Religion and social change

Religion as a conservative force:

  • It defends traditionalist customs (many traditional religions uphold conservative beliefs about moral, upholds family ‘values’ and favours a patriarchal headed family).
  • Holds beliefs and functions that conserve or preserve things in stabilising society. Religion and consensus (functionalist view) see religion as a force that functions to maintain society and prevent it from disintegrating, it promotes social solidarity and reduces the need for individuals to pursue their own selfish beliefs and cause societies downfall. Religion and capitalism (Marxist view) portrays religion as a conservative ideology that legitimates or disguises the oppression of the working class. Religion and the patriarchy (Feminist view) see religion as an ideology that legitimates patriarchal power.

Weber: religion as a force for change

  • Religious beliefs of Calvinism helped bring about major social change (it has many similarities to the spirit of capitalism in how in the modern-day people are more systematic in pursuing profit.
  • Calvinist beliefs include: Predestination (God has predetermined who will go to heaven (‘the elect’) and nothing we do can alter that), Divine transcendence (God is so far above human understanding and no mortal can claim to know anything about him), Asceticism (abstinence , self-discipline and self-denial), the idea of vocation or calling (vocation: other-worldly asceticism in renouncing all personal goods to join a convent or monastery and this-worldly asceticism (introduced by Calvinism) methodical, rigorous work in an occupation. This hard work would produce a psychological function that allowed them to cope with their salvation panic through their accumulating wealth and their work would produce much riches that they’d invest in profit not luxuries)

Hinduism and Confucianism

  • Weber argued that Calvinism was only one of the causes of modern capitalism, the process also needed such features as a number of material or economic factors e.g. natural resources, trade or a money economy
  • However there have been a number of other societies that have had a higher level of economic development but hasn’t developed modern capitalism, Weber argues that this is due to the lack of a religious belief system alike to Calvinism.
  • Hinduism was an ascetic religion like Calvinism however its orientation was this-worldly asceticism in how it directed its follower’s attention away from material goods.
  • Confucianism (in ancient China) was a this-worldly religion but wasn’t ascetic, so wasn’t disciplined.
  • Both Hinduism and Confucianism lacked the drive to develop a modern capitalist system unlike many western cultures, therefore they didn’t under go social change due to the other factors other than Calvinism.

Evaluation of Weber

  • Weber took a different view to Marx, who believed that it was solely economic factors that encourages change, he believed that cultural aspects also took influence
  • Kautsky (1926) argues that Weber overestimates the roles of ideas and underestimates the economic factors in bringing capitalism.
  • Tawney (1926) believes that the roles of technology takes the vital influence in capitalism, not religious ideas.
  • Scotland had many Calvinist follower’s; however, capitalism was slow to develop. Marshall argues however that this is due to the lack of investment and skilled labour (supports the idea of material and cultural importance).

Religion and social protest

The American civil rights movement

  • The civil rights movement began in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to move for a white person on a segregated bus which began the Bus Boycott
  • Bruce argues that the black clergy were the back bone of the civil right movement, Dr Martin Luther King played an important role in through his speeches and rallies
  • Churches providing meeting places and sanctuary from threat or white violence
  • Bruce sees religion as an ideological resource to support protests and contribute to social change through: taking the moral high ground (pointing out the hypocrisy of ‘love thy neighbour’ and the hate), channelling dissent (the funeral of Martin Luther King was a rallying point), acting as an honest broker (churches provide a context for negotiation as they’re respected by both sides) and mobilising public opinion (Black churches in the South all campaigned their support across America)

The New Christian Right

  • A politically and morally conservative group that aimed to bring America ‘back to God’, they believed in traditional gender roles and campaigned against abortion, homosexuality and divorce.
  • They used church owned media stations and televangelism to broadcast programmes aimed at recruiting new members (strong ties with Republican party)
  • The New Christian Right was largely unsuccessful due to how it lacked widespread support, and their followers found difficulty in cooperating with people from other and similar religious groups.
  • Comparisons between both groups suggest that religiously motivated protests need to be consistent with those of wider society, they need to comply to mainstream beliefs about democracy, equality and religious freedom.

Marxism, religion and change

  • Engels argues that although religion inhibits social change through its ideology, it can also encourage it e.g. preaching liberation from slavery and misery. Also, senior clergy have been known to support the lower ranks and encourage protests for social change.
  • Bloch (1959) sees religion as having a dual character, a view that religion recognises both positive and negative aspects on social change. Religion while inhibiting social change can also act as ‘the principle of hope’ which is a view of utopia that we all strive towards through social change

Liberation theology

  • Within Latin America, there was deepening poverty, human rights abuses and a growing commitment amongst catholic priests that supported violations of the poor and oppressed.
  • During the 1970s it was often only priests who took the side pf the oppressed when dictators would torture and murder those to hold onto power.
  • Liberation theology set out to change society by providing support groups, fought the oppression and protected many.
  • The movement lost influence after the pope condemned the liberation theology for resembling Marxism, however it created a legitimate change in how the poor were treated as it encouraged and support the social change
  • Maduro and Lowy both therefore questioned the Marxist principle that religion always legitimates oppression and inhibits social change
  •  Pentecostal churches have come up against liberation theology how they took one step further in helping individuals get out of poverty which was supported by church pastors (more conservative solution through self-improvement while liberation theology was more radical)

Millenarian movements

  • Millenarian movements describe the belief in judgement day and the end of the world
  • Worsley (1968) noted that beliefs included heaven on Earth, a life free from pain, death and sin, groups were to be saved not individuals
  • The appeal of millenarian movements was largely to the poor as they believed after their lifetimes of being oppressed would be rewarded in immediate gratification
  • Many native ‘cargo cults’ who performed millenarian movements against the colonials who stole their material good and land were the first ‘pre-political’ group who used this view of religion to fuel their protests and spread their views.

Gramsci and hegemony

  • Gramsci was interested in how the ruling class used hegemony to maintain their control over the working class. Hegemony is never guaranteed in society due to how the lower classes can create their own counter hegemony to challenge the ruling classes
  • Gramsci argues that popular forms of religion can help workers see through the ruling class ideology, clergy can act as ‘organic intellectuals’ who teach the workers of their situation
  • Billings (1990) applies Gramsci’s idea of hegemony to two groups of workers (coal miners and textile workers), he identified three ways in which religion was either supported or challenged by the employers hegemony: leadership (the miners benefitted from having organic intellectuals, textiles workers lacked leadership), organisation (churches were used as meeting spaces for miners, textile workers had nothing) ad support (the churches kept miners morale high in sermons and singing whereas the textile workers had opposition from the church if attending a union meeting)