Functionalists believe religion is key in
maintaining social stability and integration
(deterring people from pursuing social desires)
Religion does have positive
functions for society.
• It ignores religion as a source
of conflict and division
• Marxists and Feminists argue it
supports the existing social
structure and acts as a social
control so the less powerful
can’t change their position.
Marxists see religion as a preventing social
change by disguising exploitation and inequality,
which creates false consciousness amongst
Feminists see religion as a patriarchal institution
which keeps women in a subordinate position.
A FORCE FOR CHANGE
In his study, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of
Weber says that religious beliefs of Calvinism
helped to bring about social change (in particular the
emergence of modern capitalism). He says that
modern capitalism is based on the systemic, rational
and efficient pursuit of profit for it’s own sake, rather
than for consumption. He calls this the ‘spirit of
capitalism’, and this spirit has an elective affinity.
God has predetermined which souls will be
saved and which won’t, and this decision can’t be
• Divine Transcendence
God is so far above and greater than anyone,
that no one knows his will. Weber says this gives
people ‘salvation anxiety’ and in turn this creates
‘salvation panic’ as people don’t know whether
they will be saved or not.
abstinence, self-discipline and self-denial of
luxuries and instead devoting your life to God
The Idea of a Vocation or Calling
Before Calvinism, you had to devote to God
through renouncing your life to join a convent or
monastry. (‘other worldly asceticism’) Now,
Weber identifies ‘worldly asceticism’, which is the
idea of a calling/vocation which is constantly
methodical but within an occupation – but this
was simply a religious duty, not salvation
So, Calvinists led an ascetic lifestyle, which involved
no luxuries and hard work; “Idleness is a sin”.
However, this had two consequences:
Their success meant they could cope with
salvation panic, and they saw their wealth as a
sign of God’s favour. But, this went against their
belief of divine transcendence.
They indulged in their business to expand profit
as they couldn’t spend on luxuries. But, this is a
belief of modern capitalism.
PLEASE NOTE!!! Weber is arguing that Calvinist
beliefs is one of the causes of modern capitalism,
not the only cause. Material and economic factors
were also necessary.
On the other hand, Weber notes that there have
been other societies which have a higher economic
development where modern capitalism hasn’t
ANCIENT CHINA AND
Modern capitalism failed to develop here, despite
their material advances. Weber believes this is due to
the lack of a religious belief system (e.g. Calvinism)
Thus, in ancient India, Hinduism was an ascetic
religion, but it had an ‘other worldly’ orientation. It
directed it’s followers concerns to the spiritual world,
not the material world.
In ancient China, Confucianism was a ‘this worldly’
religion that directed it’s followers to the material
world, but it was not ascetic.
So, both religions lacked the drive to accumulate
wealth which was necessary for modern capitalism.
Kautsky: Weber over estimates the roles of ideas and
underestimates economic factors.
Tawney: argues technological change caused capitalism
once established. The bourgeoisie then adapted Calvinist
beliefs to legitimate their pursuit of economic gain.
Capitalism didn’t always develop where Calvinists were.
Marshall says this is due to a lack of investment capital and
Calvinists were among the first capitalists; this is because
they were excluded by law from political office so business
was a good alternative. Weberians reply that other religious
minorities were excluded from this but didn’t become
RELIGION AND SOCIAL
The American Civil Rights Movement:
This movement took place in the 1950s and 60s,
and protested to end racial segregation. It started in
1955 when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of
a bus like she was expected to. They achieved their
goal in 1964 when segregation was outlawed after
nearly a decade of protest marches, boycotts and
demonstrations by black people.
THE AMERICAN CIVIL
Bruce describes the black clergy (led by Dr.
Martin Luther King) as the backbone of the
movement. Bruce explains how they were able
shame the whites into changing the law so it
suited their shared Christian values of equality.
Bruce says religion in this context is an
‘ideological resource’ – it provided beliefs and
practices protesters could draw on for motivation
Bruce identifies several ways in which religious
organisations are equipped to support protests and
contribute to social change:
Taking the Moral High Ground (not being
Acting as ‘Honest Broker’
Mobilising Public Opinion
Bruce argues that this movement was able to
achieve it’s goal because it shared the same
views as wider society. It shamed those in power
to put into practice the principle of equality
embedded in the American Constitution.
THE NEW CHRISTIAN
This movement aims to take America ‘back to
God’ with a strong belief in tradition (particularly
within the family). It campaigns to teach
‘creationism’ (the Bible’s account are true) and to
ban sex education in school. This is because
they wish to make abortion, divorce and
homosexuality illegal. Members advertise their
beliefs mainly through the media.
A modern example of a New Christian Right
movement is The Tea Party (leader – Sarah
However, it has been largely unsuccessful in
achieving it’s goals. Bruce believes it is down to…
• The ‘moral majority’ being only 15% of the
• It’s campaigners found it very difficult to
cooperate with people from different religious
• It lacks widespread support and has met with
strong opposition from groups who stand for
freedom of choice (Planned Parenthood etc)
Bruce describes this movement as a failure. He
believes it is because of the basically liberal and
democratic values of most American societies (e.g.
a belief in the separation of church and state).
Surveys have shown that most Americans are
comfortable with legalising activities that they
personally believe are immoral (e.g. abortion),
which poses a problem for the New Christian Right.
Bruce explains how their demands are impossible
in a mature democracy.
In order to succeed like the American Civil Rights
movement, they need to connect with the
mainstream beliefs of society!
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