Assess The Extent To Which Religion Produces Social Change

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Different religious theories have suggested their own concepts into explaining how religion functions within the society. The relationship between religion and social change had been strongly debated in the past years, as more and more individuals have to a certain extent 'broken' away from the more traditional values shared in a once united society. Writers on religion tend to fall into one of two sides, those who see religion as a conservative force, preserving the status quo and those who see religion as encouraging a force for social change. A number of structuralist theories argue that religion is a conservative force in society, that is, it produces stability not change within society and it reinforces the shared needs and values of society. For some sociologists this is a positive effect - the view of the functionalist theorists, for some is a negative one - the view of the Marxist theorists. However, both adopt the view of religion as a conservative force, ‘conservative’ meaning that it favours keeping things the way they are and inhibiting change. Restraining change can be seen as a force for stability and social order, and is thus reflected in the majority of conservative thinkers. Emile Durkheim, a functionalist theorist, supports the view that religion is a conservative force in society, reinforcing the existing society of society. He believes that society’s religious basic shared beliefs, values, traditions and norms that make the society run smoothly through group worship and celebration serves to create cohesion and group solidarity. In maintaining this social solidarity, religion acts as a conservative force because if or when it fails to perform this function, new ideas may emerge that effectively become the new religion. Durkheim regarded ‘new religions’ such as nationalism and communism as taking over from Christianity, but still performing
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