Sociology - Beliefs in Society:

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  • Created on: 10-12-15 19:15

Religion and Social Change:

Feminism, New Right Theorists, Marxism and Functionalists all say that religion inhibits social change. Weber and Social Action Theorists say that religion initiates social change. Neo-Marxists say it can both encourage and discourage social change.

Main Theories:

Functionalists say it acts as a social glue, part of a clockwork, interlocked society (organic analogy) and it reminds people that they are part of a united group.

Feminists say it acts to keep women in place as second class citizens and then legitimises it by saying they'll recieve other-worldly rewards i.e. going to Heaven in the after life.

Marxists say it acts to keep the working class down and keep capitalism going by legitimising their suffering by saying things like "easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven..."

Neo-Marxists say that it can both encourage and discourage change by either being a tool used by the r/c to convince the w/c its good; it can also help give a voice to the w/c i.e. Liberation Theology.

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Religion and Social Change:

Compensation:                                                                                                                                           How religion makes life bearable. The way that religion sooths pain and distorts reality. This prevents the w/c from wanting change.

Social Control:

How religion makes the w/c conform. It involves a fear of being punished if they stray from religious guidance. This religious guidance serves the r/c.

Agent of Legitimation:

How religion promotes hierarchy and a respect for those in power. Religion justifies inequality and says that this is natural.

Roles of religion serve the interest of the r/c therefore it acts as a conservative force to maintain society and prevent social change.

Marx: “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature… the soul of the soulless… it is the opium of the people.”

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Religion and Social Change:

Adapts Marx’s ideas however, it adjusts the ideas of Marxism and fixes the problems of the theory. Neo-Marxists disagree that religion is under the control of the ruling class. It has relative autonomy which is the independence of religion from the state.

Gramsci (1971) -r/c need to maintain control, they must persuade the masses that everything is good and fair - hegemony. Hegemony is the ideological control of the elite over the masses. Religion can develop support and or guidance for challenges the r/c; this is because religion has relative autonomy. If the church joins with the academics with experience of the struggles of the w/c they can initiate change. Strengths of Neo-Marxism: it adapts Marx's ideas and addresses the weaknesses of Marxism, it also sees religion as logical, helping both the r/c and the w/c. It attempts to overcome the determinism of Marxism. They stress relative autonomy and hegemony. It shows religion can help provide focus for rebellions and social challenges.

Maduro (1982) – supports the idea of relative autonomy; the church can provide guidance for the oppressed in the struggle with r/c i.e. liberation theology in Latin America.

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Religion and Social Change:

Weber and social change: Unlike Marx and Durkheim he conducted major studies into all major religions except Islam, this could have effected his view. In the study The Protestant Ethic: The Spirit of Capitalism, he compares Western religions to Eastern religions to explain the rise of capitalism. Weber challenges the materialism and economic determinism of Marxist theory. Weber notes how society is shaped by human ideas rather than action directed by ideology that is manipulated by economic elite. Weber and industrialisation.

Christianity is a salvation religion = struggle against sin = the rise of capitalism.

Eastern religions are at harmony with the world = passivity = less likely to change and create capitalism.

Weber is a social action theorist, and seems to be at war with Marx's ghost, i.e. Marx = economy > change in religion whereas Weber = change in religion > economy.

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Religion and Social Change:

Weber challenges the materialism and economic determinism of Marxist theory. Weber notes how society is shaped by human ideas rather than action directed by ideology that is manipulated by economic elite. Weber and industrialisation:

Weber studied how societies “took off.” Interested in the variables that led to economic growth and the rise of the industrial society. He conducted a comparative analysis of many societies and identified the main factor that caused the birth of the industrial age… was Protestantism. More precisely… ASCETIC CALVINISM > THE RISE OF WESTERN CAPITALISM.

The importance of Calvinism:

The elect – chosen to go to heaven, set by birth before God, predestination.

This led to psychological problem – “How did a Calvinist know that they had been chosen?”

Solution – only the chosen would live a good life on Earth so “Model behaviour” was the goal. This behaviour was known as the Protestant Ethic: strict self discipline, austere lifestyle and abstinence from pleasure.

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Religion and Social Change:

Weber says that the protestant ethic is what leads to capitalism.

“Calling” – humans have a calling and this is their career, their way to please God. Hard work in one’s career would be a sign of obedience and respect to God. Which is similar to capitalism.

“Making money” – this was a sign of success and that you were pleasing God.

However, you had to be “frugal.” People could not waste their wealth on luxuries and money should be reinvested into business.

Protestants disapproved of:

  • time wasting
  • laziness
  • sports for entertainment
  • hedonism
  • sex (procreation only)
  • gossiping and sleeping more than necessary
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Religion and Social Change:

The spirit of Capitalism: People have always sought money (pirates and prostitutes) which was at odds with capitalism. Speculation = gambling = frivolous = personal consumption. You become comfortable = no urge to stretch yourself.

Ascetic Protestantism attitude to wealth:

This lead to more profit and wealth being created which aided the rise of capitalism which meant more investment. Capitalism is based on rational organisation and action, a degree of self control and planning.

Effects of Protestant Ethic –

These ethics lead to duties/obligations that equal a methodological, single minded pursuit of a calling.

The death of religion: Protestantism would sow the seeds of its own downfall. Rationale attitude of life would lead to accumulating wealth for wealth’s sake which is seen as anti-protestant ethic. This would result to “worship of the mammon” which is regarded as an evil influence or false object of worship and devotion.

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Religion and Social Change:


  • Calvinism was against the pursuit of wealth (Stombart
  • Many Calvinist nations were slow to develop
  • Calvinism emerged where industry had already developed (Kautsky)
  • Exclusion – not Calvin faith but their exclusion from mainstream society that was the key
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Religion and Social Change:

Religion as a conservative force:

  • Conservative beliefs: oppose changes that allow freedom in personal and sexual matters. e.g Catholic Church forbids divorce, abortion etc. upholding traditional family values. 
  • Conservative functions: maintains status quo (Marxist, Functionalist and Feminist.) Religion and consensus: religion maintains social stability, helps people deal with stress etc. Marxism and Feminism: religion acts as a mean of social control, stability in the interests of the powerful the ruling class and men, respectively). 
  • Marxists think that religion is used as an "opium of the people" which implies that they are asleep and under control of religion to maintain capitalism.
  • Feminists think religion is a highly oppressive institute that focuses on legitimising women as a second class through religion with otherworldy rewards i.e. access to Heaven.
  • Feminists and Marxists both agree religion is a conservative force but that it is wrong and bad for society, specifically the working class and females.
  • Functionalists think it is a conservative force but that it is a good thing, maintain social norms and rules, the status quo, and keeping everything running smoothly and stable as a part of its organic analogy.
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