Anthony Giddens – High Modernity and Religious Revival

Anthony Giddens argues that the shift to late modern society results in religion becoming more popular.

Giddens is one of four ‘sociologists of postmodernity’, all of whom argue that postmodernisation results in the nature of religion changing, but not necessarily declining in importance.

NB – see this post (forthcoming) on how to avoid getting confused over the terms ‘postmodernism/ late modernism etc…

Anthony Giddens: late modernity and religion

Giddens recognizes that ‘religious cosmology’ is undermined by the increasing importance of scientific knowledge in late modern society. However, he argues that is traditional ways of life rather than religious beliefs and practices which are more profoundly affected by this shift.

In Modernity and Self Identity, Giddens argues that the conditions of late modernity actually lay the foundations for a resurgence of religion.

Giddens argues that as tradition loses its grip on individuals, they become increasingly reflexive: they increasingly question what they should be doing with their lives, and are required to find their own way in life, rather than this being laid down by tradition.

However, individuals face problems in constructing their own, individual self-identities for two main reasons:

  • Competing experts provide different advice – scientific knowledge may have taken over from religion, but different scientific experts provided different, and often conflicting advice on ‘how to live’.
  • Existential questions become separated from every day life – according to Giddens, the seriously ill and dying and the mad are separated out from ordinary every day life and hidden from view in institutions. These are precisely the kind of people which would make us confront the big questions of existence, but in late modernity society is structured in such a way as to stop us thinking about the ‘big existential questions’.

The institutions of modernity thus fail to provide sufficient structure to guide people through life, and people’s lives are lived in a moral vacuum with a sense of personal meaninglessness the norm. People en mass suffer from what Giddens calls ontological security – they don’t really know who they are, or what to do with their lives.

It is in such a situation that religion can perform a vital function – by providing a sense of moral purpose, as well as answers to the big existential questions of life.

However, unlike modern or pre-modern societies, individuals now have to choose for themselves which religion to follow…. an this might be anything from New Age religions to one of the various strains of religious fundamentalism…

 

 

Structural Differentiation and Religion

According to Talcott Parsons, the disengagement of the church from social life might not necessarily mean that the church is any less important at a social level.

Parsons argues that societies evolve through a process of ‘structural differentiation’ – as societies become more complex, a greater variety of more specialized institutions evolved.

Parsons accepts that religious institutions play less of a role in politics and in the socialization of children than they did in the past, but these functions are taken over by newly evolved institutions – such as representative government and education.

Traditional institutions such as the church evolve to limit themselves to performing a smaller number of functions than previously, but these functions are still vital to the maintenance of the system as a whole.

In modern societies, religious institutions perform three important functions:

  • They form the basis of morality and the legal system – for example, the 10 commandments form much of the basis of the legal system in modern Britain.
  • They help people deal with social changes such as the death of individuals – through providing rituals that help them cope with transition. This helps maintain social order.
  • They help people deal with social contradictions – such as lazy people being rich… according to Christian doctrine, they will go to hell.

For more on Parson’s functionalist perspective on the role of religion in society – please see this post

Links to other parts of the course….

NB – Parsons argues that all institutions undergo a process of structural differentiation. His view on how religion changes with social modernization is similar to his view on how the family changes – as outlined in his ‘Functional Fit Theory‘ of the family.

This theory of structural differentiation is part of his general functionalist theory of social change as evolution.

Disengagement as Evidence of Secularization

Within the secularization debate, disengagement is the process of religious institutions becoming less involved in political and social life. It is the general withdrawing of religious institutions from wider society.

If we take a long term view and compare the role of the church in British society today with its role in medieval times, religious institutions certainly seem to have disengaged from politics and society.

James VI Scotland In the 16th Century for example, church and state were tightly bound together, through the doctrine of the ‘Divine Right of Kings‘. This doctrine was famously developed by James VI of Scotland, also James I of England. It held that the King, who was also the head of state, could only be judged by God, and no other human being.

