To What Extent Do Sociologists Agree That Religion Is a Force for Social Change?

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To what extent do Sociologists agree that religion is a force for social change? Throughout history, there has been an on-going debate as to whether or not religion is a conservative force, or a force for social change. Whilst many Sociologists such as Durkheim, see religion as a positive conservative force; creating social harmony and solidarity, others disagree claiming religion to be a strong force for social change and as neo-Marxist Otto Maduro believes, religion has the power to initiate revolutionary change. Firstly, both Functionalism and Marxism takes on the approach that religion is a conservative force as both hold the view that religion aids society, in terms of allowing it to stay within its existing practices. However, the two perspectives disagree on why and how religion helps to do this. Functionalist, Durkheim stated that religion is essential in creating shared norms and values. He claimed that practices of religion and in the law, help people to live their lives. In modern Western society there are thirteen bishops in the House of Lords, who all influence which laws are made and passed, in accordance with Christian teachings. Such issues as abortion, euthanasia, and divorce are discussed and decisions are made about them, which are influenced by the church. Through this system of having a religious guidance, a value consensus is created, by which most of society accepts. This is also known as a collective consciousness which Durkheim taught, formed “social solidarity”; leading to a harmonious and stable environment for people to live in. Durkheim and many other Functionalists viewed social solidarity as highly important, as they believed it allowed people to feel socially supported reducing the risk of people feeling a sense of anomie. Durkheim himself was very focused on the “sacred” and “profane”. He claimed that religious procedures are something which societies see as being divine. For example, a supernatural being such as an omnipotent God, would be sacred. However, not only that but something does not have to be scared for it to be divine, thus meaning, as the Bible is full of religious teachings it is a divine object. Durkheim emphasised that divine matters, cause strong feelings of respect and defence. These strong beliefs can cause passionate emotions of dedication and encouragement thus establishing group solidarity; again ruling out the sense of anomie. The Functionalist argued that in a more profane manor, the church unites the community by having events like, tea afternoons, fates, jumble etc. This way the church is permitting people to give something back to their society but also receive help or companionship if they need it. Nevertheless, Durkheim is criticized for discarding the idea of a sacred being, being the main attribute of religion.

On the other hand, Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro observes how religion contains the authority to inspire a revolt thus generating social change. Maduro refereed to the “liberation theology” to put his view forward. Between the 1950’s and 1960’s, South America was largely Catholic but many priests started to separate themselves from the Catholic Church; claiming that it was their duty to assist and liberate those who were being oppressed. This is when the “liberation theology” first started to be taught. These teachings opposed the current situation; leading to a revolution. Oscar Romero was a Catholic bishop who spoke out about the injustice of so many people, and for this he was assonated. His death sparked a huge amount of outrage and fury by the people he was trying to help, groups such as the Democratic Revolutionary front united to oppose what the government was doing, in terms of exploiting the people. Maduro used the “liberation theology” to highlight how religion can perform as a force for social change. Another example, of religion being a force for social change is the Apartheid system in South Africa. This was the legal racial separation of...
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