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Some sociologists believe that religious beliefs and organisations create barriers to

social change; structural perspectives such as functionalism, Marxism and feminism


would broadly argue that religion prevents social change, whereas social action
theorists like Weber asserts that under certain circumstances, religion can in fact
lead to social change.
Functionalists would argue that religion acts a conservative force through social
integration. Durkheim described this as a form of social glue that helps bring about
collective conscience, where people are working together towards common goals.
Religion is therefore just one institution that helps bind people together. One way
that religion achieves this Malinowski believed is that it has psychological benefits
as it can support people through times of life crisis, this can help families and
societies feel bonded, such as with the death of a child. Religion provides the rituals
for people to enable them to cope like attending a funeral. Marxists would also
argue that religion acts as a barrier to social change. They see religion as an
institution that promotes false-class consciousness amongst the proletariat; the
working class is unaware of their position in society due to the bourgeoisie ideology
of the wealthy and the elite that is transmitted through institutions like religion.
Marx believed that messages are transmitted through religious ideas that maintain
the privilege of the ruling class. One example is the existence of the prospect of
going to heaven after death. According to Marxists, religions such as Christianity use
the hope of an afterlife as a method to provide consolation to the working class for
their position in society. However, religious fundamentalism challenges the idea of
religion being conservative in nature. Fundamentalists wish to return to the
traditional values of Holy Scriptures and they also challenge Western values like the
freedom of speech, groups such as ISIS who are prepared to use violence as a
means to create radical change so as to return to such traditional values illustrate
this.

On the other hand, some sociologists believe that religion can be a force for social
change. For instance, Weber asserted that religion could help shape economic
systems. In his research into Calvinism, Weber argued that the ethics Protestants
attached to their lifestyle resulted in the development of capitalism in Western
societies. He identified concepts such as predestination and the Protestant work
ethic, where people felt uncertain about their futures and so through hard work and
a God-fearing character this encouraged the poor to work harder and reinvest their
wealth. Weber said that the reason capitalism developed when it did in Western
societies and not in other areas of the world was because of
Calvinism/Protestantism itself. China, for example may have had the right economic
conditions for the development of capitalism but it did not have the right values.
In conclusion, although there is significant evidence that suggests religion acts as a
conservative force, there are plenty of contemporary examples where it has been a
force for social change. Bruce saw the black civil rights movement of the 1950s/60s
as one illustration where religion helped black people stand up against segregation.
Bruce believed that the church acted as an honest broker between itself and the
government that rose above the issue of politics and led to changes in the law to
bring about equality between all men and women.