Critically examine the relationship between religion and social change (33 marks)
In relation to social change, some theories have argued that religion is a conservative force and acts to prevent change and keep society stable. This is the view held by earlier theories that stressed the role of institutions in shaping human behaviour and maintaining the stability of society, such as Functionalism and Marxism. Religion is also seen as conservative because it is traditional; defending traditional customs and moral views, for example.
Functionalists view religion as a conservative force, preventing social change. Durkheim believed that religion performs an important function for society, binding people together like ‘social cement’ preventing anomie. Religion provides a set of moral values that form the collective conscience, ensuring social stability. This is where religion unifies people which leads to conformity which then makes behaviour predictable. Religion also answers eternal questions such as ‘why the good die young’ and ‘why do people suffer’ in Christian for example, helping to prevent social change. Durkheim studied totemism among Australian Aboriginal tribes. Totems are a symbol of a set of beliefs. This can be anything from an object to an animal and is treated with the highest respect by those that follow the set of beliefs or religion. For example, it is similar to the crucifix for Christians which explains why they uphold traditional beliefs in society, preventing social change. However, Durkheim’s study is seen to be ethnocentric as his subjective opinion on religion would have overrode into his study. Interactionalists would also however agree that religion prevents social change preventing anomie.
Berger believes that religion is good a keeping society stable because the sacred canopy that religion provides acts as one of the most effective...