Chapter two - religion and social change

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  • Created on: 26-09-18 19:42

religion as a conservative force

Religion can be seen as a conservative force in two senses:

  • It is often seen as conservative in the sense of being 'traditional', defending traditional customs, institutions, moral views, roles etc. In other words, it upholds traditional beliefs about how society should be organised 
  • It is conservative because it functions to conserve or preserve things as they are. It stabilises society and maintains the status quo.

Religion's beliefs 

Most religions have traditional conservative beliefs about moral issues and many of them oppose changes that would allow individuals more freedom in personal and sexual matters. For example the Catholic church forbids divorce, abortion and artificial contraception. It opposes gay marriage, marriage and condems homosexual behaviour.

Similarly, most religions uphold 'family values' and often favour a  patriarchal domestic division of labour. For example, the belief that the man should be the head of the family was embedded in the traditional marriage ceremony of the Chruch of England dating from 1602. 

Traditional conservative values  also predominate in non-Christain religions. For example, Hinduism endorses male domestic authority and the practice of arranged marriage. 

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religion as a conservative force 2

Religion's functions 

religion is also a conservative force in that it functions to consrve or preserve things as they are and maintain status quo. This view of religion is helf by Functionalists, Marxists and Feminists. Although they all have different perspectives of society, they all argue it contributes to social stability. 

Religion and consensus - Functionalists see religion as a conservative force because it functions to maintain social stability and prevent society from disintegrating. For example, it promotes social solidarity by creating value consensus, thus reducing the likliehood of society collapsing through individuals pursuing their own selfish interests at the expense of others. It also helps individuals to deal with stresses that would otherwise disrupt the life of society. 

By contrast, Marxists and feminists see religion as an idelogy that supports the existing social structure and acts as a means of social control, creating stability in the interests of the powerful. This helps to maintain the status quo by preventing the less powerful from changing things. 

Religion and capitalism -  Marx sees religion as a consrvative ideology that prevents social change. By legitimating or disguising exploitation and inequality, it creates false consciousness in the W/C and prevents revolution, thereby maintaining the stability of capitalist society. 

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Weber: religion as a force for change (1)

We have seen how religion can be a conservative force, but sociologists have also shown it as a force for change. Most famous example - Weber(1905), study of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In it, Weber argues that the religious beliefs of Calvinism (a form of Protestantism founded by John Calvin during the reformation) helped to bring about major social change - specifically the emergence of modern capitalism in N. Europe (16th and 17th C)

Weber notes that many past societies had capitalism in the sense og greed for wealth, which they often spent on luxury consumption. However, modern capitalism is unique, he argues, because it is based on the systematic, efficient, rational pursuit of profit for its own sake, rather than for consumption. Weber calls this the spirit of capitalism. According to Weber, this spirit had what he calss an elective affinity or unconscious similarity to the Calvinist's beliefs and attitudes. Calvinism had several distinctive beliefs. 

Evaluation - Tawney (1926) argues that technological change, not religious ideas, first led to capitalism. The bourgeoisie then adopted Calvinist beliefs to legitimate their pursuit of economic gain.  

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Weber: religion as a force for change (2)

Calvinist beliefs 

- Predestniation God predetermines who will be saved - 'the elect' - and individuals can do nothing to change this.

Divine transcednece God is so far above and beyond this world that no human being could possibly claim to know his will - leaving the Calvinists to feel 'an unprecedented inner loneliness'. This creates what Weber calls a salvation panic among Calvinists. 

Ascetism Abstinence, self discipline and self-denial.

- The idea of a vocation or calling to serve God -meant renouncing everyday life to join a convent or monastery, Weber calls this Other-worldly asceticism. but in the everyday world of work, not in monastery. Calvinism invented this-worldly asceticism, where a vocation means constant, methodical work in an occupation. 


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Weber: religion as a force for change (3)

Calvinists are a group of Catholics who follow a this-worldly ascetic lifestyle and have what is known to be ‘the protestant ethic’ – working hard but shunning all luxuries.

  • Because Calvinists worked hard, they accumulated wealth, however did not spend it on material goods but just reinvested it into their business, which grew, producing more profit to reinvest and so on.
  • Weber believed their work ethic and growth of businesses is the reason capitalism took off (the spirit of modern capitalism)

HOWEVER: Weber was not arguing that Calvinists beliefs were not the cause of modern capitalism, just a contributing factor. The protestant ethic is not sufficient enough to bring about capitalism, economic factors are necessary for example resources, trade, law.

