Religion and social change

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Religion as a conservative force

Religion can be seen as a conservative force in two different ways

  • it upholds traditional beliefs about how society should be organised and defends traditional customs.

Most religions have traditional beliefs about moral issues and oppose changes that will allow more freedom in more sexual and personal matters. E.g catholic church against divorce, contraception etc. Religion also tends to uphold family values and are in favour of the traditional nuclear family.

  • functions to conserve or preserve things, stabilises society and maintains the status quo.

Functionalist see religion as a conservative force as it maintains social stability and prevents it from disintegrating. It does this by promoting social stability and creating a value consensus because if individuals were to pursue their own selfish interests this will be at the expense of others. Religion also allows individuals to deal with stress that will otherwise disrupt the life of society.

Th conflict theories sees religion as an ideology that supports the existing structure and acts as a means of social control. Marx sees it as a conservative ideology preventing social change. It legitimates inequality by creating a false consciousness and preventing revolution, therefore maintaining the stability of a capitalist society. Feminists see it as a conservative ideology and preventing social change by legitimising inequality between the sexes. It maintains the stability of a patriarchal society in the family and wider society.

Religion as a force of change

Weber 1905study of Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Calvinism helped bring about social change, especially the emergence of modern capitalism.  Weber notes past societies had capitalism in the form of greed for wealth, which was spent on luxury consumption. Modern capitalism based on rational pursuit of profit for its own sake, rather than for its consumption - spirit of capitalism.

Calvinist beliefs

  • Predestination - God has already elected who would be saved at birth and there is nothing to do to change this like the catholics believed, e.g giving to the poor or pilgrimages etc.
  • Divine


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