Like Neo-Marxists such as Otto Maduro and Antonio Gramsci, Max Weber agreed that most of the time religious beliefs and organisations are indeed a barrier to social change. However, his contention is that if the conditions are right, religion has the capacity to contribute to significant social change. Weber’s ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ argues that Protestantism and in particular, Calvinism was a vital reason why capitalism developed. Weber contends that because Calvinists believed in predestination, they therefore suffered from salvation panic. Unsurprisingly, many of them wanted to know if they were lucky enough to have been chosen as one of the select few who would enter heaven. Thus, in order to ascertain whether or not they had been chosen, they chose to try and prove it during their life time and the best way to do that was to work as hard as possible, be aesthetic (disciplined) as possible and see if this would bring them economic success. If it did, they believed that this meant that God had blessed them and they would soon be granted access to heaven. The protestant ethic is a term that has entered popular discourse and many people take it for granted that the values of Protestantism do lend themselves to capitalism. Moreover, there is supporting evidence that other religions such as Confucianism that possess similar values have also heavily influenced the creation of capitalism in Confucian countries such as Singapore. However, it must be noted that Weber’s work is highly contentious because many Marxists such as Kautsky argue that capitalism pre-dated Calvinism. Moreover, Parkin argues that Calvinism was long established in Scotland before capitalism truly took hold. Weber himself was aware of these limitations and he admitted that his research was only a partial account.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed free speech in the autocratic kingdom. His blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, was shut down after his arrest in 2012.(The Guardian)
This is a brilliant example of the tensions between Western ideas of secularisation, the advance of technology and conservative religious societies such as Saudi Arabia. It is a perfect example for Marxism because clearly the Saudis will not tolerate a critical analysis of their ‘religious’ approach to governance and thus supports the idea that religion is utilised by the hegemon to oppress the powerless majority. The example can also be used within the social change debate – clearly religion is being used an excuse to maintain the status quo and restrict any challenges.
Here are some quotes from the blog:
“Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.”
“No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress. This is not a failing on the part of religion but rather that all religions represent a particular, precise spiritual relationship between the individual and the Creator. ..However, positive law is an unavoidable human and social need because traffic regulations, employment law and the codes governing the administration of State can hardly be derived from religion.”
I received an email this weekend from Satvir asking,
For the mocks, if we get a question on Marxist theories on religion, can we use theories from the Marxism and Social Change topic as well e.g. Maduro and Gramsci? Or do we have to stick to just the ones from Marxism in general like Marx and Lenin?
The answer is:
Yes, definitely. The conservative vs social change debate is a key part of any perspective answer.
The following is an excellent example of how religion can seek and sometimes achieve social change. The Church of England have written a 52-page open letter to help church members consider how to negotiate ‘dangerous times to build the kind of society which people say they want’
Also, it is a good example for secularisation. Shiner (1967) argues that when religion is more concerned with secular issues than the spiritual it is a sign of ‘conformity’. http://gu.com/p/462jy
Have a read of the following article (http://gu.com/p/45tjc), it is a very interesting insight into the fundamentalist ideology of Isis. Here is an extract if you are not keen to read a whole article!
Savagery is at the core of Isis ideology. But it is crucial not to play down that brutal acts have to be justified through sharia texts. Islamic fundamentalism is Isis’s ideology, so to speak, and every act has to be grounded in religious traditions. Muslim clerics who issue a “letter to al-Baghdadi” or a lengthy fatwa to delegitimise Isis miss the mark unless they understand the invigorating nature of this violent ideology. While Isis uses manuals such as Naji’s book, it references religious texts and stories. Muslim clerics should recognise that theoretical fatwas cannot sufficiently counter what I call “kinetic” sharia, consisting of stories and actions carried out by authoritative Muslim figures in early Islam, on which Isis relies heavily to justify its ideology. Statements such as “this hadith is weak” or “it is not permissible to kill prisoners of war” can be backed by religious texts, but how early Muslim leaders acted is similarly powerful, if not more persuasive.