However, as argued by Max Weber, the spread of Protestantism and especially Calvinism, laid the foundations for the collapse of this tight interweaving of church and state. Protestantism preached that individuals should get to know God personally, which led to more individualistic forms of worship. This in turn led to the decline of institutional religion – people no longer relied on the church for their spiritual sustenance, they could get this themselves in their own way.

This came to a head in the English Civil War of 1641-52, which established the English Commonwealth, and subjected the monarch to the will of Parliament rather than the ‘will of God’. From the mid 17th century forwards, the Divine Right of Kings, and the ‘total union’ of church and state was thus broken.

Although the Church of England still played a prominent role in politics for many centuries, the establishment of the Commonwealth nonetheless laid the foundations for ordinary people being able to challenge the monarch and play more of a role in politics, thus making the church more beholden to the power of a larger number of people rather than just the king.

Over the next few centuries, people became less religious and democracy became more representative, so gradually the church came to play less of a role in politics.

Institutional Disengagement in Britain Today

There is a lot of evidence that the church plays a less significant role in politics and society. 

Even if political leaders have strong religious convictions, they generally keep these convictions out of politics. Tony Blair, for example, was a fervent Catholic, and yet his spin Doctor, Alistair Campbell was adamant that New Labour ‘didn’t do God’.

Some human rights legislation actually outlaws some religious practices on the basis of equality. 

For example, Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong have been banned from being foster parents by the courts. This follows the 2010 Equality Act, which protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of a range of ‘protected characteristics’, one of which is sexuality.

The Church of England has become increasingly critical of government policy, and the government has largely ignored many of these criticisms. 

For example, the C of E has recently criticized the Tories ideological decision to cut spending of public services. it has highlighted the horrific consequences these cuts have had on the poorest sectors of British society. The Tories, being Tories, have just ignored the C of E and carried on harming the poor.

Evidence against Disengagement 

Jose Casonova argues that the trend towards disengagement in Britain and Europe are the exceptions to the global trend. Casonova suggests that globally, there are many examples which show that religion is becoming more prominent in social life. It is especially easy to find examples of religion playing a prominent role in political conflicts globally:

  • The Arab Spring uprisings across Northern Africa and the Middle East
  • The ongoing conflict between the Arabs and Jews in the Middle East
  • The growth of Christian Fundamentalism in the USA.

Casonova effectively argues that since the 1980s, when we look at religion in global perspective, a process of deprivatisation has been occurring.

 

 

 

Evidence for Secularization

Secularization is the declining social significance of religion in society.

The extent of secularization is usually ascertained (for the purposes of A-level sociology) by using three broad indicators: belonging, behaving, and belief, and there are numerous specific measures associated with each indicator.

This post aims to provide brief revision notes on some of the contemporary evidence for secularization.

Evidence for secularization: statistics on religious belonging 

According to a recent British Social Attitudes Survey (1) based on a sample of just under 3000 respondents (conducted 2016, published 2017): 

  • Only 15% of UK adults describe themselves as ‘Anglican’, compared to around 33% of the population at the turn of the century and more than 60% in the early 1960s (1)
  • Just 3% of those aged 18-24 described themselves as Anglican, compared to 40% of those aged 75 and over (1).
  • 53% of UK adults describe themselves as having ‘no religion’, up from 31% in 1983 (1)
  • 71% of 18-24 year olds describe themselves as having ‘no religion’ up from

According to the United Kingdom Census of 2011 (3), which is based on a near 100% sample of the UK population:

  • 59.3% of the population reported to be Christian, down from 71.7 per cent in 2001 to 59.3 per cent in 2011, and
  • 25.1% of the population reported having ‘no religion’, up from 14.8 per cent of the population in 2001.
  • There was an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent in 2001 to 4.8 per cent in 2011.

