What is the difference between belief systems and ideologies?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In general, the term "belief system" is used to refer to something that is broader than what is meant by the term "ideology."  A belief system is typically defined as a set of principles and ideas that are shared by a group of people and which tend to influence their actions.  For example, capitalism can be seen as a secular belief system.  

An ideology is defined as the set of ideas that underlie the belief system.  This means that an ideology is somewhat less broad than a belief system.  For example, if we see capitalism as a belief system, we can say that it includes ideologies such as the ideology of personal freedom and the ideology of private property.  

Although it can be very difficult to distinguish between the two, it is generally correct to say that ideologies are less broad than belief systems.

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estoverl's profile pic

estoverl | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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To define the differences in these terms one has to decide which definition is the "correct" one as even scholars tend to use differing definitions for the terms belief systems and ideologies. However, for the most part we can state that the following elements are widely accepted as the elements that define each. 

In short, one can think of a belief system as being a more personal element than an ideology as it refers to what a person believes to be true in the world. A belief system is the set of stories and realities about the world that a person believes to be true. It includes religious beliefs, morals and what one defines as right or wrong. 

Ideologies refer to the political, social and economic ideas that help to define a particular group of people. Conservatism, liberalism, socialism are all ideologies. It refers to the concepts that define a group or culture. 

While it is true that the two are closely related and those that share ideologies often have similar belief systems, they are two different elements that help to describe individuals and groups. 

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