Ideology translates to the science or study of ideas. However, ideology tends to refer to the way in which people think about the world and their ideal concept of how to live in the world. This is slightly different from philosophy in the sense that ideology encompasses the concept that one’s ideals are the best way.
Philosophy on the other hand may examine the way ideology affects others from a more distant perspective. Philosophy however may become ideology when a philosopher sets forth ideal concepts for the way people should live. Plato’s Republic, for example, is his ideology of the best way to proceed in life.
The term ideology also may be used to describe the shared beliefs of a group of people, for example a nation, a sect of a religion, or a group of theorists. The term was most likely coined first by the French philosopher, Count Destutt de Tracy, who used the term in the 1700s to describe the more specific definition of the science of ideas.
Today the term ideology is used in so many ways, that it is often difficult to know how to describe it. In some ways, the common, shared beliefs of a community may be considered its common sense ideology. For example, a group of people living near the wilderness might share the ideology that it is not wise to venture into the bush alone and at night. Conversely, city people, for the most part, might believe that it make sense to look both ways before crossing a street. Common sense ideology often concerns the protection of the individual and community as a whole.
Ideology can be used in a more specific sense to differentiate between different groups of thought. The ideological differences between Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam are a subject of great debate. Understanding these competing ideologies allows one more insight into how to address cultures with which one has either hostile or peaceful contact.
In US politics, the term ideology may separate the difference between Democrat and Republican, and those sharing the ideology of one group over another are likely to vote accordingly. Usually a culture has multiple political ideologies, with some less popular than others. Many have difficulty seeing past the two competing ideologies to examine other political ideologies present in the culture. For example, few Libertarians, Green Party Members, or Peace and Freedom ideologists are elected, since most think in terms of democrat and republican candidates only.
Within ideology, there is normally a range of beliefs. Some Catholics, for example, believe strongly in all church teachings, while others believe that issues like birth control, the freedom for priests to get married, or concepts on sin in general are outdated. These more liberal Catholics feel as much a part of the church as do more fundamental Catholics. Thus examination of an ideology must account for variation.