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Is religion a force for social change?

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Introduction

Is religion a force for social change? There are two views on the issue of whether religion is a force for social change in society. Certain theories adopt the view that religion is more of a conservative force, maintaining the status quo. Other theories have taken the view that religion is a force for social change, bringing about revolutions in society. With all views, there remains the problem that there is no universal definition of religion. Marx's view for example, would be that religion would inhibit social change as it legitimises and justifies the status quo, where as this is usually contrasted with Weber, who suggests that religion can cause social change, in that it helped the development of capitalism. The functionalists and early Marxists are the theorists who claim that religion is a conservative force. The functionalists believe religion is a conservative force because they believe religion promotes a stable society, with no disruptions. Early Marxists, on the other hand, believe religion is a conservative force for different reasons, which are mainly that they believe the Bourgeoisie use religion to maintain their position of power in society, therefore keeping things as they are. Marx claimed that religion was an effective agent of social control, referring to religion as the "opiate of the masses", pumping perception-distorting drugs into the proletariat like a hypodermic needle. For him it was a mechanism of social control, it regulates the behaviour of the working class and prevents them from seeing their true situation. ...read more.

Middle

Durkheim viewed religion as being a major source of social integration - all religious activity has one main function - the celebration of the community. Religion is not about the worship of god, but of society. People are drawn together through religious activity and this helps to create a value consensus and a common belief system containing the collective morality of that society. Durkheim saw religion as being social cement, binding people together. Durkheim's conclusions are based on his analysis of aboriginal society. Durkheim said that in order to understand religion it is vital to recognize the difference between the sacred (spiritual/religious) and the profane (not religious/secular). He believed that sacred items are assigned their spirituality by society and are an embodiment of the core values which society strives to embrace. Like Comte, the founder of sociology, Durkheim believed that eventually society would secularise and religion would virtually disappear or be replaced by a new religion and other representations of society would take its place, like technology. Technology demonstrates values of enterprise, initiative, materialism, mass commercialism and so forth - things very valuable to society today. Durkheim saw religion as a positive force within society as it has essential and beneficial effects for society. In formulating his theory of religion, Durkheim thought it necessary to find evidence that could be used to support his views. He supported his theory by using secondary research on Aboriginals - research that someone else had already carried out. ...read more.

Conclusion

In 1968 a conference of Bishops met in Medellin in Colombia, concerned with the general situation in Latin America. The Bishops recognized the temptation to resort to revolutionary violence. They did not believe violence would result in any permanent change. The term "Liberation Theology" became popular. Priests became active in joining movements to fight for injustice and oppression, becoming prepared to speak out. The Liberation Theology supports the idea that religion can be a force of social change and goes against the Marxist idea. Also in criticism of Marx is the fact that some religions are revolutionary like the Levellers and Puritans, also, supporting Liberation Theology, in Nazi Germany many priests spoke out against Hitler, likewise in South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out against apartheid. Also British Church leaders campaigned against inequalities in Capitalism during Thatcher's time as Prime Minister. The Church of England commissioned various reports to show what a poor condition the poor were in. In conclusion, according to Marxists and other perspectives coming from a structural perspective, religion does not promote, rather keeping society stable and encouraging the social structure. Weber and Nelson see religion as a promoting social change and undermining stability. They believe that religion can act as a catalyst for social change. However, religion can both encourage and inhibit social change, but it depends on the circumstances and of course the role of religion in society and how influential it is. Many may argue that religion is not as influential in today's society as it once was due to society becoming more secular, therefore is neither a force of social control, nor change. - 1 - ...read more.

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