Religion and Social Change

Functionalism, marxism, feminism, contemporary examples, theorists, evaluation. Revision based on the AQA a2 textbook.

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  • Created on: 19-03-13 10:16
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Religion can be seen as a conservative force in two difference senses.
1. Preventing social change.
2. Preserving traditional values & beliefs.
Characteristics usually go together. E.g. leaders of Roman Catholic Church supported traditional sexual principle that
opposes sex outside marriage and abortion. By supporting tradition they are opposing change.
However, religion can sometimes be a force for change by supporting traditional values. E.g. Iran in 1979, the Shah,
who had westernised the country & therefore overthrown traditional Islamic values was replaces by the Ayatollah
Khomeini thus religion caused such at same time as supporting trad. values.
Weber (1920) ­ Religion as a force for change
Argued against Marxist view that religion is always shaped by economy & that religion could lead to social
1905 study of `The Protestant Ethic' and the `Spirit of Capitalism'. In it, argues that `Calvinism' (a form of
Protestantism) helped to bring a major social change ­ the emergence of modern capitalism in Northern
Europe in the 16th & 17th centuries.
Notes that modern capitalism is unique because focus is on profit rather than consumption. He calls this the
`Spirit of Capitalism' which has an elective affinity (unconscious similarity) to the Calvinists' beliefs &
Weber did not argue that Calvinist beliefs were the cause of modern capitalism, simply one of the causes.
Needed economic factors such as resources, trade, money, law system, technology and a skilled and mobile

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Evaluation of Weber
Work often described as a `debate with Marx's ghost' because marx: economic & material factors drive
change. Weber: material factors alone are not enough.
Karl Kautsky (1927) ­ Weber overestimates role of Calvinism & underestimates economic factors in
bringing capitalism. Argues that Calvinism followed capitalism. Religion reflects, not causes change.
R.H Tawney (1926) ­ argues that technological change caused capitalism, then bourgeoisie adopted
Calvinism beliefs to legitimate their pursuit of economic gain.
Capitalism did not develop in every country that had Calvinists.…read more

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Contemporary examples: Religion and Social Protest
However, the following examples show how religion can influence reactionary, backwards-looking social
change.…read more

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Marxism: Religion can be a duel character ­ a force for change and as well as stability. Recognises that religion
can have relative autonomy (partly independent of the economic base of society) ­ duel character as result.
Marx does not see religion in entirely negative terms - he describes it as `the heart of a heartless world'.
Engles (1895) - Argues that although religion inhibits change by disguising inequality, it can also challenge the
status quo and encourage social change. E.g.…read more

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However hegemony is never guaranteed. ­ Refer to liberation theology & Engles.
· Billings (1990) ­ takes Gramsci's ideas in study comparing a class struggle in two communities during 20s-30s.
The three ways in which religion either supported or challenged employers' hegemony were; leadership,
organisation and support. Religion was an important factor, but other factors played a role e.g. teamwork
which explains strong sense of solidarity.…read more


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