 

secularization.png
Source: United Kingdom Census 2011

 

NB – This final piece of evidence: the increasing reported popularity of all other religions besides Christianity cannot really be taken as evidence against secularization because the overall increase of all these other religions is smaller than the increase in the number of people reporting ‘no religion’ in the same period. It does, however, suggest increasing religious diversity.

Evidence for secularization: statistics on religious behaviour

According to the Church of England’s own data (4), both church attendance and attendance at ‘hatching, matching and dispatching’ (baptism/ marriage/ funeral) ceremonies are falling.

The 2016 figures show: 

  • Usual Sunday attendance at Church of England churches in 2016 was 740,000 people (86% adults, 14% children under 16).
  • There were 120,000 Church of England baptisms and services of thanksgiving for the gift of a child – representing 10% of live births.
  • There were 45,000 Church of England marriages and services of prayer and dedication after civil marriages – just 20% of marriages.
  • There were 139,000 Church of England-led funerals during 2016, 57% of which took place in churches and 43% at crematoria/cemeteries – 28% of funerals. The higher percentage probably reflects the greater proclivity for people near death to ‘find’ ‘comfort’ in ‘religion’.

The church of England notes that most of its headline indicators show a decline of 10-15% over the last decade, since 2006.

Evidence for Secularization: Statistics on Religious Belief

Religious belief is a notoriously subjective concept: while the statistics in the first section above suggest secularization is taking place, it is possible to declare that you belong to ‘no religion’ while still having religious beliefs, so we need to dig a little deeper into the exact nature of individuals’ spiritual beliefs in order to properly assess whether secularization is taking place.

When we do  this, most of the evidence suggests that secularization  is occurring, although possibly not as quickly as the decline in support for traditional religion would suggests.

  • A 2015 YouGov poll revealed that 33% of Britons ‘do not believe in God or a higher spiritual power’, up from 29% in 2012.
  • The same poll revealed that younger people are more likely to not believe in any type of higher power compared to older people – only 25% of 18-24 year olds believe in God or some other kind of higher power compared to over 40% of over 60 year olds.

Related Posts 

Essay plan: evaluate the view that the extent of secularisation has been exaggerated.

Evidence for secularization: Sources

(1) British Social Attitudes Religion Survey, 2017.

(2) The Guardian (2017) – More than Half the UK Population has No Religion, Finds Survey.

(3) Office for National Statistics: Religion in England and Wales 2011.

(4) Church of England Research and Statistics (2016) – Statistics for Mission 2016.

(5) Daily Telegraph: Church of England Attendance Plunges to an All Time Low (2016)

(6) YouGov Poll on religious belief, 2015.

 

Theories of Secularization: Rationalization and the Disenchantment of Society

According to Weber, the rationalization of society led to the disenchantment of society and as a result religious motives for action were replaced by rational motives for action. This post considers arguments and evidence for and against this theory.

desacrilization religion.png

Max Weber argued that modern society was ‘characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, ‘by the disenchantment of the world’ (1)

In traditional society, in which religious beliefs were strong, actions were primarily motivated by religious beliefs or superstitions. People were motivated to act out of a religiously motivated desire to go to heaven and avoid hell. (Or at least to avoid the social sanctions of those with religious power.)

However, with the Enlightenment and the Industrial revolution, the power of the of the church was increasingly questioned, and over a period of many years religious ways of thinking came to be replaced with more scientific or rational ways of thinking. Science and the scientific method became more central to social thought: knowledge was increasingly constructed through empirical, rational methods, rather than being dictated through religious channels.

From the Enlightenment onward, society went through a process of ‘disenchantment’ – the role of religion, magic, mystery, superstitions and faith became less prominent, and replaced by more rational motives for acting: rather than acting because faith leaders or religious tradition dictated that you should act in certain ways, without thinking about it, people were increasingly free to act for themselves. People en mass started to think more about how they should act, what they should do, and the best way to achieve their goals.

