Assess the view that religion inevitably acts as a conservative force in society The main sociological theories all believe religion acts as a conservative force in society in a sense that religion helps keep things the way they are and keep everything stable. However some of these theories may be against the idea that religion acts conservative force for their own reasons. For example Feminism believes that religion acts as a conservative force nevertheless they are against it as they believe it oppresses women by keeping women’s status the same.
Functionalists believe religion acts as a conservative force in society and they look have a positive view about it. They are led to believe it creates stability and harmony in society; as well as getting people to co-operate and integrate within a community. One of the strongest belief Functionalists have about religion is that it teaches core values. This is reinforced by Parsons, he argues the core values which religion brings, keeps people from doing right from wrong.
Parsons uses the 10 commandments as an example, stating how it stops people from doing bad e. g. ne of the commandments is ‘thou shall not kill’ and it prevents people from killing, as a result it teaches morals. Overall, reinforcing core values prevents deviance in society therefore maintaining stability. Durkheim talks about Totemism, a religion where members worship an object, animal or plant which has meanings. They support the view that religion inevitably acts as a conservative force in society because Totemism is a force for stability. The totem represented the group and stood for the values in the community, therefore by worshipping the totem, they were in fact worshipping society.
Totemism is a force for stability and harmony because the members have the same values. This is reinforced by rituals and ceremonies that take place in the community. These events bring the tribe together as a group reaffirming their group identity. However one criticism is that Totemism is a small scale religion therefore it isn’t very representative. Bronislaw Malinowski is another functionalist who believes the conservative approach is a positive; however one difference with him is that he believes it is a positive for the individual rather than the society.
His interpretation of religion is more to do with psychological functions for the individual than anything else, in a sense that religion is a psychological need for the individual to deal with certain situations. For example situations which provoke anxiety, uncertainty and threatens social life may result in the individual to turn to religion. In Malinowski’s view, religion acts upon life-crisis which prevents anxiety. As a result, Malinowski agrees with the fact that religion acts as a conservative force as it maintains stability by helping people to deal with anxiety, thereby stopping social disruption.
Marxist believe that religion acts inevitably as a conservative force because religion is an ideological state apparatus which spreads capitalist ideas, thus maintains the social hierarchy, and in doing so maintains harmony and consensus in society. This is reinforced by Marx who claims religion is the opium of the people hence religion dulls the pain of oppression for them. Marx claims that religion is still a conservative force as through the use of ideology it justifies the oppression of the proletariat e. g. in the hymn ‘rich man at his castle the poor man at his gate, god made them high and ordered their estate’.
This suggests god created inequality; as a result religion inevitably acts as a conservative force because it is used to maintain social hierarchy. Feminist theories of religion agree with Marxist theories, in that they see religion as an instrument of oppression. Feminism believe religion acts as a conservative force in society but they are against it, because they believe religion oppresses women and justifies why women are at the bottom. This can be explained by the reinforcement of patriarchy by many religions.
Women are seen to have a lower status than men; this is reinforced by the act of Hinduism, they only allow men to become Brohamic priest. Simone de Beavoir argues that women are oppresses by men and that women are a second class. He says men wrote religious scripts (e. g. Jesus), therefore they have higher status. The Burka is another study which shows that even though religion is a conservative force, it still oppresses women. The Burka is argues to be another form of oppression enabling men to control women showing women are unequal to men. The Burka is supported by other feminists such as Linda Woodhead.
Overall Feminists religion gives reason for women to be oppressed by keeping everything the way it is. This is because religion inevitably acts as a conservative force. The other side is that religion acts as a force for change. This view is supported by revolutionary theories such as Neo Marxists. They are about bringing change; they aim keep people in their place. Overall, it can be argued that religion inevitably acts as a conservative force but some sociological theories may not accept it as they believe it oppresses women or it helps people to deal with problems.