O Marxists are thought of seeing religion as
an entirely conservative ideology.
However, they recognise that religious
ideas can have ‘relative autonomy’. That
is, they can be partly independent of the
the economic base of society. So, they
conclude religion can have a dual
O For example, Marx doesn’t entirely view
religion negatively: “It is capable of
humanising a world made inhuman by
O Engels agrees that religion has a dual
character. It inhibits change, but it can
also encourage it. E.g. sometimes, it
preaches liberation from slavery and
The Principle of Hope
O Bloch accepts that religion often inhibits
change, but he emphasises that it can
inspire protest and rebellion. Religion can
create a vision of a better world, which, if
combines with politics, could bring about
social change (‘the principal of hope’).
This theology was committed to the poor and
opposed military dictatorships.
What led to this theology?
O The deepening of rural poverty and the
growth of urban slums
O The abuse of human rights (e.g. torture in
countries such as Brazil)
O The growing commitment of Catholic priests
to support an ideology that supported the poor
O The emphasis in liberation theology is on
‘praxis’ – practical action guided by theory.
O (An example of liberation theology is in El
Salvador – Archbishop Oscar Romero)
O Liberation theology set out to change
O Priests helped the poor to set up support
groups called ‘base communities’
O They helped peasants to fight oppression
under the Church’s protection
O They educated the poor, raised
awareness and mobilised support.
O During the 1970s, the Catholic priest
resisted state terror and took the side of
O During the 1980s, Pope John Paul II
condemned liberation theology on the
grounds that it resembled Marxism, and
told priests to focus on pastoral activities,
not political struggle.
O Since then, the movement has lost it’s
O However, Casanova says the theology
played an important role in resisting state
terror and bringing about democracy.
O Also, Maduro (neo-marxist) said religion
can be a revolutionary force to bring about
social change. E.g. peasants seeing
working for the poor was part of their
O Löwy also questions Marx’s view that
religion legitimates social inequality.
O Löwy and Maduro see liberation theology
as an example of religiously inspired
O Marxists argue that it did not threaten the
stability of capitalism.
O Because religion raises the hope of a
better after life, this could create a desire
to change things here and now.
O This movement refers to the idea that
Christ would come into the world for a
second time and rule for 1,000 years
before the day of judgement.
OWorsley said such movements expect
total and imminent transformation of the
world by supernatural means. By creating
a heaven on Earth, the whole group will
be saved, not just individuals.
O The appeal of this movement is largely to
the poor seeing as it promises immediate
improvement and arises in colonial
situations. Europe colonialism led to
economic exploitation and religious
domination. It shattered traditional tribal
structures and the cultures of colonised
OWorsley studied cargo cults in Melanesia.
The islanders felt wrongfully deprived
when ‘cargo’ arrived in the islands for the
colonists. A series of cargo cults sprang
up during the 19th and 20th centuries and
said the cargo was meant for the natives
but had been diverted by the whites for
themselves. This unjust social order was
about to be overturned.
OWorsley said the movements combined
elements of traditional beliefs with
elements of Christianity. The movements
are ‘pre-political’ (use religious images
and ideas, but they united native
populations in mass movements that
spanned tribal divisions)
O Engels argues millenarian movements
represent the first awakening of
Religion and Hegemony
O Gramsci explains how the bourgeoisie
use religious ideas to maintain control
(‘hegemony’) through ideological
domination or leadership of society. When
hegemony is established, the bourgeoisie
can rely on popular consent to their rule,
so there is less need for coercion.
Religion and Hegemony
O However, hegemony is never guaranteed.
It is possible for the proletariats to develop
an alternative vision of how society should
be organised. Gramsci, like Engels, sees
religion as having a dual character and it
can challenge the bourgeoisie. Some
clergy can act as ‘organic intellectuals’ to
help workers see the situation they are in
and support working class organisations.
Religion and Class Conflict
Billings compares class struggle in two
communities of working class protestants.
O Militant miners
O Quiescent textile workers
Religion and Class Conflict
O He found three ways that religion is
supported or challenged by the employers’
O The miners had leadership of organic
intellectuals, so they helped to convert the
miners to the union cause. Textile workers
didn’t have this so they were easily
influenced by the views of the clergy who
saw employers’ and denounced unions as
O Miners use independent churches to hold
meetings, but the textile workers had no
space but that run by mill owners.
O The churches kept miners morale high
(through prayer/group meetings). Textile
workers met with opposition who branded
them as communists.
O Billings shows religion was an important
factor in class struggle but recognises that
other things played a role. For example,
the miners had teamwork for safety, so
had a strong solidarity.
O Religion can play a ‘prominent
oppositional role’ by defending status quo
or justifying the struggle to change it.
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