Religion and Social Change

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Bruce 2003was interested in the relationship between religiously inspired movements in America and social change.

American Civil Rights - Movement of black civil right activists in the 1950 - 60's to end segregation of blacks.

Although slavery was abolished in 1865, blacks were denied of many rights, segregated from the whites and prevented form using the same amenities. This started when Rosa Parks (a black civil right activist) refused to sit at the back of the bus where black were meant to sit. Campaigning involved protest marches, boycotts and demonstrations. In 1964 segregation was outlawed. The movement that was mainly led by Dr Martin Luther King played a decisive role, giving support and moral legitimacy to the civil right activist. Churches provided a meeting place and sanctuary from threat of white violence, and rituals such as prayer meetings and hymn singing which was also a source of unity in the face of oppression.

Impact on white clergy was minimal but the message reached wide audience and gained national support. Bruce sees religion in this context as an ideological resource - provides beliefs and practices that protesters could draw on for motivation and support.

Bruce identified 4 ways in which reigious organisations are well equipped to support protests and contribute to social change.

  • Taking the moral high ground - black clergy was able to shame whites by pointing out their hypocrisy of the white clergy that preached 'love thy neighbour' but supported racial segregation.
  • Channeling dissent - provides channels to express political dissent e.g the funeral of Dr Martin Luther King.
  • Acting as honest broker - churches are usually respected by both sides so…


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