“Religion was a central topic of debate for classical social theorists. Explain why religion was an important theme for Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Then, select two of these theorists and compare (a) their definitions of religion and (b) their analysis of its function in society”. (2000 words) According to Fulcher and Scott (2007) a religion is a ‘system of beliefs through which people organize and order their lives. This is often thought to involve belief in a god or gods, but this is not the case for all religious belief. The central meaning of the word ‘religion’ is in fact simply the way in which shared beliefs, established regulations, rules, or bonds of obligation among the members of a community’. Based on this definition, religion provides people with a form of rules in which they have to lead their lives by. It also provides them with a sense of unity as the very act of communal worship, which involves expressing their faith in common beliefs and values (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008, p. 397), raises their awareness of their similar situations and strengthens the bonds between them (Pilkington et al, 2008, p. 7). However, not all social theorists will agree with the definition as their view of religion may differ. Therefore, this will lead me to outline in my essay the views that some classical social theorists held towards religion. Those that I will be focusing on, will me Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. The reason being is, these three theorists have proposed some influential ideas about religion, and analyzing their work will enable me to understand the way in which they viewed religion, and what they thought the purpose of religion was. To do this, I will first provide an explanation for why religion was an important theme for the three. Following that, I will concentrate on Marx and Durkheim, by comparing their definitions of religion and their analysis of its function. All three theorists were sociologist writing in the 19th century, and they knew that religion played a big part in society (Fulcher and Scott, 2007, p. 409). However, religion was an important theme to them for different reasons. For Marx, religion was important to him as he believed that religion was one of the institutions which maintained a capitalist rule (Pilkington et al, 2008, p. 12). He argued that it acted as an ideology which helped hide and legitimize capitalist exploitation (Kirby et al, 2000, p. 440). It leads those who are suffering in false direction, as it hides the true nature of society and the real reasons for why they are suffering (Kirby et al, 2000, p. 440). It was also important to him as it believed it acted as an agent of social control; it kept people in their place. It did this by upholding the existing system of exploitation and reinforcing class relationships (Haralambos and Holborn, 2008, p. 400). Religion was an important theme for Durkheim, as he believed religion was the source of everything social. He didn’t think that everything social was religious, but he did believe that social bonds were created through religion. Durkheim showed this by examining the aboriginal religion, which he called Totemism. He argued that within their clans, the symbols that bonded them together and created a sense of unity was predominately a religious symbol (Allan, 2010, p. 112-113). Lastly, religion was an important theme for Weber as he believed it was a conservative force. He argued that societies developed differently partly because of the ‘religious beliefs and ideas about ethical conduct of their members were different’. Therefore, religious beliefs and movements can help produce social change (Pilkington et al, 2008, p. 19). Weber’s idea of social change was based on a protestant religion, called Calvinism. He argued it created the social condition which made the western part of the world ready for a capitalist economic society (Kirby et al, 2000, p. 442). He suggested the work ethic produced by the Calvinists lead...
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