Sociology and Anthropology
Mary Douglas is justly famed for her social analyses of symbolism and for her ‘grid/group’ technique of relating cosmologies to particular social structures. In recent years she has turned her attention toward developing, in her words, ‘a coherent argument about the social control of cognition’. She argues that religious and other beliefs are ‘part of the action’ in society. They are strongly connected with the needs of the institutional order, while remaining products of individual consciousness. Douglas's recent work is theoretically interesting because she uses a functionalist argument to defend the rationality of social actors, while at the same time showing how belief systems are generated from the social order. This essay critically reviews her argument, and weighs the efficacy of her approach for scholars interested in the social role of religious beliefs.