This essay is to assess the contribution of religion as a cause of social change and what it has cause throughout the years, some say that religion acts as a conservative force, other say it is a major contributor of social change and some like to take the middle ground on this topic. Religion to sociologist can be seen in two types of ways which is either a conservative force (keeping thing the way they are) or a force for change. Those who see it as a conservative are the ones who believe it’s a force of stability and order whereas the force for change sociologist would say religion encourages societies to change. Religion being a conservative force function is to preserve status quo by maintaining traditional beliefs and maintaining patriarchy. Religion has many functions functionalist believe that religion maintains social solidity, social stability and a value consensus and is therefore supports religion being a concretive force. Marxist on the other hand see it as an ideology that prevents social change by legitimating and reproducing inequality and also disguises exploitation. Feminist also believe religion being a conservative force is a negative force because it legitimates patriarchal power and maintains women’s subordination.
Religion can be seen as a conservative force as well as being force for change, the most famous of these being Max Weber study of the protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism. Weber argues that the religious beliefs of the Calvinist helped bring about a major social change, specifically the emergence of modern capitalism in n northern Europe in the 16th and 14th centuries. The Calvinist had several distinctive beliefs which were: predestination which was that God has already predestination which souls will be saved and who’s not and that no individual can change that. Another belief of theirs is the divine transcendence which is that God is immortal and no human can claim to know his will (including priests) and which this combined creates that Weber refers to as ‘salvation panic’. One other belief the Calvinist believe in is asceticism which is being abstinence, having self discipline and self denial to just live a simple life as Jesus did. The last but no least belief is the idea of a vocation or calling which are defined by two functions, 1 is it helped the Calvinist to cope with their salvation panic as they took this as a sign of God’s favour ad their salvation- for why else would they have prospered and 2 is their accumulated wealth by the most efficient and rational means possible and not spending it on luxuries but instead reinvesting it (which in Weber’s view is the spirit of modern capitalism).
It is very important to note that Weber’s was not arguing that the Calvinist beliefs were the cause of modern capitalism but simply that they were one of its causes. Other societies had a higher rate of economic growth than northern Europe in the 16th and 17th century but failed to adopt modern capitalism. China and India were more materially advanced but didn’t adopt capitalism due to their lack of religious belief like the Calvinist. They promote rewards in the other life, good deeds and other goals that lacked the material drive that Calvinism created. Weber has theory has many criticisms some of these are that for example Kautsky argues that Weber overestimates the role of ideas and underestimates economic factors in bring capitalism in to being, he argues that in fact capitalism preceded rather than followed Calvinism . Similarly R.H Tawney argues that technological change, not religious ideas, caused the birth of capitalism. Weber has also been criticised because capitalism did not develop in every country where there were Calvinist, for example in Scotland. Steve Bruce is interested in the relationship between religion and social change, he therefore used two case studies to analyse this, The American civil rights movements and The New Christian Right.
The new Christian movement is a religiously motivated movement to end racial segregation in America in the 1950s to 60s. The black clergy played a major role (Dr Martin Luther King) giving moral legitimacy to activists, they provided sanctuary and unity, appealed to common Christian values of equality. Bruce sees religion is an ideological resource he identified several ways in which religious organisations are well equipped to support protest and contributes to social change: 1) Taking the moral high ground which is the black clergy pointed out the hypocrisy of white clergy who preached ‘love thy neighbour’ but supported racial segregation, 2) channelling dissent is religion provides channels to express political dissent, For example the funeral of Martin Luther king was a rallying point for the civil right cause. 3) Acting as honest broker because churches can provide a context for negotiating changes because they are often respected by both sides in a conflict and seen as standing above ‘mere politics’ and lastly 4) Mobilising public opinion is when black churches in the south successfully campaigned for support across the whole of America.
It had the shared values of those in power and those in wider society and could use these to push for change. The New Christian Rights is a politically and morally conservative, protestant fundamentalist movement it has gained prominence since 1960s because of its opposition to the liberalising of American society. They want to take America ‘back to God’. As well as want abortion, homosexuality and divorce illegal and ban SRE in schools. They also want to bring back the traditional family and gender roles (patriarchy) and teach only the creationism, nothing about evolution or big bang theory. The new Christian right has been largely unsuccessful in achieving their aim, reasons are because the ‘moral majority’ was never a majority, but 15% of the population at most, also its campaigners find it difficult to cooperate with people from other religious groups and they lack widespread support and has met with strong opposition from groups who stand for freedom of choice.
The new Christian rights is described as a failed movement for change , despite enormous publicity and a high profile in the media it has not achieved its aims of taking America ‘back to god’. In conclusion religion has played such a big role in past and current society, some might say for the best others may disagree. As in item A ‘… religion can play an important part in bringing about social change for example religious ideas can be a powerful motivation for change, as Weber showed in his study of Calvinist.’ , as well as also campaigning for social reform.