Evaluate the Contribution Marxists Have made in Understanding the Role religion plays in Society

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Jay Kane

Evaluate the Contribution Marxists Have made in Understanding the Role religion plays in Society

Marxists claim that religions play a conservative role in society, meaning it promotes a ruling class ideology to keep the working classes in check and maintain the status quo. They see religion as a human made concept, arguing it acts as an ‘opiate for the masses’ blinding them to the true nature of a capitalist society, ‘it is easier for a  to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ - a common nineteenth century notion justifying social inequality by saying existing hierarchy is ‘god given’

Marx sees religion as a tool for social control, keeping the working classes at bay and working solely in the interest of the ruling classes. These is much evidence to support this, Halevy 1972 commented on how the Methodist religion played an integral role of preventing a working class revolution in the 19 century, encouraging people to seek enlightenment spiritually rather than revolt against the capitalist who were oppressing them, like most other European countries did at some point in history. Marx comments on religion disguising the true nature of exploitation, they see religion as a means to justify economic and social inequality in supernatural terms.

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 Marxist theory on religion, like all sociological theories, can be highly criticized. As such by functionalists who see religion as the ‘social cement’ which holds society together and which promotes a ‘collective conscience’. For example the Ten Commandments are used as the societal rules to live and abide by. Primarily functionalists see religion as a positive influence on society whereas Marxists see it only positive to the dominant, capitalist ruling classes.

Functionalists, like Marxists see religion as a conservative force but they differ greatly in their interpretation. While Marx sees religion as serving only in the interests of the ruling ...

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There are a tiny number of grammatical issues in this essay, for example at the end of the first paragraph, the full stop is absent. On the whole spelling is good, although there are a few errors such as “dyeing” instead of “dying”. But the candidate is clear and coherent overall, which will indeed contribute towards a fair mark.

Functionalism, Neo-Marxism and Post-modernism is discussed, as well as traditional Marxism. Identifying what these sociological groups believe to be the role of religion is essential to successfully answering the “evaluate” section of the question. However I think that in order to gain a higher mark, Feminist and Phenomenologist views should be stated also. Radical feminists believe that the role of religion is to continue the patriarchal nature of society, for example this is evident as women cannot be priests. Phenomenologists see religion as having a positive role for the individual - not society as a whole. By explaining this I think that the writer would gain both more evaluative marks as well as marks for showing specific sociological knowledge and understanding. In addition, when explaining Post-modernist theories (about anything) it needs to be said that they do not believe in “metanarratives”, which is one big story explaining life (such as religion). This just pinpoints to the examiner that you understand Post-modernism. Religious quotes are used, “‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’” in the context of Marxism which is impressive. In addition the writer quotes Marx himself, “opiate of the masses” which demonstrates that they have a broad knowledge of Marxism (which is what the question focuses on). Key terms, “Liberation theology” and “secularisation” are referred to, which is excellent, because, in my experience, most candidates have a tendency to not bother with the sociological terms that sound complicated. The candidate makes good use of contemporary issues/examples in relation to the role of religion, such as “Finally another significant criticism of Marxist theory would be the rise in fundamentalist groups”. This shows that the candidate can recognise and articulate relevant topical sociological debate.

The writer answers the specific question asked, as they explain how religion is viewed by Marxists as a conservative force – a tool for the upper class to institutionally control and manipulate the working class into serving capitalism. They also discuss the fact that Neo-Marxists sometimes view religion in a more radical sense, which will gain lots of evaluative marks as both arguments are mentioned. This essay begins with a fair introduction, and concludes by stating that Marxism is a valid theory. This recognition will earn them a decent grade. But the structure is of a list fashion, which examiners loathe. The writer would do better to more frequently weave knowledge and evaluation into longer paragraphs: making it look more professional.