Religion and Social Change


  • Created by: Natasha
  • Created on: 17-01-10 19:36

Religion and Social Change

  • R can be seen as a conservative force in two different sense:
    • it is traditional, defending traditional customs, insititutions, moral views, role etc. it upholds traditional beliefs about how society should be organised
    • it functions to conserve/preserve things as they are. it stabalises society and maintain the status quo.
  • most Rs have traditional beliefs about moral issues and many oppose changes that would allow individual more freedom. e.g. the Catholic Church forbids divorce, abortion, artificial contraception and homosexulality
  • similarly, most Rs uphold family values and often favour a traditional patriarchal domestic division of labour, e.g man should be head of house
  • traditional conservative values also predominate in non-Christian Rs, e.g. Hinduism endorses make domestic authority

R functions to conserve/preserve things as they are and maintain the status quo

  • R & consensus - functionalists see R as a conservative force because it functions to maintain social stability and prevent society from disintegrating. e.g. it promiese social solidarity by creating value consensus
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  • by contrast, Marxists and feminists see R as an ideology that supports existing social structure and acts as a means on social control
  • R & capitalism - marx sees R as a conservative ideology that prevent social change by creating false consciousness in the WC by disguising exploitation and inequality
  • R & patriachy - feminists see R as a conservative force because it acts as an ideology that legitimates patriarchal power and maintain womens subordinations

Weber: R as a force for change

  • study of the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber argues that the religious beliefs of Calvinism helped to bring about the major social chane
  • many past societies had capitalism in the sense of greed for wealth, which they often spend on luxury consumption
  • modern Capitalism is unique because its based on systematic, efficient, rational pursuit of profit for its own sake, rather than for consumption
  • according to Weber, the Spirit of Capitalism had elective affinity or unconscious similarly to the Calvinist beliefs and attitudes
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Calvinists beliefs

  • predestination - gods decision is already made and cannot be altered
  • divine transcendence - when combined with the doctrine of predestination, this created a salvation panic in the Calvinists. they could not know whether they had been chosen to be saved and couldnt earn their salvation
  • ascetism - refers to abstnence, self-discipline and self denial
  • the idea of a vocation or calling - before Calvinism, this meant renouncing everyday like to join a convent ot monastery. Weber calls this other-worldy ascetism. however, work could not earn salvation, it was simply a religious duty

the Calvinism is hard work and ascetism had two consequences

  • their wealth and success performed a psychological function that allowed them to cope with their salvation panic. they took wealth as a sign of gods favour of their salvation
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  • driven by their work ethic, they systematically and methodically accumulated wealth by the most efficient and rational means possible. they reinvested in their businesses, which prospered. in Webers view, this is the spirit of modern Capitalism. thus, Calvinism brought capitalism into the world

Hinduism and Confucianism

  • the Protestant ethic of Calvinists was not sufficient on its own to bring modern capitalism into being, a number of material or economic factors were necessary, such as natural resources, trade, a money economy, towns and cities, law etc
  • Weber notes that there have been other societies that have had a higher level of economic development but still failed to develop modern capitalism
  • the failure of Capitalism to take off in ancient China and India was due to the lack of religious belief systems that of Calvinism that would have spurred its development
  • in ancient India, Hinduism was an ascetic R, like Calvinism, favouring renunciation of the material world but its orientation was other wordly and was instead directed towards the spiritual world
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  • in ancient China, Confucianism also discouraged the growth of rational Capitalism. it was a this-worldy R that directed its followers toward the material world, but unlike Calvinism, it was not ascetic
  • both Hinduism and Confucianism lacked the drive to systematically accumulate wealth that is necessary for modern capitalism
  • Calvinism was unique in combining ascetism with a this-worldy orientation to enable the spirit of modern capitalism to emerge


  • Marx saw economic/material factors as the driving force of change whereas Weber argues that material factors alone are not enough to bring about capitalism. it also needed specific cultural factors like the beliefs and values of Calvinism
  • Karl Kautsky argues that Weber overestimates the role of ideas and underestimates economic factors in bringing capitalism into being- he argues that in fact capitalism preceded rather than followed Calvinism
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  • Tawney argues that technological change, not religious ideas, caused the birth of capitalism. it was only after calvinism was established that the bourgeoise adopted calvinists beliefs to legitimate their pusuit of economic gain
  • Gordon Marshall argues that capitalism did not develop in every country where there were Calvinism because of a lack of investment capital and skill labour - supporting Webers point that both material and cultural factors need to be present for capitalism to emerge
  • others argue that although Calvinist were among the first of Capitalism, this was because they had been excluded by law from political office and many of the professions. however, Weberians reply that other religious minorities were also excluded in this way but did not become successful capitalists.

