Religion and Social Change


Functionalism - Prevents Social Change

the difference between sacred and profane (Durkheim) - rituals are collective, society itself being a religion, this gives people a sense of belonging, maintaining social order. However, there are no real differences between the sacred and profance, differences are socially constructed

ability to share thoughts - collective conscience brings us closer to the origin on life. This ignores conflicts within religion

cognitive functions of religion (Malinowski) - shared norms and values allows cooperation allowing maintenance of social integration, again this ignores the conflict within religion

uncontrollable life crises - people have a place to turn in hardship, reinforcing social solidarity, this ignores the role of secularisation in modern society, less often do people turn to religion 

legitimates societies central values - the belief system promotes value consensus and social stability. However, this ignores the differences between religions and religion as a source of oppression and conflict 

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Marxism - Prevents Social Change

religion distorts perception of reality - false class consciousness is an ideological weapon that legitmates the suffering the suffering of the poor, however, only 10% of people in momdern society attend church meaning surely it has little ideological power 

religion is a product of alienation - religion dulls the pain of exploitation meaning the working class do not rebel, however, the concept of alineation is unscientific and relys on the principle of 'true self' which rarely exists 

'spiritual gin' - the ruling class use religion to manipulate the masses by confusing them in a 'mystical fog'. However, there are times where religious movements have brought about change and overthrown the ruling class, meaning there cannot be such confusion 

Liberation Theology 

  • catholic church in Latin America committed to the poor and opposed to military dictatorship
  • Casanova - played an active role in resisting state terror, conservation force
  • Maduro - religion can be revolutionary, the radicalised Catholic clergy helped denfend the poor
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Feminism - Prevents Social Change

patriarchal attitudes prevent women from serving in positions of power - teachings benefit males over females, this means gender equality can't be achiced and patriarchy continues/ However, early religions placed heavy focus on women and some religions do allow women to bcome more powerful 

religion gives women false beliefs - religion compensates for suffering on earth, meaning women do not seek salvation in this life

islam givees men an abuse of power - women tend to be the main attenders of religion but their role is completely secondary. 

An overall criticism is that not all religions are equally opressive and religion is entirely dependent on interpretation 

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Interactionism - Causes Social Change

Calivinists believe in predestination - people are damned or saved from the start, meaning that we work to serve our own purpose, however, countries ecist where capitalism ecists and calvinism does not

Weber suggests that religion does justify social inequality (Kautsky) - capitalism created calvinism because they agreed with one another 

Nelson - religion can undermine stability and promote change. Rev Martin Luther King played a leading role is establishing civil rights and legislation aimed at reducing racial discrimination

Iranian Revolution 1979

  • islamic fundamentalists overthrew the monarchy 
  • laws were changed to fit in with islamic teachings 
  • revolution was caused because of religion 
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Social Protest - The New Christian Right

The NCR are a politically and morally conservative Protestant group, they appose the liberation of American Society

They aim to take America 'Back to God' establishing traditional gender roles, using creationist teaching, banning sex education and outlawing homosexuality. 

They are largely unsuccessful as they are only 15% of the country, find it difficult to cooperate with other religions and lacks widespread support


  • failed movement for change
  • protestant fundamentalism will never occur
  • impossible demands in modern society 
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