Evaluate the view that religious beliefs and organisations are barriers to social change (20)

The above question appears on the AQA’s 2016 Paper 2 Specimen Paper.

The Question and the Item (as on the paper)

Read Item B and answer the question that follows.

Item B

Many sociologists argue that religious beliefs and organisations act as conservative forces and barriers to social change. For example, religious doctrines such as the Hindu belief in reincarnation or Christian teachings on the family have given religious justification to existing social structures.


Similarly, it is argued that religious organisations such as churches are often extremely wealthy and closely linked to elite groups and power structures.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate the view that religious beliefs and organisations are barriers to social change (20)

Suggested essay plan

Decode

  • The question asks for beliefs and organization, so deal with both.
  • Remember you should look at this in global perspective (it’s on the spec).
  • Remember to use the item. NB all of the material in item is covered in the plan below, all you would need to do in an essay is reference it!
  • Stay mainly focused on the arguments in the first section below.

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion is a barrier to social change

Functionalism

Parsons argued religions maintains social order: it promotes value consensus as many legal systems are based on religious morals.

It also maintains stability in times of social change (when individuals die), and helps people make sense of changes within society, thus helping prevent anomie/ chaos and potentially more disruptive change.

Marxism

 Religion prevents change through ideological control and false consciousness. It teaches that inequality and injustice are God’s will and thus there is no point trying to change it.

 Religion also prevents change by being the ‘opium of the masses’. It makes a virtue out of suffering, making people think they will be rewarded in the afterlife and that if they just put up with their misery now, they’ll get reward later,.

Feminism

 Simone de Beauvoir – religion is used by men to justify their position of power, and to compensate women for their second-class status. It oppresses women in the same way Marx said it oppresses the proletariat.

The Church (typically a conservative force)

The church tends to be closely tied to existing political and economic power structures: the Church of England is closely tied to the state for example: the Queen is closely related and Bishops sit in the Lords. Also most members and attendees are middle class. It thus tends to resist radical social change.

World Accommodating and World Affirming NBMs

World Accommodating NRMs can help prevent change by helping members cope with their suffering in the day to day.

World Affirming Movements (such as TM) reinforce dominant values such as individualism and entrepeneurialism.

Arguments and evidence against the view that religion is a barrier to social change

Liberation Theology

Some Catholic priests in Latin America in the 70s took up the cause of landless peasants and criticized the inequalities in the region.

However, they were largely unsuccessful!

Max Weber

 The protestant ethic gave rise to the spirit of Capitalism (Calvinism and Entrepreneurialism etc.)

Feminism

El Saadawi – It’s Patriarchy, not Islam that has oppressed women… but it is possible for women to fight back against it (as she herself does)

Carol P Christ – believes there are diverse ways to ‘knowing the Goddess’ and criticizes dualistic thinking and the idea that any religion can have  a monopoly on truth

Some World Rejecting NRMs

E.G. The Nation of Islam have aimed to bring about radical social change

The New Age Movement

Encourages individualism and pick and mixing of different religions, so encourages diversity and hybrid religions to emerge.

Secularization

Means religion has less power in society, and thus is less able to act as a barrier to social change.

Thoughts on a conclusion

Make sure you distinguish between beliefs and organisations and types of social change

Signposting

Beliefs in Society is one of the options taught as part of A-level sociology, usually in the second year of study.

For further advice on exam questions you might like my page on Essays, exams and short answer questions.

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

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.

Outline and explain two ways in which religious organisations have changed in response to globalisation

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

This is a brief, bullet pointed answer to give students some ideas of how they might answer this question.

Firstly, some religious organisations have made a conscious effort to be more accepting of diversity, as a response to the increasing intermixing of cultures.

One example of this is ecumenicalism, which seeks to find commonalities across different faiths and stresses that no religion has a monopoly on the truth.