R and social protest

  • Bruce is interested in the relationship between R and social change
  • he compares two example of the role of religiosity inspired protest movements in American that have tried to change society, the Civil Right Movement and the New Christian Right;
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the American Civil Right

  • Bruce describes the struggle of the balck civil rights movement of the 1050s to end racial segregation as an example of religiosity motivated social change
  • the civil right movement began on 1955 when Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist refused to sit at the back of a bus, as blacks were expected to do
  • campaigning involved direct action by black people themselves, including protest marches, boycotts and demonstrations. almost a decade later, in 1964 segregation was outlawed
  • bruce describes the black clergy as the backbone of movement. led by Martin Luther King, they played a decisive role, giving support and moral legitimacy to civil rights activists
  • Bruce argues that the black clergy were able to shame whites into changing the law appealing to their shared Christian values of equality
  • Bruce sees R in this context as an ideological resource - it provided beleifs and practices that protesters could draw on for motivation and support
  • he identifies several ways in which religious organisations are well equiped to support protests and contribute to social change
    • taking the moral high ground
    • channeling dissent
    • acting as honest broker
    • mobilising public opinion
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  • Bruce sees the civil rights movement as an example of R becoming involved in secular struggle and helping to bring about change
  • in his view, the movement achieved its aims because it shared values as modern society and those in power
  • it brought about change by shaming those in power to put into practice the principle of equality embodied in the American consitution that all men and women are born equal

the New Christian Right

  • is a politically and morally conservative, Protestant fundamentalist movement
  • it has gained prominince since the 1960s because of its opposition to the liberalising of American society
  • the aims of the New Christian Rights are extremely ambitious, seeking to make abortion, homosexualtiy and divorce illegal, turning the clock back to a time before the liberation of American culture and society began
  • believes strongly in the traditional family and traditional gender roles
  • it campaigns for the teaching of creationism and to ban sex education in schools
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  • these campaigns have made effective use of the media and networking, notably televangelism
  • the Moral Majority, a right wing Christian pressure group became the focus for political compaigning and for strengthening links with the Republican Party
  • Bruce identifies 3 reasons why the New Christian Right has been unsuccessful in achieving its aims
    • the Moral Majority was never a majority but 15% of the popualtion at the most
    • campaigners find it very difficult to cooperate with people from other religious groups
    • New Christian Right lacks widespread support and has had strong opposition
  • Bruce describes the NCR as a failed movement for change despite enormous publicity and a high profile in the media
  • in this view, its attempt to impose Protestant fundamentalist morality on others has failed because of the basically liberal and democratic values of most of American society
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  • numerous surveys show that most Americans are comfortable with legalising activities such as abortion, this poses an enormous problem for the NCR. as Bruce points out, this is an impossible demand to make in a mature democracy
  • comparisons with the civil right movement suggest that to achieve success, the beliefs and demands of religiosity motivated protest movements and pressure groups need to be consistent with those of wider society
  • thus in the American case, they need to connect with mainstream beliefs about democracy equality and religious freedom, which the civil rights movement did but the NCR failed to do

Marxism, R and change

  • Marxists see R as an entirely conservative ideology, they recognise that ideas, including religious idas, can have relative autonomy
  • as a result, R can have a dual character and can cometimes be a force for change as well as stability
  • Marx sees R as capable of humanising a world made inhuman by exploitation, even if the comfprt it offers is illusory
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  • Engels argues that although R inhibits change by disguising inequaltiy, it can also challenge the staus quo and encourage social chance, e.g. R sometimes preaches liberation from slavery and misery
  • Bloch also sees R as having a dual character. he accepts that R often inhibits change but he emphasises that it can also inspire protest and rebellion
  • for Bloch, R is an expression of the principle of hope - our dreams of a better life that contain images of utopia

