Religion and Social Change - beliefs in society

  • Created by: maxward
  • Created on: 07-03-16 10:58

Religion as a conservative force

Religion can be seen as a conservative force in two diferent senses:

- Conservative in the sense of 'traditional', e.g. defending traditional customs, institutions, or moral views.

- Conservative becasue its functions to conserve or preserve things as they are, maintaining the status quo. 

Religion's conservative beliefs 

- Most religions have traditional conservative beliefs about moral issues and oppose changes that allow individuals more freedom; e.g. the Catholic Church forbids divorce, abortion and artificial contraception.

- Most religions uphold 'family values', supporting a traditional patriachal domestic division of labour; e.g. Hinduism endorses the practise of arranged marriage. 

Religion's conservative functions 

Religion is also conservative in the second sense of the word - functioning to conserve or preserve things as they are. This view of religion is held by functionalists, Marxists and feminists. In different ways, they argue that it contributes to social stability. 

Religion and consensus 

Functionalists see religion as a conservative force maintaining social stability and preventing disintegration, e.g. promoting social solidarity by creating value consensus and helping individuals deal with disruptive stresses.

Marxists and feminsists see religion as an ideology that supports the existing social structure and as a means of social control in the interest of the powerful:

- Religion and capitalism Marx sees religion as a conservative ideology preventing social change. By legitimating or disguising inequality, it creates false consciousness in the working class and prevents revolution. 

Religion and patriachy Feminsts see religion as a conservative force because it legitimates patriachal power and maintains women's subordination in the family and society. 

Weber: religion as a force for change

Weber (1905) argues that the religious beliefs of Calvinism helped to bring about major social change - the emergence of modern capitalism in Northern Europe. 

- Modern capitalism is unique because it is based on the systematic, efficient, rational pursuit of profit for its own sake, rather than for spending on luxuries. Weber calls this the spirit of capitalism.

This spirit had unconscious similarity to the Calvinists' beliefs and attitudes. Calvinism had several distinctive beliefs. 

Evaluation - Tawney (1926) argues that technological change, not religious ideas, first led to capitalism. The bourgeoisie then adopted Calvinist beliefs to legitimate their pursuit of economic gain.  

Calvinist beliefs

- Predestniation God predetermines who will be saved - 'the elect' - and individuals can do nothing to change this.

Divine transcednece God is so far above and beyond this world that no human being could possibly claim to know his will - leaving the Calvinists to feel 'an unprecedented inner loneliness'. This creates what Weber calls a salvation panic among Calvinists. 

Ascetism Abstinence, self discipline and self-denial.

The idea of a vocation or calling to serve God - but in the everyday world of work, not in monastery. Calvinism invented this-worldly asceticism, where a vocation means constant, methodical work in an occupation. 

Calvinists led an ascetic lifestyle shunning all luxury, working long hours and practising rigorous self-discipline. As a result:

1. Driven by their…


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