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Marxist Theories of Religion Evidence of patriarchy (cont)
Feminists argue that women have not always been
subordinate within religion ­ Armstrong argues that early
Marxists see all societies as divided into two classes ­ one Evaluation religions often placed women at the centre. Earth mother
whom exploits the labour of the other. In a modern capitalist Marx shows how religion may be a tool of oppression that goddesses, fertility cults and female priesthood were found
society the capitalist class own the means of production and masks exploitation but he does ignore the positive functions throughout the Middle East and were seen to be fairly
exploit the people working for it. of religion ­ such as psychological adjustment to common until about 6,000 years ago.
In a society such as this there is the potential for class misfortune. While religion may be used to oppress women Saadawi
conflict and Marx predicted that the working class would Althusser rejected the concept of religion linking with argues that it is not the direct cause of their subordination ­
become conscious of their exploitation and unite to alienation because it is unscientific and based on an idea rather this is the result of patriarchal forms coming into
overthrow capitalism. that humans have a `true self.' existence over the last few thousand years. When is was in
Marxism sees religion as a feature of a class-divided society Religion doesn't function effectively as an ideology to existence, however, it began to influence and re-shape
and as such there will be no need for religion when there is a control the population ­ in pre-capitalist society Christianity religion. Therefore, religion today contributes to the
classless society. only had a limited impact on the peasants. oppression of women and the rise of monotheism
legitimates the power that men hold over women in society
today.
Religion as ideology
Ideology, for Marx, is a belief system that distorts peoples
perception of reality in a way that serves the interest of the
ruling class. He argues that the class that controls this also
Feminist Theories Woodhead: religious feminism
Woodhead criticises feminist explanations that equate
controls the production and distribution of ideas in society
through the media etc.
Religion operates as an ideological weapon to legitimate the
of Religion religion with patriarchy and the oppression of women. She
emphasises that, whilst traditional religion is patriarchal,
that it is not true of all religion. She argues that there are
suffering of the working class. It misleads the poor into religious forms of feminism ­ when women use religion to
thinking that their suffering is inevitable and that it comes Evidence of patriarchy
Religious organisations are predominately male dominated gain greater freedom.
from God. Religion tells them that if they suffer they will be For example, she uses the idea of the hijab. Western
favoured when they get to heaven (easier for a camel to despite the fact that women participate more than men.
For example, Catholicism forbids women for becoming feminists tend to see this as a symbol of oppression but
pass through the eye of a needle....) Woodhead argues that some Muslim women choose to
Ideas like this create a false consciousness ­ distorted view priests. Armstrong sees the exclusion of women as evidence
of their marginalisation. wear it as a symbol of freedom and to escape the confines
of reality that prevents the poor from acting to change their of the home ­ for them the hijab is a symbol of liberation
situation. Places of worship often segregate the sexes and marginalise
women ­ in some cases they are seated behind screens, that means they can enter the public sphere.
Lenin describes religion as a spiritual gin ­ like an intoxicant Women also use religion to gain status and respect for their
which confuses the working class and keeps them in their whilst men occupy the more sacred spaces. Their
participation may also be limited ­ for example they might roles and respect for them. Belonging to an evangelical
place. In his view, the ruling class use religion to help keep group, for example, can be empowering for some women.
the working class from overthrowing them by creating a not be able to read from the sacred texts. In Islam a woman
who is menstruating is not allowed to touch the Qu'ran ­ Despite the strong belief in traditional gender roles that
`mystical fog. these groups hold, women are able to use religion to
Holm describes this as the devaluation of women in
contemporary religion. increase their power and influence. A strongly held belief
Sacred texts often feature the doings of key male figures ­ among evangelicals is that men should respect women ­
Religion and alienation
such as gods and prophets. Stories may also feature anti- this gives women the power to influence the behaviour of
Marx also sees religion as the product of alienation ­ under
female stereotypes such as the story of Eve in the bible who men.
capitalism workers are alienated because they do not own
caused humanities fall from grace and got them expelled The position of women within some religions is actually
what they produce so they have no freedom to express their
from the Garden of Eden. changing which is something that should be noted. For
true nature.
