Examine some of the ways in which religious beliefs can promote social change
The most influential writer on the issue of the relationship between religion and social change is Weber. In his book ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’, Weber tried to show how the religious ideas of seventeenth-century Calvinists led to attitudes and behaviour that were favourable to the development of capitalist modes of production. In particular, Weber emphasised the importance of the Calvinist view of work as a ‘calling’, something that should be undertaken willingly and vigorously as a way of honouring God, and their view that life should be lived in as simple a fashion as possible, with no conspicuous consumption. The combination of these two values led to a thrifty, hard-working group of people who amassed sufficient capital to develop new ideas and inventions, thus paving the way for the development of capitalist modes of production.
Weber thus attempted to show that religious ideas could facilitate social, political and economic change, although he did not state that Protestantism of itself ‘caused’ capitalism.
Another example of links between religious ideas and social change is that of the Latin-American ‘liberation theologists’, worker-priests who saw it as their Christian duty to oppose injustice and wrong-doing and try, by revolutionary means if necessary, to bring about a better and fairer society. In so doing, they rejected the Christian value of meekness and ‘turning the other cheek’.
Similarly, other religious groups, such as some of the Christian Black Power movements, actively used their religious beliefs and networks to work for social change and improvements for black Americans, while there are examples of militant groups such as Al Qaida, Hiz Bollah and Hamaz which link their religious views with nationalist causes, and see their struggle as a ‘holy war’.
However, there are other views on this question. Marx, for example,...