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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

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religion and social change
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 change2
Religion and Social Change

2. Religion causes social change

  • Quite simply there are those who believe
  • That religion causes changes in society
  • E.g. Weber
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Religion and Social Change
  • ‘It Depends’approach

Here quite literally it depends on a variety of things

In some cases religion prevents change

In others…it causes change

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Religion and Social 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

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Religion and Social Change
  • Religion prevents change
  • Religion as a conservative force
  • Functionalists see religion as an integrative force in society, helping to preserve the status quo.
  •  Marxists agree that religion acts in opposition to social change but this is in a negative way i.e. it helps to perpetuate the class system under capitalism
  • However, the word 'conservative' can be used in different ways
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Religion and Social Change


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.

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Religion and Social Change


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.

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Religion and Social Change


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.

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Religion and Social Change


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

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Religion and Social Change

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

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Religion and Social Change

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

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Religion and Social Change

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.


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Religion and Social Change


‘Religion is the opium of the masses’

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Religion and Social Change

'Religion is a kind of spiritual gin in which the slaves of capital drown their human shape and their claims to any decent life'

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Religion and Social Change


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

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Religion and Social Change


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)

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Religion and Social Change


However, there are many Neo-Marxists who argue that religion does help promote social change

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Religion and 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'

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Religion and Social Change

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.

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Religion and Social Change

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

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Religion and Social Change


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

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Religion and Social Change


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

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Religion and Social Change


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.

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Religion and Social Change

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.

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Religion and Social Change

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.

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Religion and Social Change
  • Kautsky (1953) writing from a Marxist standpoint argues that capitalism actually came before Calvinism and that capitalists were attracted to Calvinism and adopted it because it helped to legitimise their way of doing things.
  • Some sociologists and historians have argued that colonialism and slavery were more important in helping capitalism to develop than Calvinism.
  • Some countries with large Calvinist populations (e.g. Sweden) did not industrialise, therefore pouring cold water on Weber’s theory. However, Marshall sticks up for Weber and points out that he never said that Calvinism was the only factor in helping capitalism to develop, other things such as skilled and mobile labour were also important.
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Religion and Social Change

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

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Religion and Social Change

Thompson (l986),

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

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Religion and Social Change

Charismatic Leaders

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.

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Religion and Social Change

Charisma has 3 key elements

  • It is used to describe a range of people from rock stars to teachers
  • It is often seen as dangerous – a leader can make people do things they wouldn’t normally do
  • Groups with charismatic leaders are often short lived. It is difficult to maintain the charisma element once the leader dies!
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Religion and Social Change

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.

e.g. Hinduism

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Religion and Social Change

This worldly beliefs

  • encourage the individual to try and change the world for the better glorification of God.
  • E.g. The Moonies
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Religion and Social Change

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

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Religion and Social Change

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.

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Religion and Social Change

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.

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Religion and 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.

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Religion and Social Change

Organisational structure

  • Religions with a centralised priesthood, hierarchy of paid officials and bureaucratic structure often inhibit change.
  • Nelson (1971), argues that Sect-like organisations tend to encourage a 'withdrawal' from the world. Church like organisations encourage civil rights militancy.
  • Neo Marxists like Gramsci and Madura suggest strong churches like The RC church can provide a vehicle for change in some parts of the world e.g. Latin America
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Religion and Social Change

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