Religious laws and customs might give women fewer rights example, the Church of England has permitted the
Religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain of exploitation but
than men as well ­ for example, access to divorce, the ordination of women to become priests since 1992 and
it just masks the pain rather than treating the underlying
number of people they marry, decision making and dress more recently has allowed women to become Bishops. The
cause ­ because religion is just offering a distorted view of
codes. The influence of religion might also lead to things number of female priests is catching up with the number of
the world it can offer no solution to earthy misery. Instead it
such as FGM or punishment for sexual transgressions. Many male priests as well ­ with about 1/5 of all Church of
promises the afterlife which gives an illusionary happiness to
religions will legitimate the traditional role that women England priests being female. This figure is also expected to
the working class ­ it distracts their attention from the true
have to comply with ­ in the Catholic church abortion is rise.
source of suffering. Therefore Marx sees religion as a
product of alienation ­ acting as consolation for suffering. banned as is contraception.…read more

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Religion as a conservative force Hinduism and Confucianism
Weber was not arguing that Calvinist beliefs were the cause
of modern capitalism, rather they were one of its causes.
Religion can be seen as a conservative force in 2 different The protestant ethic was not sufficient on its own to bring
ways:
Weber: religion as
1. It is traditional ­ defends traditional customs,
institutions, moral views and roles ­ it UPHOLDS
modern capitalism into being. On the other hand, a number
of material and economic factors were necessary such as an
economy and natural resources.
force for change
traditional beliefs about the way society should be Weber also notes that there have been a number of other
organised. societies that have had a higher level of economic
2. It functions to conserve and preserve things as they are ­ development but that they still failed to develop modern
it MAINTAINS the status quo. capitalism. For example, ancient China and India were more
Religion is also seen to be a force for social change. In his advanced materially in the 16th century but capitalism did
study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism not take off there. Weber argues that this is because of a
Religion's conservative beliefs Weber argues that religious belief helped to bring about lack of a religious belief system ­ this, he argues, would
Most religions have traditional conservative beliefs about major social change ­ the emergence of modern capitalism have brought about capitalism.
moral issues and many of them oppose changes that would in the 16th and 17th century. He notes that many past Hinduism, in ancient India, was an ascetic religion which
allow individuals more freedom in personal and sexual societies had capitalism in the sense that they wanted favoured the renunciation of the material world ­ its
matters. For example, the Catholic church forbids divorce, wealth but that the modern system is unique because it is orientation however was other-worldly ­ its followers
abortion and contraception. It also opposes gay marriage based on the systematic, efficient and rational pursuit of concerns were directed away from the material world and
and is against homosexual behaviour. profit for its own sake rather than for the sake of towards the spiritual world. In China, Confucianism was a
Also, most religions are similar in that they uphold family consumption. this-worldly religion that directed its followers to a material
values and favour (often ­ not always) a traditional world and unlike Hinduism and Calvinism was not ascetic.
patriarchal division of labour. It is often the belief that the Both Hinduism and Confucianism lacked the drive to
Calvinist beliefs systematically gain wealth that was needed for modern
man should be the head of the family and this is seen to be
Predestination is the belief that God has already capitalism.
backed up in the traditional marriage ceremony of the
predetermined what souls would be saved and that
Church of England ­ the bride vows to `obey' whereas the
individuals could do nothing to change this ­ God's decision
man does not. Having said this, since 1966 the bride has
is made and cannot be altered. Evaluation
been allowed to drop this part if she wants.