Four factors which encouraged rationalization and undermined religion

Following Weber, Bryan Wilson (1966) argued that the following four factors encouraged the development of rational thinking (2)

  1. Ascetic Protestantism. Largely following the theory outlined by Weber in his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Wilson argued that protestant varieties of Christianity encouraged a rational approach to worshiping God – your ‘faith’ was essentially measured by your productivity.
  2. The rational organisation of society – the establishment of schools, workplaces, governments all imposed systematic ways of acting on people.
  3. A greater scientific knowledge of the social and natural world – Wilson argued that science provided more satisfactory explanations of many social and natural phenomenon than religions ones, and were better able to help people in tackling such problems.
  4. The development of rational ideologies – such as Marxism which offered more immediate solutions to our problems in this life further challenged and undermined religion.

Wilson argued that the rational world view fundamentally undermined the religious worldview, because it was based on the principle of systematic procedures to assess ‘truth claims’, whereas religious knowledge could not be tested and verified.

Criticisms of the idea that rationalization undermines religion

  • Steve Bruce has argued that although science and especially technology have challenged some religious beliefs, people may still turn to religion when technology fails.
  • Postmodernists point out that some people are skeptical of the promises of science. In some ways, science has made the world a riskier place.
  • The rise of the New Age Moveement and continued influence of the Christian Right in the USA show that religion is still important to many.

Sources

(1) Harlamabos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives

(2) Wilson –  ‘Religion in a Secular Society’ (1966)

Is it OK to laugh at women who wear the burka?

Boris Johnson faced criticism recently for saying that burkas are oppressive to women and that women wearing them look like letter boxes and bank robbers. This article in The Sun provides his full, in context comments (The original column by Boris was in The Telegraph, which is behind a paywall, so we won’t bother with that, silly Telegraph!)

Was it OK for Boris to ridicule women who wear the burqa?

According to The Sun, Boris’ Facebook account has attracted a lot of over racists, and he’s faced a considerable degree of criticism in the press. Some of the criticism is focused on the fact that comments such as this have no place in a liberal society where people have freedom of religious expression and wearing the burqa is a choice. Some even worry that such comments give fuel to the already intolerant minority who verbally and physically abuse the estimated 1000 women who wear the burqa in the UK.  (See this New Statesman article as an example.)

However, there are also several commentators, along with the majority of the British public who support Boris’ right to publicly mock such women:

Using humor to ridicule certain beliefs is not the same as shouting abuse at people because of their beliefs, or the same as physically assaulting them. In fact humor is used all the time in politics to mock the views of others. It is also a favorite tool of protest groups.

Radical Feminists especially would argue that the burqa is an outdated mode of religious expression: one that is rooted in oppression and needs critiquing. Humor is a valid means of doing just this.

Outright banning of the burqa, as has been done in many countries such as France, Germany, Austria and even Muslim majority countries Chad and Niger, just seems to have a perverse effect: it just keeps women who would wear it indoors, and pushes even more women into this brand of ‘identity politics’.

Finally, surely if the 1000 women who choose to wear it are really doing so out of freedom of choice, then surely they are capable of withstanding a little ribbing from a politician?!?

Discussion Questions

You might like to consider the following questions for discussion! As always, comments welcome below. 

  • To what extent do think women who wear the burka in Britain are oppressed into doing so?
  • Is it right for a politician to publicly mock women who wear the burka?
  • Should Britain ban the wearing of the burka in public?

This post will also appear on the steem blockchain!

Sources 

Boris screen capture

Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Revision Notes)

Weber argued that the values of the protestant religion led to the emergence of Capitalism in Western Europe around the 17th century.

Weber observed that Capitalism first took* off in Holland and England, in the mid 17th century. He asked himself the question: ‘why did Capitalism develop in these two countries first?’

max weber religion.png

Protestant Individualism and the Emergence of Capitalism 

Based on historical observation and analysis, Weber theorized this was because these were the only two countries in which Protestantism was the predominant religion, rather than Catholicism, which was the formal religion of every other European country.

