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Religion Can Be Both a Conservative Force and an Initiator of Social Change

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Religion can be both a conservative force and an initiator of social change”. To what extent to sociological arguments/evidence support this view.
The view that religion acts as a conservative force stems from the structuralist theories of Functionalism and Marxism. Both see religion as facilitating the existence of society in its current form, although their views do differ substantially. For the Functionalist Emile Durkheim, religion, like many other social institutions, acts in the same way as one of the body’s vital organs, in that it “keeps society alive”. In other words, religion has a number of functions that serve the purpose of maintaining social stability and harmony. For example, functionalists believe that through the act of collective worship in the form of religious practices, religion helps bond and unite individuals; it acts as a “social glue” that promotes value consensus and social solidarity. Functionalists see religion as a conservative force in that it helps to integrate individuals and allows them to realise the “collective conscience” (a set of moral codes and values). In contrast, Marxists see religion as acting as a conservative force by preventing revolutionary change. In Marx’s words, “religion dampens the flames of working class revolution”; acting as an “opiate” which makes a life of ruling class oppression more bearable. For example, Engels claimed that the appeal of Christianity lies in the hope of “salvation from bondage and misery”. Those who suffer are promised an afterlife of eternal bliss, and this reduces their desire to change society.

Indeed, there are many examples which show religion acting as a conservative force, thus adding testimony to the claims of these theories. The stance of successive popes against contraception for example, has limited the use of artificial birth control in many catholic countries. In this case,...

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