Religion and Social Change. 4 main arguments here 1. Religion prevents social change Religion is a cause of the retention of conservative or traditional values. This is the view of both Functionalists and Marxists. Religion and Social Change. 2. Religion causes social change
2. Religion causes social change
Here quite literally it depends on a variety of things
In some cases religion prevents change
In others…it causes change
4. Changes in society cause changes in religion
This is the basis of the secularisation debate – see later notes
“The debate concerning the role of religion in society is essentially a debate about cause and effect.” Click here for more
Conservative can mean that things are kept as they are.
Some things become ‘traditional’ and always have to be done in a certain way,
this helps to bring about continuity and stability to a society.
Conservative can be used in a way which opposes any new ideas.
This is obviously linked to point 1 but can go further in that some groups can actively campaign to prevent change from happening
e.g. The Roman Catholic Church and its ideas on birth control.
Conservative can be used in a radical way, this seems a little bit of a paradox but if change occurs helping a group or society to revert back to ways of the past this can be seen as a step forward by some!
A good example of this is what happened in Iran in the 1979 – the country reacted against the Westernising influences that had been developing and re-established a strict Islamic regime.
Many in the Western world saw this as a step backwards but many in the Islamic world saw it as a step forward.
Religion is functionally necessary
It helps to maintain social stability and value-consensus.
It reinforces the collective conscience
it strengthens values and beliefs and promotes social solidarity
Collective worship is regarded as particularly important for the integration of society
since it enables members to express their shared values and strengthens group unity
By worshipping together, people have a sense of commitment and belonging.
Ritual is very important to Functionalists such as Durkheim and Parsons
Durkheim regarded Nationalism and Communism as the new religions of industrial society, taking over from Christianity
Flag waving, nationalism etc are the new forms of displaying collective sentiments
A service to celebrate the lives of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman took place at Ely Cathedral for 2,000 relatives, friends and Soham residents as well as those who helped in the police investigation.
The parents of the murdered 10-year-olds had asked people to come to the service in brightly coloured clothes
The best friends' bodies were found near RAF Lakenheath after the girls had been missing for 13 days, sparking a massive police hunt. School caretaker Ian Huntley has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and charged with murdering the two best friends.
‘Religion is the opium of the masses’
'Religion is a kind of spiritual gin in which the slaves of capital drown their human shape and their claims to any decent life'
for Marx religion was essentially a tool of class exploitation and oppression
Religion is part of the ‘false consciousness
People are conned into believing that everything is fair
Religion diverts them from focusing on the inequalities in their lives
God is ‘man/woman made’ – a human creation
In communism religion would disappear as there would be no need for it
Religion ‘dulls the pain of oppression’ by the promise of paradise in the next life
Some religions make a virtue of suffering
‘it is easier for a camel…etc’
There is promise of more in Heaven/Nirvana etc
Religion justifies the social order….the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate; god made them high or lowly and ordered their estate.’ (All Things Bright & Beautiful)
However, there are many Neo-Marxists who argue that religion does help promote social change
Religion Causes Social Change
Weber believed that religion was a force for change and developed a theory that protestentism was responsible for capitalism developing. This was developed in his work:-
'The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit Of Capitalism'
Weber believed that there was a relationship between religious belief and the ethos of capitalism
It was a particular form of Protestantism (ascetic Protestantism) which helped capitalism to develop in Europe.
The ‘ascetic’ bit was about strict adherence to biblical rules, an emphasis on hard work and self denial.
Thus, the religious beliefs of Protestantism coupled with
the presence of the necessary economic conditions
resulted in the development of the capitalist system.
A variety of Protestantism – Calvinism – was particularly influential
Was a 16th century protestant religion based on the works of John Calvin
They believed in pre-destination but were not sure that they were part of the ‘elect’ destined for heaven – this led to a ‘salvation panic’
Their frugal lifestyle helped them to convince themselves that they were saved
Certain facets of Calvinistic doctrine actively promoted capitalist development.
They emphasised hard work, no idleness (devil makes work for etc) no dancing, music, theatre etc
Sex only for procreation (cold baths and veggie diets were encouraged to dampen sexual ardour)
Basically, there was little to spend their money on and so many reinvested in their businesses - helping them to grow.
Although rather a crude analogy – the closest group to the Calvinists of Weber’s writings are the Amish and Mennonites.
The Amish are a religious group who live in settlements in 22 states and Ontario, Canada.
The oldest group of Old Order Amish, about 16-18,000 people live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish stress humility, family and community, and separation from the world.
Religion Causes Social Change
Weber - Criticisms
Weber's theory has been subject to considerable criticism, indeed it is a classic dispute in sociology.
The main criticisms are that Weber mislocated capitalism (historically); misinterpreted protestantism; misunderstood catholicism and misplaced causality.
The ‘It Depends’ Approach
This approach suggests that religion can both prevent change and force change depending on the circumstances.
An important point concerning change, however, is that religion can promote two main types of change: radical - a new direction in society, or conservative- a return to the social arrangements of the past
outlines a range of factors affecting the relationship between religion and social change:
1. Charismatic leaders.
2. Beliefs end practices.
3. Relationship to society.
4. The social status of religious membership.
5. The presence of alternative avenues to change.
6. Organisational structure
There are many charismatic leaders who have caused social change e.g. Hitler, Christ
People are attracted to charismatic leaders and are ‘persuaded’ by them
Charismatic religious leaders often, provide a focus for discontent and a view of a better world – especially in sects.
Charisma has 3 key elements
Beliefs and practices
The main distinction here is between this worldly and other worldly beliefs.
ØOther worldly beliefs
stress the powerlessness of humans and the inevitability of misery in this world,
but salvation in the world to come,
Consequently they provide little motivation to change society.
This worldly beliefs
Relationship to society
This is concerned with the extent to which the church is linked to the state
The closer the links the more likely it is that a church will support the state and maintain the status quo
e.g. Catholic Church in Ireland
Social change is likely to be promoted by denominations and sects that are on the fringes of society and whose membership is primarily made up of the poor and disadvantaged.
Social status of religious membership
Øthere is a tendency for established churches to draw their membership from upper status groups while sectarian movements tend to attract less privileged groups.
Thus sectarian movements may be seen by their members as a vehicle for the promotion of social change.
The presence of alternative avenues to change
ØThe idea, here, is that in the absence of political avenues for achieving social change, religion may be the only organised institution available that can provide the organisational tools for achieving change
The Catholic church was instrumental in helping the union ‘Solidarity’ promote change in Poland.
Merideth McGuire 1981
Says the question should not be - does religion cause social change – but when, how and under what circumstances.
Beliefs – Where religion is concerned with ‘this’ world rather than the ‘other’ world it is more likely to enable change. Protestantism has more impact than Buddhism.
Culture – In cultures where religious belief plays a central part – then it is more likely to play a role in causing or preventing) social change.
Social Location – Where religion is intertwined with the political process it can play a part in enabling change
Internal Organisation – Religions with a strong internal organisation have more chance of affecting events