Weber theorized that the different value systems of the two religions had different effects: the values of Protestantism encouraged ways of acting which (unintentionally) resulted in capitalism emerging, over a period of many decades, even centuries.

Protestantism encouraged people to ‘find God for themselves’. Protestantism taught that silent reflection, introspection and prayer were the best ways to find God. This (unintentionally, and over many years) encouraged Protestants to adopt a more ‘individualistic’ attitude to their religion by seeking their own interpretations of Christianity.

In contrast, Catholicism was a religion which encouraged more conservative values and thus was resistant to such changes. The Catholic Church has a top-down structure: from God to the Pope to the Senior Bishops and then down to the people. Ultimate power to interpret Catholic doctrine lies with the Pope and his closest advisers. Practicing Catholics are expected to abide by such interpretations, they are generally not encouraged to interpret religious scripture for themselves. Similarly, part of being a good Catholic means attending mass, which is administered by a member of the Catholic establishment, which reinforces the idea that the church is in control of religious matters, rather than spirituality being a personal matter as is more the case in Protestant traditions.

Part of Weber’s theory of why Capitalism first emerged in Protestant countries was that the more individualistic ethos of Protestantism laid the foundations for a greater sense of individual freedom, and the idea that it was acceptable to challenge ‘top down’ interpretations of Christian doctrine, as laid down by the clergy. Societies which have more individual freedom are more open to social changes.

Calvinist Asceticism and the Development of Capitalism

Weber argued that a particular denomination of Protestantism known as Calvinism played a key role in ushering in the social change of Capitalism.

Calvinism preached the doctrine of predestination: God had basically already decided who was going to heaven (‘the saved) before they were born. Similarly, he had also already decided who the damned were – whether or not you were going to hell had already been decided before your birth.

This fatalistic situation raised the question of how you would know who was saved and who was damned. Fortunately, Calvinism also taught that there was a way of figuring this out: there were indicators which could tell you who was more likely to be saved, and who was more likely to be damned.

Simply put, the harder you worked, and the less time you spent idling and/ or engaged in unproductive, frivolous activities, then the more likely it was that you were one of those pre-chosen for a life in heaven. This is because, according to Calvinist doctrine, God valued hard-work and a ‘pure-life’ non-materialistic life.

According to Weber this led to a situation in which Calvinist communities encouraged work for the glory of God, and discouraged laziness and frivolity. Needless to say there was quite a motivation to stick to these ethical codes, given that hell was the punishment if you didn’t.

Over the decades, this ‘work-ethic’ encouraged individuals and whole communities to set up businesses, and re-invest any money they earned to grow these businesses (because it was a sin to spend the money you’d made on enjoying yourself), which laid the foundations for modern capitalism.

Weber argued that over the following centuries, the norm of working hard and investing in your business became entrenched in European societies, but the old religious ideas withered away. Nonetheless, if we take the longer term view, it was still the Protestant work ethic which was (unintentionally) responsible for the emergence of Capitalism

Evaluations 

On the plus side, Weber’s theory of social change recognizes that we need to take account of individual motivations for action in order to understand massive social structural changes

On the negative side, critics have pointed out that the emergence of Capitalism doesn’t actually correlated that well with Protestantism: there are plenty of historical examples of Capitalist systems having emerged in non-Protestant countries – such as Italian Mercantilism a couple of centuries early.

Find out More

This post is a very brief summary of Max Weber’s theory of religion and social change. For a much more detailed account, including more specific historical details of Calvinism, please see this post (forthcoming!) 

 

*Weber recongized that features of the Capitalist system were present in other parts of Europe previous to the 17th century, but Holland and England were the first societies to really adopt capitalist values at the level of society as a whole, rather than it just existing in relatively isolated pockets.

Religion and Science: Are they Compatible?

Are religious belief systems compatible with scientific belief systems? Is religious knowledge different to scientific knowledge? 

This post considers the arguments and evidence for the view that religious beliefs are compatible with scientific belief systems.