Evaluation - Use Kautsky to criticise Weber for overestimating the role of ideas and underestimating economic factors in bringing capitalism into being. Kautsky argues that capitalism actually came before rather than after Calvinism.

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Hinduism and Confucianism

Weber argued that Calvinist beliefs were only one of capitalism's causes. Certain material or economic factors were necessary, e.g. natural resources, trade, a money economy, towns, a legal system etc.

There have been other socieites with some of these factors, but where capitalism did not take off, due to the lack of a religious belief system like Calvinism. 

  • -Hinduismin ancient India was an ascetic religion, but was other-worldy - directing followers towards the spiritual world. 
  • Confucianism in ancient China, although a this-worldly religion that directed its followers towards the material world, it was not ascetic. 
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evaluation of Weber

-          Marxists have criticised Weber for placing too much focus on religion. Kautsky (1927) argues that he underestimates economic factors in bringing about capitalism.

-          Tawney argues that technological change is the main cause of capitalism, Calvinist beliefs in fact followed capitalism (bourgeoisie adopted them to legitimate their economic gain)

-          Berger supports Weber’s theory, as he argues Pentecostalism plays the same role in encouraging the development of capitalism. He agrees with Weber that something like the protestant ethic is necessary to promote economic growth

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Religion and social protest (civil rights movement

The American civil rights movement 

Bruce (2003) is interested in the relationship between religion and social change. He compared two protest movements.

  • - The movement began in 1955 and direct action through protest marches, boycotts and demontstrations followed until, in 1964, segregation was outlawed. The black clergy led by Dr Martin Luther King were the back bone of the movement. 
  • Bruce sees religion in this context as an ideological resource - beliefs that protesters could draw on for motivation and legitimation. Religious organisations are well equipped to support protests and contribute to change, e.g. by:
  • Taking the moral high ground - pointing out the hypocrisy of white clergy who supported racial segregation. 
  • Channelling dissent, e.g. Martin Luther King's funeral was a rallying point for the civil rights cause. 
  • Acting as honest broker because they are respected by both sides in a conflict and seen as standing above 'mere politics'. 
  • Mobilising public opinion by campaigning for support. 
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Religion and social protest (New Christian Right)

The New Christian Right

The New Christian Right is a political protestant fundamentalist movement which gained importance since the 1960s because of its opposition to the liberalising of American society.

The NCR movement aims to take America ‘back to god’, back to the fundamentals of Christianity, for example;

  • They wish to illegalise abortion, homosexuality and divorce
  • They campaign for the teachings of creationism and to ban sex education in schools

Their campaigns have raised their profile, through effective use of the media and networking, e.g televangelism. The Moral Majority, a right wing pressure group, became the focus for the political party, and strengthened links with the Republican Party.

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Religion and social protest

However despite the high profile in the media, The New Christian Right movement has been largely unsuccessful in achieving its aims. Bruce suggests a number of reasons as to why the campaign failed:

  • The ‘Moral Majority’ was never a majority, just 15% of the population
  • The campaigners make no attempt to cooperate with other religious groups, even when campaigning about the same issue e.g abortion
  • They failed to draw people’s attention as they didn’t connect with wider American society that has democratic and liberal values. These values include a separation of the church and the state, few Americans support theocracy (religious leaders of the country)
  • Studies have shown that Americans are comfortable with legalising activities such as abortion, homosexuality and ***********, and are unwilling to accept other peoples definition of how they live their life

Bruce suggests the main reason the New Christian Right movement failed, and the Civil Rights movement didn’t, is the fact that they failed to connect with the mainstream beliefs about democracy, equality and religious freedom.

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Marxism, religion and change (1)

 Marxists are often thought of seeing religion as an entirely conservative ideology - a set of R/C ideas that are shaped by and legitimate the class inequalities in society's economic base.However this is not the case - Marxists recognise that ideas, including religious ideas, can have relative autonomy - they can be partly independent of the capitalist economic base of society. As a result, religion can have a dual caracter and can sometimes be used as a force for change as well as stability. 

