Marxist& Feminist


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Assess the extent to which Marxist and Feminist theories help our knowledge
and understanding of religion in society today (33 marks)
To Marx, religion is an illusion which eases the pain produced by exploitation and
oppression. It is a serious of myths that justify and legitimate the subordination of
the subject class and the domination and privilege of the ruling class. Religion is the
distortion of reality that provides many of the deceptions which form the basis of
rulingclass ideology and class conscience.
Similar to this, feminist theories of religion follow Marxist theories in arguing that
religion can be an instrument of domination and oppression. However, unlike
Marxist, they tend to see religion as a product of patriarchy rather than a product of
capitalism. They perceive religion as serving the interests of men rather than those
of the capitalist class.
French Feminist Simone de Beauvoir argues that, religion acts for women in a very
similar way to those in which Marx suggested religion could act for oppressed
classes. De Beauvoir says, `there must be a religion for women as there must be one
for the common people, and for exactly the same reasons'. Religion can be used by
the oppressors (men) to control the oppressed group (women) and it also serves as a
way of compensating women for their secondclass status.
Furthermore Beauvoir notes that men have generally exercised control over
religious beliefs. She says, `man enjoys the advantage of having God endorse the
code he writes'. That code uses divine authority to support male dominance, she
elaborates `for the Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians, among others, man is the
master by divine right the fear of God will therefore repress any impulse towards
revolt in the downtrodden female'.
Analogously, Marxist Engles compares some of the early Christian sects that
opposed Roman rules to communist and socialist political movements. He says
`Christianity got hold of the masses exactly as modern socialism does, under the
shape of a variety of sects'. While Christianity originated as a way of copying with
exploitation among oppressed groups, it could become a source of resistance to the
oppressors and thus a force for change.
However Engles later identified that any glimmers of change that some new
religious movements demanded were doomed to failure due to the emphasis on
supernatural power ­ divine intervention. Hence, like Marx's proletariat, women are
not able to strive for a change due to the concept of `Gods will'.
The strong amount of conformity within a religion forbids such movements by
reinforcing inequality and perceiving those wanting a change as `deviant'.
How sociologist Andrew Holden argues the 21st century appears to show a
significant decline in religious participation in Western countries, and an acceptance

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In Marx's words, `religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a
heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people'.
To elaborate, religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain produced by oppression. This
does nothing to solve the problem but is simply a misguided attempt to make life
more bearable. As such religion merely stupefies its adherents rather than bringing
them true happiness and fulfilment.…read more

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For example in the 19th century America, Ellen white founded the stillflourishing
Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Additionally Marxists have been critised as many have rejected that their view is the
primary role of religion. NeoMarxist's avoid this criticism by admitting the
possibility that religion can open the eyes of the oppressed to the reality of their
situation. And this in turn can encourage them to take action to end their oppression.…read more

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Saadawki's ideas are similar to that of Marx's as he saw religion as a social
construction, by this he meant that the ideas and beliefs of religion arose from the
thoughts and desires of humans, rather than from and external, supernatural source.
In Marx's ideas stemmed from that of Feuerbach's, they believed that religion was
constructed from the ideas and values of different societies and projected on to
supernatural forces or deities.…read more

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Durkheim's study on Aborigines supported his theory as it concluded that during
times of uncertainty, religious beliefs and practises came into play, whilst
During certainty religious beliefs declined. Periodically the clan organised a
ceremonial ritual. Rituals form an important part of Durkheim's understanding of the
role of religion in society. The ceremonial and rituals are essential because of the
way in which they serve to bind people together.…read more

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Similarly Feminist Helen Watson's ideas imply that religious duties are becoming
more of a revolutionary force rather than an obligation.
She argues that religion oppresses women into living life in a particular way, whether
they agree to or not.…read more

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This ties with Maduro's idea, as even though the veil is a minor act of a revolutionary
force it shows that not all women wear the veil as an obligation.
However Parsons would argue against Watsons and Maduro's ideas as he believed
that religion provided and legitimated core values of a culture, by doing so it
promoted social solidarity and provided answers to eternal questions.…read more


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