Outline and explain two ways in which religion might promote social change

This is a suggested answer to the first type of 10 mark question you’ll find in section A of the AQA’s second sociology paper (paper 2, topics in sociology).

For some general advice on how to answer (both types of) 10 mark questions – please see this post

A 10 mark question (which has no item) will ask students about two elements from one or more of the bullet points on the topic specification. Thus it is here that you might see ‘classic’ questions such as this one.

Outline and explain two ways in which religion might promote social change (10)

The first way in is through helping people to challenge perceived social injustices and helping them fight for a ‘better’ society.

One example of where this has happened is with Liberation Theology. This developed in South America in the 1970s, when certain members of the Catholic Church started to criticize the economic inequality in the region, following witnessing the enormous deprivation suffered by the poorest in society.

Some priests challenged the role of the church in supporting the economic and political elites, taking up the cause of the landless peasants and campaigning for a more equal society.

Maduro actually argued that in such societies, where the church is central, it is the only institution which might bring about social change!

While they were not very successful, the question does say MIGHT! This type of political involvement has a long history in Christianity, and lately the Archbishop of Canterbury has been criticizing the effects of neoliberal economic policies, again standing up to power.

While the above examples may not have been successful, they can be: as with Martin Luther King and the wider Baptist Church – churches not only act as sources of solidarity for those fighting oppression, they can also act as centers which can organise protest marches.

A second way in which religion might promote social change was outlined by Max Weber in his ‘Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism‘.

Weber argued that the values of Calvinism (A very strict version of Protestantism) gave rise, over a couple of centuries, to the economic system of capitalism.

Calvinism taught that working hard was a way to worship God and also to ‘prove’ that you were one of the ‘elect’ (saved). It also taught that having fun was sinful. These two religious beliefs together encouraged the development of societies with cultures which valued hard work and entrepreneurialism, and discouraged frivolous expenditure.

Eventually, this led to any money saved from setting up businesses to be put back into the business (it was a sin to spend on leisure) in order to encourage more ‘work’ and ‘industry’.

These were the exact same set of values which were necessary for Capitalism to work – the work ethic and entrepeneurialism.

Weber developed his theory by doing comparative analysis – he argued that Capitalism emerged first in Holland and England where Calvinist values were strongest (he has been criticised but I don’t any marks for that, so no point saying why).

A further analysis point is that this is religion promoting social change unonciously.

Another further analysis point is that this study shows that religion can promote huge ‘systems level’ socio-economic changes in society.

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