For example, Marx himself does not see religion in entirely megative terms. He sees religion as capable of humanising a world made inhuman by exploitation, even if the comfort it offers is illusory. 

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Marxism, religion and change (2)

Ernst Bloch: the principle of hope

- The Marxists Bloch (1959) : sees religion as having a dual character. He accepts that religion often inhibits change, but argues that it can also inspire protest and rebellion. Religion is an expression of 'the principle of hope' - our dreams of a better life, containing images of utopia. 

- Images of Utopia can sometimes decieve people - e.g. promises of rewards in heaven - but they may also help people to create a vision of a better world and strive for social change. 

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Marxism, religion and change (3)

Liberation Theology (LT) 

 LT is a movement that emerged within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1960s, with a strong commitment to the poor and opposition to the military dictatorships that then ruled most of the continent. 

  • LT emerged because: the growth of rural poverty and urban slums throughout Latin America, and human rights abuses following military take-overs, and the growing commitment among Catholic priests to an idelogy that supported the poor and opposed violations of human rights.
  • LT emphasises 'praxis' - practical action guided by theory.
  • However, in the 1980's the Church's official attitude changed, the conservative Pope John Paul II condemning LT as being akin to Marxism. 
  • However, LT played an important part in resisting dictatorship and bringing about democracy in Latin America. 

Evaluation - Use LT to criticise traditional Marxist views. Neo-Marxist Maduro (1982) argues that LT shows religion can be a revolutionary force. However, though LT helped bring about democracy, it did not threaten capitalism.  

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Marxism, religion and change (4)

Liberation theology - the Pentecostal challenge 

In recent decades, the LT has faced competition from Pentecostal churches, which have made big inroads in Latin America among the poor. David Lehmann (1996) contrasts the 2:

  • Liberation theology - Offers an 'option for the poor' of community consciousness-raising and campainging for social change, led by the revoluntionary priests and nuns. 
  • Pentecostalism -  offers an 'option of the poor' for individuals to pull themselves out of poverty through own efforts, supported by the congregation, and led by the church pastors

Thus, LT offers a radical solution to poverty: collective improvement through political action in the public sphere, while Pentecostalism's solution is conservative: individual self-improvement through the priavte sphere of family and church. 

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Marxism, religion and change (5) Millenarian movem

Millenarian movements 

Millenarian movements are an example of the desire to change things here and now, for example to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Worsley (1968) argues that they expect the total and imminent transformation of this world by supernatural menas, creating heaven on earth -a life free from pain, death, sin, corruption and imperfection. The transformation will be collective - the group will be saved, not just certain individuals. 

- They appeal mainly to the poor because they promise immidiate improvement, and they often arise in colonial situations. 

- European colianilism led to economic exploitation and cultural and religious domination, for example through the Christain missionaries and their schools. At the same time it shattered the traditional tribal social structures and cultures of the colonised peoples. Local leaders lose power and credability when their people are forced to work for colonists who live in luxury. 

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Marxism, religion and change (5) Gramsci

Gramsci: religion and hegemony 

Gramsci (1971) is interested in how the ruling class maintain their control over society through ideas rather than simply through coercion (force). He uses hegemony to refer to the way that the R/C  use ideas such as religion to maintain control. 

- Hegemony - ideological domination or leadership of society - is the way the ruling class are able to use ideas such as religion to maintain control. 

- However, hegemony is never guranteed. It is always possible that the W/C develop an alternative vision of how society should be organised - counter hegemony. Like Engels, Gramsci sees religion as having a dual character and he notes that in some circumstances, it can challenge as well as support the R/C. He argues that popular forms of religion can help workers see through te R/C hegemony by offering a vison of a better, fairer world. 

Similarly some clergy may act as organic intellectuals - that is, as educators, organisers and leaders. They can help workers see the situation they are in and support W/C organisations such as trade unions

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Marxism, religion and change (6) religion and clas

religion and class conflict 

- Billings (1990) applies Gramsci's ideas in a case study comparing class struggle in two communities - coalminers and textile workers - in Kentucky in the 1920s and 1930s. Both were working-class and evangelical Protestant, but the miners were much more militant, struggling for better conditions.

- The differences in levels of militancy can be understood in terms of hegemony and the role of religion. The miners benefited from the leadership of organic intelllectuals - miners who were also lay preachers. 

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