Divine transcendence ­ God is so far about and beyond the Weber's work is described as a debate with the work of
This is also seen in non-Christian religions such as Hinduism
world as well as being greater than any moral being so no Marx ­ Marx saw economic or material factors as the
where male authority is endorsed and there are arranged
human can claim to know his will (apart from what is said in driving force of change whereas Weber argues that they are
marriages.
the bible). This included the church and priests which is why not enough to bring about capitalism because it also
the Calvinists felt `an unprecedented inner loneliness'. This, needed specific cultural factors.
combined with predestination led to salvation panic ­ Marxists have their own criticism of Weber ­ Kautsky
Religion's conservative functions
where they wouldn't know if they had been saved and they argues that Weber overestimates the role of ideas and
Functionalists see religion as a conservative force because it
couldn't do anything to change the choice of God. underestimates economic factors in bringing about
functions to maintain social stability and prevents society
Asceticism refers to abstinence, self-discipline and self- capitalism ­ he argues that capitalism came before
from disintegrating. It creates a value consensus and reduces
denial ­ monks lead an ascetic existence by devoting Calvinism.
the likelihood of society collapsing due to individuals
themselves to God and leaving behind any possessions to Tawney argues that technological change (as opposed to
pursuing their own selfish interests. In contrast, Marxists and
do so. Before Calvinism the idea of a religious vocation religious ideas) caused the birth of capitalism ­ it was only
feminists see religion as an ideology that is used as a means
meant renouncing every day life to join a convent etc ­ this after capitalism was established that the bourgeoisie
of social control and helps to maintain the status quo.
is called other-worldly ascetism. For the Calvinists the idea adopted the Calvinist beliefs to legitimate their pursuit of
Marx sees religion as a conservative ideology that prevents
of a calling meant constant, methodical work in an economic gain.
social change ­ it creates stability in the interests of the most
occupation but this could not earn salvation ­ for this Weber has also been criticised because capitalism did not
powerful and prevents a revolution by masking exploitation
reason they lead an ascetic life and had 2 consequences: develop in every country where they were Calvinists. For
and inequality. This helps to maintain the stability of the
1. Their wealth and success performed a psychological example, Scotland had a large Calvinist population but they
capitalist society.
function and allowed them to cope with salvation panic. were slow to develop capitalism. However some, such as
Feminists see religion as a conservative force because it acts
2. Driven by their work ethic they systematically and Marshall, argue that this is because of a lack of investment
as an ideology that legitimates patriarchal power and
methodically accumulated wealth by the most efficient capital and killed labour ­ this supports the view of Weber
maintains the subordination of women ­ this is seen both in
ways possible ­ they then reinvested and so on, bringing that both material and cultural factors need to be present
the family and wider society.
modern capitalism into the world. for capitalism to emerge.…read more

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Religion and social protest Liberation theology
This is a movement that emerged within the Catholic
Church and had a strong commitment to the poor and was
The American civil rights movement The New Christian Right opposed to military dictatorship. This was a huge change of
Bruce describes the civil rights movement and the struggle This is a politically and morally conservative movement with direction for the church and the factors that lead to its
of the blacks at that time as an example of religiously very ambitious aims. They want to take America `back to emergence were:
motivated social change. Even though slavery had been God' doing things such as making divorce, abortion and - More rural poverty and the growth of urban slums
abolished in 1865 blacks were denied basic rights and in homosexuality illegal. They strongly believe in the traditional - Abuse of human rights following military takeovers such
many Southern states enforced segregation laws which family and gender roles as well. as false imprisonment and death squads
prevented black people from using the same amenities as However, despite having their profile raised in recent years - A growing commitment among Catholic priests to an
whites. Schools were also segregated and inter-racial (due to things like the media) they have been largely ideology that supported the poor and oppressed.
marriages were banned. unsuccessful in achieving their aims: The emphasis within this is on praxis ­ practical action
- They only ever had a 15% majority at most. guided by theory. Unlike traditional Catholicism which
It began in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back - The campaigners find it difficult to cooperate with people supported the status quo, liberation theology wanted to
of the bus when a white person got on. Campaigning from other religious groups even if they campaign on the change society. The priests helped to establish `base
involved direct action by black people and included things same issues. communities' which helped workers and poor people to
like protest marches and demonstrations. - They lack widespread support from other organisations. fight oppression with the help of the church. For example,
Bruce describes them as a failed movement for change they set up things like literacy programmes and educating
Bruce says that the black clergy were the backbone of the because despite the support they have not achieved their the poor about their situation.
