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How far is religion a radical or a conservative force?

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How far is religion a radical or a conservative force? Religion consists of beliefs, actions and institutions which assume the existence of supernatural entities with power of action or impersonal powers possessed of moral purpose. Some sociologists claim that religion acts as a conservative force, depending on the perspective this can be seen as a positive or negative affect 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. Religion can be seen as a conservative force, in that religion prevents change and maintains status quo. However some sociologist may argue that changes in society leads to changes in religion this resulting in a radical change. Tischler believed that there are five functions that religion transmits. He believes that religion promotes social cohesion by bringing people together and reaffirms group norms/beliefs and values, this promotes a conservative society because it maintains the status quo. He also believes that religion helps maintain norms and sanctions, transmits culture from one generation to another. His last function that he believed religion does is to offer emotional support. Functionalists claim that religion acts as a conservative force to promote integration and social solidarity. Religion provides shared beliefs, norms and values and helps individuals to cope with stresses that might disrupt social life. ...read more.


Although Durkheim linked religion to socialisation and control, he did not translate this into modern day society. Durkheim did work on an aboriginal tribe with a clan based social organisation belief of totems. A totem is a sacred object represented by the clan regular rituals served to unite clan members into collective unity. Development of collective conscience as members worshipped totems but sacred objects was clan or society. Religion for Durkheim was constructed by society. Instead of worshipping God, the clan were worshipping society within their religious practice. Malinowski was concerned with the religious rituals which minimise anxiety. He was interested in pre-industrial - Trobriand islanders. It is also a way to counteract unpredictable events, it deals with emotional stress and allows you to adjust. Through his primary research he found rituals associated with fishing in open sea but not when sailing in the lagoon which was safer, he also noted that tension generated by sea fishing was a potential threat to community stability. Malinowski complements Durkheim in that religion contributes to social solidarity and reinforces a value consensus, However he challenges Durkheim by saying that he community is threatened and in times disrupted and anxious. However emphasis on consensus of values and norms ignores the dissent, deviance and resistance found in modern, industrial society. Parsons believed that religion is the primary source of meaning in society, it provides the core values and thereby promotes social solidarity. ...read more.


The doctrine of Calvin seems less likely to produce capitalism. If certain individuals were destined for heaven regardless of their behaviour on earth and the rest were equally unable to overcome their damnation, there would be little point in hard work on earth. Therefore, the interpretation than the Calvinists put on the doctrine of predestination contributed to them becoming the first capitalists. Many sociologists do now accept that religion can be a force for change. Despite the examples that can be used to support the functionalist and Marxist view on religion promotes stability other examples contradict their claims. For example Nelson points to a number of cases where religion had under stability, promoted change: "In Iran, Islamic fundamentalism played a part in the 1979 revolution, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini" Examples such as these lead Nelson to conclude that far from encouraging people to accept their place, religion can be spearhead resistance and revolution. In many cases when religion has been a force for change in 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. 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. ...read more.

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