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"Religion is essentially a Conservative Force in Society." Explain and discuss this statement.

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"Religion is essentially a Conservative Force in Society." Explain and discuss this statement. Describing Religion as a 'Conservative Force' seems to imply that Religion is an inhibitor of social change and used as a means by which to maintain the existing order of Society and the Status Quo. Some Sociologists such as Durkheim and Marx would agree with this and there are others who would argue against such a claim. It is a debate, one side says Religion inhibits change and the other says it sets social change in motion. As already mentioned Durkheim believed that Religion acts as a Conservative Force. In more detail what he actually thought was that Religious worship is like worshipping Society, in other words the beliefs in religion actually strengthen the values of the Society from which Religion originates. Durkheim used the practice of Totemism among Australian Aborigines as an example, the Totem pole is a sacred object and each clan has an individual symbol on the Totem. The carvings on the pole are incredibly meaningful to that Society, everything from the group's history to it's very existence is invested in the pole (Not unlike the Church's significance in some societies such as Britain).


However despite this evidence it can still be argued that Religion is much more than a set of beliefs and practices which develop in a Capitalist society. For example, whilst Russia was still the USSR the number of Baptisms which occurred remained high. Surely this acts as evidence that religion is not just a means to support Capitalism. Max Weber disagreed entirely with the idea that Religion is a conservative force. Unlike Sociologists such as Durkheim and Marx, Weber thought that religion can act as a radical force for social change and he used the idea of the 'Protestant ethic' as an example. What he meant by this term were the main aspects and beliefs of this religion such as; wasting time/food/resources is considered to be a sin, extravagance is wrong, living a frugal and God fearing life is good.etc. These aspects were according to Weber a major catalyst in the creation of Industrialisation and if that is true then it would also be true that religion can play a part in social change.


Not unlike Functionalism Berger and Luckmann make the assumption that Religion only has a positive effect on society such as maintaining social stability, overlooking the examples of where Religion has caused conflict. Eg. Northern Ireland, where the differing views of Protestantism and Catholicism has caused division, conflict and violence.etc. What makes Phenomenology different from other structural theories such as Functionalism is that rather than looking at the role and functions of such things as Religion, it considers the actual individuals in society and what things such as Religion means to them. One example of this kind of view is Eileen Barker's Participant Observation study of the Moonies. The individuals within the Cult shared meanings such as; a sense of belonging, clear direction in terms of how they thought, answers to spiritual questions.etc. In conclusion, although the likes of Durkheim and Marx provide very good evidence of how Religion may act as a Conservative force, once you consider modern examples such as Islamic Fundamentalism, the state of Israel and Ireland and the apparent process of Secularisation it seems that Religion is maintaining nothing like the two Sociologists described. If Religion is maintaining anything then it seems to be conflict, surely that cannot be viewed as part of the conservative force.

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