movement. They were lead my Dr Martin Luther King and aim. Many surveys show that most Americans are During the 1970s the priests resisted the state terror in
together religion and the church gave support and provided comfortable with legalising activity they believe are immoral Latin America. They were often the only authority figures
meeting places where the blacks could be free from the such as abortion, homosexuality and they are unwilling to who stood by the poor and oppressed. However, during the
threat of white violence. Things like prayer meetings and accept other people's definitions of how they should live 1980s the Churches official attitude changed ­ Pope John
singing hymns helped to keep the community united their lives. This poses a huge problem to the New Christian Paul II condemned liberation theology because it resembled
throughout. Also, Bruce claims that the clergy were able to Right who, as Bruce points out, are trying to tell people how Marxism and instructed the priests to focus on pastoral
shame the white people by using Christian values of love and they should and should not live. activity rather than political struggle.
acceptance that they supposedly shared. Since then it has lost its influence but as Casanova
emphasises it plays an important part in resisting state
terror and brought about democracy in Latin America ­
In this context, religion is seen as an ideological resource ­ it
provided beliefs etc that people could use for motivation
and support. There are a number of ways that religious
Marxism, religion most of the countries now have democratically elected
governments. Despite the conservative nature of the
Catholic church, they still defend the democracy and rights
organisations are well equipped to support protests:
1. Take the moral high ground ­ black clergy pointed out the
hypocrisy of the white clergy who ignored core Christian
and change that were achieved in this movement.
The success of liberation theology has led some neo-
Marxists to question the view that religion is always a
values like `love your neighbour'. Marxists are often thought of as seeing religion as a conservative force. Otto Maudro believes that religion can
2. Channelling dissent ­ religion provides a place to do this. conservative ideology ­ a set of ruling-class ideas that are be a revolutionary force that brings about change and Lowy
Martin Luther King, for example, was a rallying point for the shaped by and legitimate class inequalities in the economic questions the view of Marx that religion always legitimates
cause. base. However this is not the case. They can have relative social inequality.
3. Acting as an honest broker ­ churches can provide context autonomy ­ they are partly independent of the economic Liberation theology may have helped to bring about
for negotiating change because they are often respected by base of society. As a result religion can have a duel democracy but it did not threaten the stability of capitalism.
both sides in a conflict. character and sometimes be a force for change. For
4. Mobilising public opinion ­ black churches in the South example, Marx doesn't see religion as entirely negative,
successfully campaigned for support across America. saying it is the `heart of a heartless world'.
Bloch sees religion as having a duel character and argues for *Utopia - these images can sometimes deceive people with
Bruce sees the civil rights movement as an example of a view of religion that recognises both the positive and promises of rewards in heaven but they may also help
religion becoming involved in a secular struggle and helping negative influences on social change. He accepts that people see what needs to be changed in this world.
to bring about change. In his opinion the movement religion sometimes inhibits change but emphasises that it Therefore, religious belief may create a vision of a better
achieved its aims as it had the same shared values as the can also be something that inspires protest. For Bloch it is world which, combined with political organisation, can
people in power. something that inspires utopia* bring social change.…read more

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MARXISM, RELIGION AND CHANGE (CONT) Religion and class conflict (cont)
2. Organisation ­ the miners were able to use independent
churches to hold meetings and organise whereas the textile
Millenarian movements Gramsci: religion and hegemony workers lacked these kinds of connections. They remained
As religion raises the hope of a better world in the afterlife it Gramsci is interested in how the ruling class maintain their in the company churches that were under the control of the
can also create a desire to change things here and now. For control over society through the use of ideas rather than owners of the textile mills.
example, people want to bring about the kingdom of God on simply using coercion. He uses the term hegemony to refer to 3. Support- the churches kept miners' morale high with
earth. the way that they ruling class are able to use ideas like supportive sermons, prayer meetings and group singing.
religion to maintain control. By hegemony, he means However, to contrast this the textile workers who engaged
Millenarian movements take their name from `millennium' ideological domination/leadership of society. When it is in union activity met with opposition from local church
which means a thousand years. In theology this refers to the established the ruling class can rely on popular consent to leaders who saw themselves as communist.