One argument within the secularisation debate is that the Enlightenment started a process of rationalization within society, which led to technological developments and social progress. This in turn meant that the old, traditional, irrational religious belief systems were increasingly challenged, and so there was a corresponding decline in religion.

The above view holds that religious beliefs and scientific beliefs are incompatible, and that more rational scientific knowledge has effectively replaced religious knowledge in society, because scientific knowledge is some how superior.

However, there are others who argue that the relationship between science and religion is more complex and nuanced. This is especially understandable given the trend towards religious pluralism and the increasing diversity, or sub-divisions within science.

It is highly likely that ecumenical movements, or those with new age beliefs are more likely to find common ground with science than those from highly conservative religious movements or those with fundamentalist beliefs.

Religion Science.png

Religion and Science are compatible 

There are several different lines of argument for the view that religious belief systems and scientific belief systems are compatible.

Stephen Jay Gould argued that science and religion were concerned with different aspects of human life which deal with different human needs.

Gould argued that one human need was to understand the workings of nature, which science dealt with. The job of science was to uncover objective knowledge about the ‘laws of nature’, which could be discovered using the scientific method.

Another human need was to find a meaning for their own life and to figure out a moral code which they should live by. Such meaning and morality are subjective and so cannot be discovered through the scientific method. People need religion to help them discover meaning and to lead a moral life.

According to Gould, these two spheres of human need do not overlap, and so religious knowledge systems and scientific knowledge systems can exist side by side.

Monotheistic religions which have a belief in one, universal God are compatible with science. It is possible to believe that there is ‘one God’ who created the universe and the laws by which it is governed, and then to use science to uncover exactly what those rules are.

Some recent concepts developed in the field of physics seem to support the worldview of traditional Asian belief systems, such as Taoism. A good example of this is Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Tao of Physics‘.

Some religions are actually based on science – The most obvious example here is scientology, which has developed devices such as the E-meter to track people’s progress towards the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’.

Sources/ find out more….

Religion in the Contemporary World

 

What is the difference between science and religion?

Science is empirical, open, evolving and objective, but is religion the opposite?

What are the differences between science and religion? This post focuses on four areas of difference between the two:

  • The empirical versus the supernatural
  • Open versus closed belief systems
  • Evolving versus absolute knowledge
  • Objectivity versus subjectivity

Before reading this post, you might like to refresh your knowledge of what they key features of science are by reading this post: Is sociology a science?

Science limits itself to the empirical, religion concerns itself with the supernatural 

Science tends to concern itself with the natural or physical world – that which can be observed and measured. If it cannot be observed or measured empirically, then it is not scientific.

Scientific knowledge is gained primarily through the experimental method: a hypothesis is formulated and then experiments designed to test the hypothesis. Experiments use standardized procedures of data collection, so that other scientists can repeat the exact same experiment in the same way and verify the data and test the findings for themselves.

In contrast religion tends to concern itself with the spiritual world, many aspects of which cannot necessarily be observed and measured in a scientific extent. For example, knowledge in many religions comes ultimately from God, and belief in the existence of God cannot be verified empirically. Belief in God is a matter of faith.

Any knowledge claims made by religions which are not verifiable by empirical observations cannot be regarded as ‘scientific’.

‘Open’ verses ‘closed belief systems 

Science is an ‘open belief system’ – the data collected by scientists are open to testing by others. Research findings can thus be criticized.

According to Popper, the process of scientists critically scrutinizing  findings of other scientists is  fundamental to the scientific method. He argued that scientists should attempt to ‘falsify’ already existing hypotheses by designing experiments deliberately to disprove them. It is this process which ensures that scientific knowledge is valid: its ability to withstand the critical scrutiny of peers.

In contrast, religions tend to have ‘closed belief systems’ – religious knowledge is generally regarded as sacred, and should be accepted as is, rather than challenged.

Evolving versus absolute knowledge systems 

Scientific knowledge is cumulative…. it evolves through a process of scientists learning about, criticizing, and improving upon the experimental work of previous scientists.

