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Evaluate the role of religion in maintaining social order.



 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Briefly define social order and religion. Introduce the key perspectives on religion's role (functionalism, Marxism, feminism, etc.) and state your argument: whether religion primarily maintains, challenges, or has a complex role in relation to social order.

Arguments for Religion Maintaining Social Order
Functionalism: Explain Durkheim's views on religion's role in social solidarity, shared values, and moral codes. Provide examples like religious teachings against theft or murder upholding legal order.
Examples: Cite historical or contemporary cases where religion reinforces power structures or social norms. For instance, religious support for monarchies or traditional gender roles.

Arguments Against Religion Maintaining Social Order
Marxism: Discuss religion as "the opium of the people," masking inequality and justifying the status quo. Give examples like the prosperity gospel or historical use of religion by ruling classes.
Feminism: Analyze how religion can reinforce patriarchal structures and subordinate women. Cite examples like religious texts used to justify gender inequality or control over women's bodies.
Conflict and Change: Discuss how religion can be a source of social change and challenge existing power structures. Provide examples like the Civil Rights Movement or liberation theology.

Religion and Social Control: A Complex Relationship
Acknowledge the nuanced role of religion: it can both maintain and challenge social order depending on context. Consider factors like denomination, interpretation, and the relationship between religion and other social institutions.

Summarize the main arguments, reiterating religion's complex and multifaceted role in relation to social order. Avoid making definitive claims; instead, highlight the ongoing debate and the need for further sociological investigation.

Free Essay 

Social order refers to the established patterns of social behavior, norms, and institutions that create a sense of stability and predictability within a society. Religion, on the other hand, encompasses a diverse range of beliefs, practices, and institutions that center around the sacred and the supernatural. The relationship between these two concepts is complex and has been the subject of much sociological debate. This essay will evaluate the role of religion in maintaining social order, considering different perspectives and arguing that religion can both maintain and challenge social order, depending on the context and interpretation.

Arguments for Religion Maintaining Social Order
Functionalist theorists, particularly Émile Durkheim, argue that religion plays a crucial role in maintaining social order. Durkheim (1912) viewed religion as a fundamental expression of social solidarity, creating a collective conscience and unifying members of society through shared beliefs, rituals, and values. He argued that religious ceremonies and practices reinforce social norms, such as prohibitions against theft or murder, contributing to the stability of society. For example, the Ten Commandments in Christianity explicitly outline moral guidelines that are often seen as upholding legal order. <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> [1] </a>
Moreover, religion can serve as a powerful tool for social control, reinforcing existing power structures and upholding traditional norms. For example, the Catholic Church's historical support for monarchs and the traditional gender roles embedded in some religious texts have contributed to the maintenance of hierarchical social systems. <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> [2] </a>

Arguments Against Religion Maintaining Social Order
In contrast to functionalism, Marxists argue that religion serves to maintain the status quo and legitimize inequality. Karl Marx famously described religion as "the opium of the people," suggesting that it provides false hope and comfort to the oppressed, distracting them from their true economic interests and preventing social change. <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> [3] </a>
This perspective is evident in contemporary forms of religion, such as the prosperity gospel, which emphasizes material wealth as a sign of God's favor, potentially justifying economic inequalities. Furthermore, the historical use of religion by ruling classes to justify their power and suppress dissent further supports the Marxist critique of religion as a tool for social control.

Feminist scholars argue that religion can reinforce patriarchal structures and perpetuate gender inequality. They point to religious texts and interpretations that subordinate women, restrict their roles in society, and control their bodies. For example, some interpretations of the Bible have been used to justify gender roles that limit women's access to education, leadership positions, and control over their reproductive choices. <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> [4] </a>

Religion and Social Control: A Complex Relationship
The relationship between religion and social control is complex and multifaceted. While religion can be used to reinforce social order, it can also be a source of conflict and change. Religious movements have historically challenged existing power structures, promoting social justice and equality. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, fueled by the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and other religious leaders, is a prime example of how religion can inspire social activism and challenge discriminatory social norms. <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> [4] </a>
Furthermore, the interpretation and practice of religion can vary significantly across different denominations and communities. The role of religion in maintaining or challenging social order is therefore influenced by factors such as the specific religious teachings, the historical and cultural context, and the relationship between religious institutions and other social institutions. For example, some denominations might embrace progressive social values, while others may hold more traditional views.

In conclusion, the role of religion in maintaining social order is complex and cannot be definitively categorized as solely supportive or subversive. Religion has the potential to both reinforce and challenge existing power structures and social norms. The impact of religion on social order depends on a variety of factors, including the specific beliefs and practices, the cultural context, and the interactions between religious institutions and other social actors. Further sociological investigation is needed to understand the dynamic and nuanced relationship between religion and social order in different societies and historical periods.


[1] Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Joseph Ward Swain, New York: The Free Press, 1965.

[2] Brunner, J. J. “Religion and Social Change.” The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 52, no. 1, 1946, pp. 1–9, doi:10.1086/218359.

[3] Marx, Karl. "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction," in The Marx-Engels Reader. Edited by Robert C. Tucker, 2nd ed., New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978, pp. 53-65.

[4] Johnson, Elizabeth. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992.

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