idea that Christ would come back into the world to rule the their rule meaning there is less need for force to be applied. Billings shows that religion was an important factor
world for a thousand years before the Judgement Day. As When he was writing in Italy in the 20s and 30s he noted that affecting the level of class struggle but notes that other
Worsley said, movements like this expect the total and the immense conservative power of the Catholic Church factors played a role. For example, mining relies on
imminent transformation of the world and this will create a helped to win support for the fascist regime of Mussolini. teamwork and the miners have to rely on each other for
heaven on earth which consists of things like a life free from However, despite this, hegemony is never guaranteed. It is safety. This can partly explain their stronger sense of social
pain, sin and imperfection. The judgement will be collective always possible that the working class will develop and solidarity in opposing their employers.
meaning that the whole group will be saved. alternative vision of how society should be organised ­ this He concludes that religion can play a strong oppositional
leads to a counter hegemony. Like Engels, Gramsci sees that role and his study shows that the same religion can be
The appeal of these movements is largely to the poor religion has a duel character and notes that in some cases it called upon to either defend the status quo or justify the
because they promise immediate improvement and often can challenge, not only support, the ruling class. He argues struggle to change it.
arise in colonial situations. Colonialism in Europe led to that popular forms of religion can help workers see through
economic exploitation and cultural and religious domination. the ruling class hegemony by offering a vision of a fairer
For example, Christian missionaries often had schools with a world. Some clergy may also act as organic intellectuals ­
strong religious emphasis which dominated a lot of cultures. meaning they can help workers see the situation they are in
However, at the same time it shattered traditional tribal and and support their organisations such as trade unions.
social structures of the colonised people.
Worsley studied the Millenarian movements of the cargo Religion and class conflict
cults. The Melanesia islanders felt deprived when cargo Billings applies the ideas of Gramsci in a case study which
arrived on the islands for the colonists. A series of these compares the class struggle in two communities ­ one of
cults came about in the 1800 and 1900s asserting that the coalminers and the other of textile workers in Kentucky
cargo had been meant for the natives but that it had been during the 20s and 30s . Both of them were working class and
diverted by the whites for themselves ­ they claimed that evangelical protestants. However, they had very different
this unjust social order was to be overturned. levels of strike activity and industrial conflict. The miners
were more militant and struggled for recognition whereas the
Worsley notes that movements combined elements of textile workers were uncomplaining and tended to accept the
traditional beliefs with elements of Christianity ­ such as an status quo.
idea of heaven where the suffering of the righteous will be Billings argues that the differences in less of militancy can be
rewarded and the imminent second coming of Christ. He understood in terms of hegemony and the role of religion. He
describes the movement as pre-political meaning they used identifies three ways where religion either supports or
religious ideas and images but united native populations in challenges the employers hegemony.
mass movements that spanned tribal divisions. 1. Leadership ­ the miners benefited from the leadership of
organic individuals ­ many of them lay preachers who were
Many of the secular nationalist leaders and parties that themselves miners and trade union activists. These clergy
overthrew colonial rule in the 50s and 60s developed out of helped to convert miners to the union cause. On the other
millenarian movements. From the Marxist perspective hand, textile workers lacked such leadership ­ they were
Engels argues that they represent the first awakening of easily influenced by the views of clergy who identified with
`proletarian self-consciousness'. the employers and denounced the unions as being ungodly
organisations.…read more

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Secularisation in Britain EXPLANATIONS OF
SECULARISATION
Based on evidence from the Census of Religious Worship in Religious beliefs today
1951 Crockett estimates that in that year 40% or more of the Evidence about peoples religious beliefs from opinion polls
adult population of Britain attended church on a Sunday. and attitude surveys over the last 60 years show that:
This has lead to some sociologists calling the 19th century a - More people claim to hold Christian beliefs than actually
golden age of religion because the number of people going go to church Sociologists have developed a variety of theories and
to church has declined in a number of ways: - Religious belief is declining along with church attendance concepts to explain the process of secularisation ­ a
- Decline in the proportion of the population going to Gill et al reviewed almost 100 national surveys on religious common theme in these is modernisation which involves
church belief from 1939 to 1996 and found a significant decline in a the decline of tradition and its replacement with a rational
- Increase in the average age of churchgoers belief in a personal God, in Jesus being the Son of God and and scientific way of thinking. Secularisation theory
- Fewer baptisms and church weddings in religious teaching. When asked `would you describe emphasises the effect of social change on religion as well.