Religious belief systems, at least those based firmly on religious texts or an idea of an absolute truth are not open to change or growth. Those who challenge such religious belief systems may well be subject to sanctions.

Objectivity and value-freedom versus subjectivity

Subjective, personal feelings should be kept out the scientific process. Scientific knowledge should not be influenced by the personal opinions or biases of the researchers who conduct the experiments which provide the data to generate scientific knowledge.

In contrast, knowledge in many religious traditions is a matter of personal faith and intimate spiritual experience. Many religious experiences, prayer, for example, are highly personal, and not meant to be replicated by others.

Evaluations 

This post effectively deals with the argument that science and religion are different, and thus possibly incompatible. Please see this post for some arguments and evidence for the alternative view: that scientific belief systems are compatible with religious belief systems.

Signposting

This post was written primarily for students of A-level sociology (AQA exam board) and is one of the more difficult topics taught as part of the beliefs in society module.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Sources

The four differences above are the differences between religion and science highlighted by Dixon (2008) in ‘Science and Religion, A Very Short Introduction‘.

Religion and Social Change

Functionalists and Marxists argue religion prevents change, Max Weber and others disagree!

Does religion cause social change, or prevent it?

Functionalists and Traditional Marxists have generally argued that religion prevents social change. Neo-Marxists and the Social Action theorist Max Weber have argued that religion can be a force for social change.

There are wide variety of opinions with Feminist thought as to the relationship between religion and social change. Some Feminists tend to side with the view that religion prevents social change. Other Feminists recognise the potential for religion to bring about social change.

This post considers some of the arguments and evidence against the view that religion prevents social change.

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion prevents social change

Functionalist thinkers Malinowski and Parsons both argued that religion prevents social change by helping individuals and society cope with disruptive events that might threaten the existing social order. Most obviously, religion provides a series of ceremonies which help individuals and societies cope with the death of individual members.

Marx believed that religion helped to preserve the existing class structure. According to Marx religious beliefs serve to justify the existing, unequal social order and prevent social change by making a virtue out of poverty and suffering. Religion also teaches people that it is pointless striving for a revolution to bring about social change in this life. Rather, it is better to focus on ‘being a good Christian’ (for example) and then you will receive your just rewards in heaven.

Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro argued that historically the Catholic Church in Latin America tended to prevent social change. It did so by supporting existing economic and political elites, thus justifying the unequal social order. However, he also recongised that religion had the potential to be a force for social change (see below)

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion causes social change 

Max Weber’s ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ is one of the best loved accounts of how religion can bring about social change. Weber pointed out that Capitalism developed first in England and Holland, taking off in the early 17th century (early 1600s). Just previous to Capitalism taking off, Protestantism was the main religion in these two countries, unlike most other countries in Europe at that time which were Catholic. To cut a very long winded theory short, Max Weber argued that the social norms instilled by Protestantism laid the foundations for modern capitalism.

Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro pointed to the example of Liberation Theology in Latin America to demonstrate that religion can act as a force for social change. He further suggested that this is especially the case where the marginalized have no other outlet for their grievances than religious institutions.

Reverend Martin Luther King and the broader Baptist Church in the Southern United States played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America. This movement effectively helped to end racial segregation in America and secure more equal political rights for non-whites.

Martin Luther King was very much inspired by Gandhi’s religiously inspired practice of Non Violent Direct Action. This involved the use of peaceful protest and resisting of violence in order to bring about social change.

The Arab Spring which swept across the Middle East and North Africa between 2010-2014 offers a more contemporary example of the role of religion in social change. Islamic groups were very active in using social media to highlight the political injustices in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.

This post is a work in progress, further details to be added in due course…!

Image Source 

http://ipost.christianpost.com/post/10-powerful-quotes-from-rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-on-faith

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

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Signposting

This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology, studying the beliefs in society module, usually taught in the second year.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

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