to the meaning of the term religious. Karl Marx provides the viewpoint that religion is ‘the opiate of the people’ as it teaches that the bourgeoisie deserve their place at the top of society and that the proletariat should be content with their place, it also, according to Marx, legitimises these inequalities through methods such as the teaching of Christian songs14.
Durkheim however sees religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. “15 However, this definition is not as simple as it first seems, Durkheim views religion more as a celebration of society than of a following of a deity. According to Durkheim, religion is the acknowledgement by human beings of our social lives and it is therefore an expression of the collective consciousness, an idea made popular by Karl Jung16.
Due to this variation in sociological definitions of religion and thus religious, the term religious will take the dictionary definition in this study and mean that the person is ‘of or concerned with religion’ something that will be defined by the following questions (questions 1-5) that they will complete if they answered yes to question 1. Question 1 is included so that a comparison can be made between the number of religious people who believe in Hell and the number of non-religious people who believe in Hell; and issue of great interest due to the growth of Religious Fundamentalism in the east, and secularisation in the west.
The next set of questions will be asking whether the participant believes in Hell or not (In this case Hell will be defines by the person’s own beliefs) and why (questions 6-7) which is the basis of this study, participants who answer no to question one will be directed to this question as the in-between questions will be on the details of the participant’s religion.
The final questions will be asking to what extent the participant’s belief in Hell affects their life and how it affects their life (questions 8-10), this is important to see whether the Functionalists are correct about their belief that the decline in the belief in Hell is causing an increase in juvenile delinquency; if the participants claim that their belief has no effect on their life and that it does not stop them from doing wrong, then it would appear that the Functionalists are correct and that juvenile delinquency is increasing due the decline in the belief in Hell, if they claim that it prevents them from committing crimes then it would appear that the Functionalists are incorrect. The questionnaire should not raise any ethical concerns due to the fact that it is anonymous and therefore the results cannot be traced back to any one person.
Consent will also be required from any person who fills in the questionnaire and there will a short explanation of what the questionnaire contains to ensure that the participant is giving informed consent. Once the questionnaires have been completed, they will be collected by the researcher thus ensuring the confidentiality of the questionnaires and the ethical soundness of this study. The participants for this study will be selected using opportunistic sampling of sixth form students situated in Sandown High School Library as this is not a time consuming method and as it will be more practical than other forms of sampling. It was decided that 10 male and 10 female participants would be sufficient to obtain a range of ideas that are relevant to this school and to compare participant’s thoughts on the subject of Hell.
This will mean that the results maybe able to be generalised to the rest of the sixth form at Sandown High School, but will unfortunately not represent the views of the lower school years or of any other high school and so cannot be generalised to such, however, it can be suggested that there should not be a significant difference in the views of the sixth form at this high school compared to any other sixth form in the country, because all the people would have the same kind of life. It is expected that some problems will be encountered in the study, for example, as the method used is a questionnaire, the researcher will have no control over how the form is filled out and it may be filled out incorrectly if questions are not worded clearly, this would then affect the validity of the results. As well as this, only people who are interested in the subject of the questionnaire may consent to fill one in, therefore meaning that there would not be a representative range of participants in the study.