Sociology- Social Change


Religion as a conservative force

Religion can be seen as a conservative force due to its traditional values and customs, with its institutions and roles upholding traditional beliefs about how society should be organised. It also functions to preserve things as they are, stablising society and maintaining the status quo. 

Functionalists see religion as a conservative force as it functions to maintain social stability and prevents society from disintegrating.

Marxists see religion as a conservative ideology that prevents social change by legitimising exploitation and maintaining the false consciousness of the working class.

Feminists see religion as an ideology that legimitises patriarchal power and maintains womens subordination in the family and in wider society.

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The American Civil Rights Movement vs New Christia

Steve Bruce (2003) compared The American Civil Rights Movement with The New Christian Right in regards to how they tried to change society. 

A.C.R.M: The black clergy took the moral high ground and pointed out the hypocracy of white clergy who preached 'love thy neighbour'. The Black church also channelled dissent as religion provided channels for religious dissent, acting as an honest broker. The Churches themselves also provided a safe place for the black community to meet and sing in the face of violence. They also mobilised public opinion by successfully campaigning for support across America. THE MOVEMENT WAS SUCCESSFUL AS THE VIEWS WERE ALIGNED IN AMERICAN SOCIETY.

T.N.C.R: They wanted to prevent the liberisation of America and take America back to God, wanting abortion, homosexuality and divorce illegal. These views did not align with the values of American society today. They gained support due to their campaigns since the 70's, using media to attract attention, and support the republication party who cooperate with their views. THE MOVEMENT IS NOT SUCCESSFUL AS THEIR VIEWS DO NOT ALIGN WITH TODAY'S SOCIETY.

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Weber- religion as a force for change

Max Weber (1905) conducted a study of the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Weber argues that Calvanism- a type of protestantism- helped bring major social change, such as the emergence of modern capitalism in Nothern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. This is due to the Calvanist's distinct beliefs:

  • Predestination
  • Divine Transcendence
  • Asceticism
  • The idea of vocation or calling

Calvanists led a lifestyle shunning luxery, with rigerous self discipline. This meant:

  • The wealth accumilated due to extensive working perfomed a pyschological function as it allowed them to cope with their salvation panic, taking the sign of wealth as coming from God.
  • Due to their work ethic they accumilated wealth by the most efficiant means possible, not spending it on themselves but instead investing, bringing capitalism.
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Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology emerged within the Catholic Church of Latin American with strong commitment to the poor and opposition to military dictatorship with an emphasis in on ‘praxis’; practical action guided by theory. The liberation theology set out to change society and high oppression. In the 1980’s Pope John Paul II condemned liberation theology on the grounds that it resembled Marxism and it’s since lost influence.


Casanova:Liberation theology played an important role in bringing about democracy

Maduro: Believe religion can be revolutionary force that brings social change

Lowy: Questions Marx’s view that religion always legitimates social inequality

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The term hegemony refers to the way the capitalist class are able to use ideas to maintain control.

Hegemony is never guaranteed, it is always possible for the working class to develop an alternative vision – counter hegemony

Like Engles, Gramsci saw religion as having a duel character. Popular forms of religion can help workers see through the hegemony by offering a vision of a better world. Some clergy may act as organic intellectuals. They help the workers to see the situation and support working class organisation e.g. Trade unions.

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Marxists recognise that ideas can have relative autonomy, they can be partly independent of the economic base of society

Engels: Although religion inhibits change by disguising inequality, it can challenge the status quo and encourage social change 

Bloch: Religion has a duel character. It can inhibits social change but also inspire protest, rebellion, ‘a principle of hope’. Images of utopia can sometimes deceive people but they can also encourage the creation of a better world 

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Millenarian Movements vs The Pentecostal Challenge

Millenarian Movement: Refers to the idea that Christ will return and rule for a thousand years before the Day of Judgment and the end of the world. The appeal is largely to the poor as they promise immediate improvement. Worsley studied movements in Melanesia known as cargo cults. The islanders felt deprived when ‘cargo’ arrived for the colonists. These cults asserted that the cargo was meant for the islander and that this social injustice was going to be overturned. These movements combined elements of traditional beliefs with Christianity. Worsley described them as ‘pre political’, they used religious ideas but united native populations.

Pentecostal challenge: LEHMANN contrasted the competition of Pentecostal churches in Latin America.

  • The Liberation Theology offers an option religious people to raise money for the poor of the community, campaigning for change.
  • Pentecostalism offers an option for the poor of the community pulling themselves out of poverty through their own efforts. Trying to help themselves.
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