Assess the extent to which religion produces social change 33marks

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Using material from item A and elsewhere, assess the extent to which religion
produces social change (33marks)
Many sociologists believe that religion is either a conservative force, preserving the status quo, or
has the potential to be a force that produces social change? . Max weber identified one religious
theodicy that may have helped to facilitate dramatic social change. The Calvinist was a protestant
group who merged during the 17th century and believed in predestination. Calvinists believed your
destiny was fixed In advance and therefore you wither either `damned' or `saved' and there was
nothing any individual or religious organisation could do to change it. They believed that any form of
social activity was of religious significance. As item A states, Calvinists lived an ascetic lifestyle in
which "... riches could not be spent on luxuries, fine clothes, lavish houses and frivolous
entertainment, but on the glory of God." This ascetic life would demonstrate Gods favour and
therefore you ultimate place in heaven. Weber argued that these idea helped initiate western
economic development through the industrial revolution and capitalism and therefore create social
change. Many of the early entrepreneurs were Calvinists. There obsessive work ethic and
self-discipline inspired by a desire to serve God meant that they rein invested rather than spent their
profits. Such attitudes were ideal for the development of industrial capitalism and created a
Relationship between religious beliefs and economics.
In understanding how religion can produce social change, Weber suggests religions and other
authority take one of three forms. One form is a charismatic leader in which people obey a religous
leader because of their personal qualities e.g. Jesus. If these charismatic leaders attract enough
followers they can bring about significant changes to societies in which they originate. Another form
is traditional, in which those who exercise a tradition and support the preservation and continuation
of existing values and social ties. These authorities give orders and expect to be obeyed. Through
generally conservative, this kind of authority can be responsible for change in the face of
modernising regimes. The authority of the Islamic leaders in Afghanistan and Iran are recent
However many sociologists criticize Weber. One being that some countries with large Calvinist
populations such as Norway and Sweden did not industrialise. Marshall however points out that
Weber did not claim Calvinists caused capitalism, he only suggested it was a major contributor to a
climate of change. Calvinist beliefs had to be supplemented by a certain level of technology, a skilled
and mobile workforce and rational models of law and bureaucracy. Marxist are also critical because
as Kautsky argued, capitalism predates Calvinism. He argued that early capitalists were attracted to
Calvinism because it made their interests appear legitimate. Aldridge highlights that charismatic
leadership can be unstable in that their movements often disintegrate once the charismatic leader
dies. Such leadership therefore does not significantly contribute to long-lasting social change.
Neo Marxist such as Gramsci also supports the idea that religion can cause social change. Gramsci
argued that religious beliefs and practices could develop that would support and guide challenges to
the ruling class because the church, like other cultural institutions was not directly under their control.
Neo Marxist calls this degree of freedom that state institutions such as religious have from the direct
control of the dominant class relative autonomy. An example is in central and South American
countries such as Chilli, where the police and military have been used to crush opposition. Religion
here has become the only remaining outlet for dissent. This fusion of Christianity and Marxism is
known as the `liberation theology'/ in the 1960s, various radical groups and individuals merged from
within the catholic church and argued that it was Christian's duty to be involved in action leading to
economic and political liberation. These Catholics collaborated with Marxists in political and social

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MacGuire and Thomson argue that there are a number of factors that determine whether or not a
religion can promote change successfully. One of these factors is the religion's beliefs. Religions that
emphasis strong moral codes are more likely to produce members who will be critical of a challenged
to social injustice. An example is Christianity being a powerful opponent of the apartheid in South
Africa.…read more


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