Sociology A2 Unit 3 Beliefs in society - Social change essay (33 marks)

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Assess the extent to which religion produces social change (33 marks)

Sociologists have mixed views on whether religion promotes social change or inhibits it.  Weber argues that religion is a cause for social change and focuses on Calvinists to demonstrate how religion can lead to social change. Religion can also lead to social protest as many religious movements such as the Civil Rights Movement show. However Marxists, Functionalists and Feminists believe that religion is a conservative force and maintains the status quo. On the other hand, most sociologists do not believe there is a simple relationship between religion and social change; they argue that there are a number of situational factors that determine whether or not a religion promotes social change.

In 1958, Weber identified one theodicy that he believed may have facilitated dramatic social change. Calvinists were a protestant group that formed in the 17th century, who believed in pre-destination. Calvinists believed their fate was already chosen for them in heaven however they believed that there hard work and ascetic lifestyle would give them a life in heaven. Their hard work became known as the protestant ethic. Weber believed that the protestant ethic of Calvinists drove the spirit of capitalism, as their hard work and ascetic lifestyle meant that any profits from their business were reinvested, producing further profits, which was ideal for the development of capitalism. Marxists such as Kautsky, criticise Weber for underestimating economic factors in bringing capitalism to the surface. Kautsky argues that capitalism came before Calvinism, similarly Tawney argues that it wasn’t until capitalism was established that the bourgeoisie started to develop Calvinist beliefs to justify their pursuit of economic gain. Weber has also been criticised because capitalism did not develop in all countries where there were Calvinists, for example Norway and Sweden, where there was a large population of Calvinists but capitalism did not develop immediately. However, it is important to remember that Weber did not argue that Calvinists were the cause of capitalism, he argued they were one of the factors contributing to capitalism. Weber also points out that both material and cultural factors need to be present for capitalism to arise, which explains why some Calvinist areas did not develop capitalism.

Another believed way that religion can bring about social change is the influence of religious charismatic leaders. Charismatic leaders, such as Martin Luther King, have been responsible for bringing about social change through religion, often causing social protest and conflict with mainstream society. Bruce (2003) describes The American Civil Rights movement as an example of a religiously motivated social change. Bruce believes that the black clergy were responsible for the success of the civil rights movement; the shared religious Christian values led the whites to change the law on segregation. Bruce describes religion as an ideological resource, religion provides beliefs and practices that can motivate protesters.

However most sociologists believe that the concept of religion and social change is more complex and the religions that promote social change have key…


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