Marxism, Religion & Change

  • Created by: Loulour
  • Created on: 02-06-15 19:40

What do they say?

  • Often thought as as an entirely conservative ideology - a set of ruling-class ideas that legitimate class inequalities.
  • however, Marxists recognise that ideas, including religious ideas, can have relative autonomy- they can be partly independent of the capitalist economic base of society.
  • Religion can have a dual character - sometimes being a force for change as well as stability.
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Ernst Bloch: the principle of hope

  • The Marxist Bloch 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 - eg, 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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Liberation Theology

  • LT is a movement that emerged within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1960's.
  • A strong commitment to the poor & opposition to the military dictatorships that then ruled most of the continent.
  • LT emerged b/c of the growth of rural poverty & urban slums throughtout Latin Amercia, & human rights abuses following military take-overs.
  • LT emphasises 'praxis' - practical action guided by theory; eg, priests leading literacy programmes and raising political awareness. Some priests actively resisted state terror.
  • However, in 1980's the Church's official attitude changed, the conservative Pope John Paul II condemned the LT as being akin to Marxism.
  • However, LT played an important part in resisting dictatorship & bringing about democracy in Latin America.
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Millenarian Movements

An example of the desire to change things here and now, to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Worsley - they expect the total and imminent transformation of this world by supernatural means, creating heaven on earth.

  • They appeal mainly to the poor b/c they promise immediate improvement, & they often arise in colonial situations.
  • European colonialism shattered the traditional tribal social structures & cultures of the colonised peoples.
  • Worsley studied the cargo cults - millenarian movements in Melanesia, where islanders felt deprived when 'cargo' arrived in the islands for the colonists.
  • Cargo cults asserted that the cargo had been meant for the natives but had been diverted by the whites for themselves, & that this was about to be overturned.
  • These movements often led to widespread unrest.
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Gramsci: religion & hegemony


Interested in how ruling class maintain their control over society through ideas rather than simply through coercion (force).

  • Hegemony - ideological domination or leadership of society - is the way that the ruling class are able to use ideas such as religion to maintain control.
  • Eg, in Italy in the 20/30s, the conservative ideological power of the Catholic Church helped to win support for the facist regime.
  • However, in some circumastances religion can challenge the ruling class.
  • Eg, it may help the w/c to see through the ruling-class hegemony & some clergy may act as organic intellectuals - leaders who can support working class organisations.
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Religion & Class Conflict

Billings - applies Gramsci's ideas in a case study comparing class struggle in two communities - coalminers & textile workers - in Kentucky in the 20s and 30s. Both were w/c & 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 & the role of religion.

The miners benefited from the leadership of organic intellectuals - miners who were also lay preachers.

He shows that the same religion - evangelical Protestant - can be called upon either to defend the status quo or support and justify the struggle to change it.

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