- Decline in the number of people holding traditional yourself as being part of any religion/denomination?' 23% For example, industrialisation leads to the break up of small
Christian beliefs replied no in 1950 whereas in 1996 this had increased to communities that were held together by common religious
- Greater religious diversity 43%. beliefs.
Sociologists have put forward different explanations for
these trends and have different conclusions about if Another major theme in the explanations is the growth of
religiosity is declining. social and religious diversity ­ the number of religious
Religious institutions today
Wilson argued that Western society had been undergoing a institutions today is a lot more varied than before and so
The influence of religious institutions has also declined.
long process of secularisation ­ the process whereby people have more options open to them. Sociologists have
Although the church has some influence on public life this
religious beliefs, practices and institutions lose social said that religious practices, as well as churchgoing have
has greatly declined since the 19th century ­ the state has
significance. For example, since the 1851 census church therefore declined.
taken over a lot of the role that the church used to play
attendance had fallen from 40% to around 10-15% in the
since then. Therefore, whilst religion used to be in every
1960s.
aspect of life it is now neglected to the private sphere of the
individual and family. Max Weber: rationalisation
Until the mid 1800s the church provided education but Rationalisation refers to the process where rational ways of
Church attendance today since then it has mainly been provided by the state. There thinking etc come to replace the religious ones. Many
The trends that Wilson identified have continued today. Only are still faith schools but they are mainly funded by the sociologists would argue that Western society has
6.3% of the population attended church on a Sunday in state and they have to conform to certain regulations such undergone a process of rationalisation in the last few
2005. This shows that churchgoing has halved since the as teaching the National Curriculum. Also, although it is centuries. The most important person to explain this is
research in the 1960s and it predicted to fall further. Sunday required for schools to hold a daily act of worship a survey Weber who argues that the protestant reformation which
school attendance has also now fallen and only a small in 2005 found that over half of secondary schools in Wales was started by Martin Luther in the 1500s started a process
proportion of children now attend. failed to do so. of rationalisation in the West. This undermined the religious
One measure of institutional weakness from the church is view from the Middle Ages and replaced it with scientific
The English Church Census shows that attendance and shown in the number of clergy which dropped from 45,000 outlooks that seemed to be more rational in a modern
membership of large religious organisations like the Church to 34,000 in 2000 ­ a time when the population doubled. society.
of England have declined more than smaller organisations. Had this kept in pace with population growth then their In Weber's opinion the Medieval Catholic worldview that
However, the growth of these smaller organisations can number would stand at around 80,000. A lack of clergy dominated Europe saw the world as a magical garden. God
make up for the decline of the larger ones. Despite this, means less of an influence on the community. and other spiritual beings and forces (such as angels, the
however, the overall trend is still one of decline. Bruce agrees with Wilson that all evidence on secularisation devil etc) were believed to be present and active and it was
has now been pointing in the same direction for many generally seen that they changed the course of events
Similarly, whilst church weddings and baptisms are more years. He says that `we find that there is a steady and through their supernatural powers and miraculous
popular than attendance at church services on a Sunday, the unremitting decline.' interventions in it.
trend is still one of decline. In 1971, 3/5 of weddings were in He predicts that if the current trends continue then the Humans could try to influence these beings and forces by
a church whereas in 2006 it had gone down to 1/3. Also the Methodist Church will fold around 2030 and by then the magical means such as using prayers or spells, fasting and
baptisms of children fell from 55% in 1991 to 41% in 2005. Church of England will have been reduced to a small going on pilgrimages to try and ensure things like a good
voluntary organisation with a large amount of heritage harvest, protection from evil and good health or the ability
Trends such as these show that Britain is becoming a secular property. to have children.
society.…read more

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