Liberation theory

  • is a movement that emerged within the Catholic Church in Latin American with a strong commitment to the poor and opposition to military dictatorships
  • was a major change of direction for the catholic church in Latin American
  • factors that led to the emergence of LT were:
    • rural poverty and the growth of urban slums throughout LA
    • human rights abuses following military takeovers, such as false imprisionments, torture and death squads murdering political opponents
    • growing commitment among catholic priests to an ideology that supported the poor and opposed violation of human rights
  • unlike traditional catholic, which supported the status quo, LT set cut to change society
  • priests took the lead in developing literacy programmes, educating the poor about their situations, raising awareness and mobilising support
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  • during the 1970s, catholic priests were often the only authority figures who took the side of the oppressed when dictatorships used murder squads and torture to hold on to power
  • howeverm during the 1980s Pope John Paul II condemned LT on the grounds that is resembled marxism
  • since then, the movement has lost influence
  • Casonova emphasises that LT played an important part in resisting state power or and bringing democracy in Latin America countries
  • the success of LT has led to some neo-marxists to question the view that R is always a conservative force
  • Maduro believes that R can be a revolutionary force that brings about change
  • Lowy questions Marxs view that R always legitimate social inequality
  • both Maduro and Lowy see LT as an example of religiosity inspired social change but others disagree
  • much depend on how social change is defined. LT may have helped to bring about democracy but it did not threaten the stability of capitalism
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Millenarian Movement

  • MM desire to change things here and now
  • MM take their name from the world millennium. in Christian theology this refers to the idea that Christ would come into the world for a second time
    • according to Worsley such movements expect the total and imminent transformation of this world by supernatual means
    • the appeal of MMs is largely to the poor because they promise immediate improvement and often arise in colonial situation. local leaders and local gods lose power and credibilty when their people are forced to work for colonists who live in luxury
    • Worsely studied the MM in Melanesia known as cargo cults. the islanders felts wrongly deprived when cargo arrived in the islands for the colonists. these movements often led to widespread unrest that threatened colonial rule
    • Worsely notes that the movements combined element of traditional beliefs with elements of Christianity
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  • he descrives the movements as pre-political, they used religious ideas and images, but they united native populations in mass movements that spanned tribal division
  • many of the secular nationalist leaders and parties that we to otherthrow colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s developed out of MM
  • similarly, Engels argues that they represent the first awakening of proletarioan self-consciousness

R and hegemony

  • Gramsci is interested in how RC maintain their control over society through the use of ideas rather than simply through coercion.
  • he uses the term hegemony to refer to the way that the RCs are able to use ideas such as R to maintain control.
  • by hegemony, Gramsci means ideological domination or leadership of society
  • when hegemony is established, the RC can rely on popular consent to their rule, so their is less need for coercion
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  • hegemony is never guaranteed , it is always possible for the WC to develop an alternative version of how society should be organised, that is, a counter-hegemony
  • like Engels, Gramsci sees R as having a dual character and notes that in some circumstances, it can challenge as well as support the RC
  • some clergy may act as organic intellectuals who help workers see this situation they are in and support WC organisations such as trade unions

R and class conflict

  • Billings applies Gramscis ideas in a case study comparing class struggle in 2 communities, one of coalminers, the other of textile workers, iin Kentucky.
  • both ere WC and evangelical Protestant, but experienced very different levels of strike activity and industrial conflict
  • the miners were much more military, striggling for recognition of their union and better ocnditions, while the textile workers were quiescent, uncomplainingly accepting the status quo
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  • Billings identifies 3 ways in which R either supported or challenged the employers hegemony
  • leadership
    • miners - benefited from leadership of organic intellectuals
    • textile workers - lacked leaderhsip and so were easily influenced by the views of clergy who identified with the employer and denouned unions as ungodly
  • organisation
    • miners - able to use independent churches to hold meetings
    • tectile workers - lacked such available spaces
  • support
    • miners - moral high with supportive sermons, prayer meetings and group singing
    • textile workers - when engaged in union activity met with opposition from local church leaders
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  • Billings shows that R was an important factor affecting the level of class struggle, but notes that other factors played a role, e.g. mining relies on teamwork and miners have to rely on each other for safety
  • Billings concludes that R can play a prominent oppositional rule
  • his study shows that the same R can be called upon either to defend the status quo or justify the struggle to change it
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Sofiya Mika Sterling


stabilises is spelled wrong.

Tamanna Akhtar


You can't say 'spelled' wrong you say 'spelt' haha 

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