Critically examine the relationship between religion and social change (33 marks)
In relation to social change, some theories have argued that religion is a conservative force and acts to prevent change and keep society stable. This is the view held by earlier theories that stressed the role of institutions in shaping human behaviour and maintaining the stability of society, such as Functionalism and Marxism. Religion is also seen as conservative because it is traditional; defending traditional customs and moral views, for example.
Functionalists view religion as a conservative force, preventing social change. Durkheim believed that religion performs an important function for society, ...view middle of the document...
Functionalism also emphasises consensus in society and how institutions fit together like the organs of the human body and help maintain social order and stability. An example of this is the 10 commandments and how they reinforce the nuclear family and monogamous relationships. The act of collect worship, ceremonies and rituals also brings people together and reinforces social solidarity and support for tradition. Funerals are an example of religion bringing people together and minimising disruption to the life of the bereaved. Religion can also maintain social order by reducing emotional and psychological threats to social stability.
Malinowski noted how rituals surround life crises and periods of uncertainty to reduce tension and offer security. In his study of the Trobriand Islanders, Malinowski discovered that religious rituals were used before fishing in unknown waters to reduce anxiety and bring about a sense of control to the situation. However, many people get through life crises without turning to or using religion. Such as friends, family and even therapy as a result of the New Age. However, Stark and Bainbridge argue that religion helps to compensate and that even the ecumenical movement cannot cause secularisation because it is a universal need which will keep society stable. Stark and Bainbridge reject the social and cultural factors that help and sustain religion. Overall, Functionalism, as a consensus theory, describes a range of functions of religion which help to maintain social order and prevent social change.
More recently, neo-functionalist Bellah has examined the idea of civil religion in America. This is where a belief in Americanism unites people and ‘gets people together’ and maintains society in the same way as a traditional religion. This is illustrated by phrases like ‘one nation under God’ and ‘In God we trust’ on their currency, suggesting a link between America and God.
Marxists see religion as an ideology that prevents social change. By disguising exploitation, it creates false consciousness in the working class and prevents revolution, therefore maintaining the stability of a capitalist society and preventing social change. Engels claims that religion is a tool of social control, used by the ruling class to keep the masses in their place. Engels recognised that in order for the ruling class to maintain the status quo, ‘the people must be kept in order by moral means, and first and foremost of all moral means of actin upon the masse is and remains – religion’. The ruling classes are able to legitimise their social position in the Church by offering compensation in telling the proletariat that God will reward their suffering with a place in heaven which prevents the proletariat from revolting and to use religion as a social opium. Nevertheless, clergymen have helped to support the oppressed in opposition to the power and authority held by the bourgeoisie.
Feminists see religion as a social force because it acts...