The New Age Movement is also a type of new religion which embraces the diversity of globalization. For example, it draws on many traditions from around the world, such as Buddhism, and it also allows people the freedom to pick and mix different aspects of religions to suit them.

Secondly, some religious organisations have become more fundamentalist, as they perceive globalization as a threat.

Globalization can mean rapid social change and dislocation, and fundamentalist groups are conservative and either want to resist change or take things back to a simpler, ‘golden era’.

Such groups might be appealing to those who feel like they are losing out with the changes globalization brings. They offer a sense of direction and certainty rather than chaos and anomie.

NB: This is a tough question!

Beliefs in society Revision Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology Beliefs in Society Revision Bundle which contains the following:

Mind maps in pdf and png format –covering most of the perspectives on beliefs.

Exam practice questions – 9 in total including three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ questions, three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ questions and three 20 mark essay questions.

 

Gender and Religious Belief

Despite the fact that religions tend to disadvantage women, statistics suggest that women actually express higher levels of religiosity compared to men. This post simply updates some of the stats on the relationship between religious belief and practice and gender in the UK and globally.

  • A Global 2016 study by PEW identified a ‘gender gap’ in religious affiliation. The study found that 83% of women identify with a faith group compared to only 79% of men.
  • The PEW study found a significant gender gap in religion in the US and the UK: The biggest gender gap the was in the US: where 68% men said they were unaffiliated compared to just 32% of women. In the UK, it was 56%-44%.
  • A 2015 Survey of 9000 adults in the UK born in 1970 found that men were twice as likely to believe that god did not exist compared to women. 54% of men reported that they were either atheists of agnostics compared to only 34% of women. Women were also twice as likely to believe in an afterlife compared to men.
  • A 2013 report by the charity TearFund found that UK churches are attended by 65% women and 35% men.
  • The same report found the inverse ratio in other places of worship: 54% male to 46% female

How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology topics exam, June 2018, section B: beliefs in society

A few hints and tips on how I would have answered yesterday’s sociology exam.

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) ‘topics’ exam: beliefs in society, section B only. Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA)

I won’t produce the exact questions below, mainly because I haven’t actually seen the paper at time of writing, just the gist..

Q13: Outline and explain two ways in which globalisation may affect religious beliefs and practices(10)

I would have gone for two very general ‘ways’ and then expanded on them….

Firstly I would have gone for ‘postmodernisation of religion’ – the decline in the numbers of people being dogmatic about religion as people access more and more information about a wider and wider array of religions, and discuss how the new ages movement and ecumenicalism expand

Secondly I would have used Fundamentalism as a reaction to secular globalism.

Q14 – Analyse two reasons why minority ethnic groups in the UK are often more religious that the majority of the population

Using the item as a base, you would have had to have gone for:

  • Minority ethnic groups arriving with a different culture from the host society – you can apply Weberianism and cultural transition theory to this.
  • Members of minority groups facing racism… developed using the cultural defence theory, possibly using Pentecostalism as an example. You could also throw in some Marxist analysis to beef it up.

Q15: Evaluate the view that an increase in spirituality in the UK has compensated for the decline of organised religion

This is basically Postmodernism/ new ageism + secularisation. My plan would have looked something like this:

  • Outline key features of NAMs (in item)
  • Postmodern explanations of NAMs- growth individualism/ rejection metanarratives
  • Outline (briefly) evidence on the decline of organised religion (secularisation)
  • Postmodern explanations of organised religion – doesn’t FIT PM society!
  • Highlight what NAMs do that Organised religion used to do… (arguing for the view in the question) – e.g.
  • Criticise the view in the question… highlighting the differences between NAMs and organised religion…
  • Conclusion… it isn’t replacing organised religion and that’s a god thing?

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

If you like this sort of thing then you might like my ‘beliefs in society’ revision bundle.

The bundle contains the following:

  • Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
  • 52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
  • Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam  questions and model answers
  • Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
  • Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.

The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!

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