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Assess the claims that religion acts as a conservative force...

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Assess the claims that religion acts as a conservative force... Some sociologists claim that religion acts as a conservative force. Depending on the perspective and the political stance, this is viewed as either a good or bad thing for individuals and society. Functionalists and Marxists have generally dismissed the possibility that religion can cause changes in society. They claim that religion acts as a conservative force and that it is the changes in society that shape religion, not vice versa. Religion can be seen as a 'conservative force' in two senses. The phrase conservative force is usually used to refer to religion as preventing change and maintaining the status quo. Functionalists have claimed that it acts in this way because it promotes integration and social solidarity. As discovered last year throughout our 'AS' modules, from a functionalist perspective, religion provides shared beliefs, norms and values, and helps individuals to cope with stresses that might disrupt social life. In these ways it facilitates the continued existence of society in its present form. Marx had similar views, although he saw religion as maintaining the status quo in the interests of the ruling class rather than those of society as a whole. ...read more.


So far, it appears to be generally agreed that, first, religion helps to maintain the status quo, and that, second, changes in religion result from changes in the wider society. Some sociologists, however, see religion as having the power to cause social change. Both Functionalists and Marxists emphasize, the role of religion in promoting social integration and impeding social change. In contrast, Weber (1958) argued that in some circumstances religion can lead to social change: although shared religious beliefs might integrate a social group, those same beliefs may have repercussions which in the long term can produce changes in society. In his book, 'The Protestant Ethic and the spirit of Capitalism' (1958), Weber examine the relationship between the rise of certain forms of Protestantism and the development of Western industrial capitalism. In his argument, he tries to show that capitalism developed initially in areas where this religion was influential. Other areas of the world possessed many of the necessary prerequisites yet they were not amongst the first areas to develop capitalism. For example, India and China had technological knowledge, labour to be hired, and individuals engaged in making money. What they lacked, according to Weber, was a religion that encouraged and facilitated the development of capitalism. ...read more.


For example, G.K. Nelson (1986) points to a number of cases where religion had under stability or promoted change: "In the USA in the 1960s the Reverend Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council played a leading role in establishing civil rights and securing legislation intended to reduce racial discrimination". "Also in the 1960s, a number of radical and revolutionary groups emerged within the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America. They preached liberation theology, arguing that it was the duty of church members to fight against unjust and oppressive right-wing dictatorships". "In Iran, Islamic fundamentalism played a part in the 1979 revolution, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini" "In South Africa, Archbishop Tutu was a prominent opponent of apartheid" Examples such as these lead Nelson to conclude that 'far from encouraging people to accept their place, religion can spearhead resistance and revolution'. In many cases when religion has been a force for change in society, the society that results may be strongly influenced by that religion. Engels, unlike Marx, did realise that in some circumstances religion could be a force for change. He argued that groups which turned to religion as a way of coping with oppression could develop into political movements which sought change on earth rather than salvation in heaven. Some contemporary neo-Marxists have followed Engels and developed this view. Sanjay Mistry A2 10/02 ...read more.

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