Just Sociology

Religion’s Role in Society: Ideology Conservatism Change and Conflict

Religion, as a topic of study, is often scrutinized under a variety of lenses. One way in which it is analyzed is through its function as an ideological force.

The concept that religion is used to promote particular beliefs and ideas serves to support particular power structures and social norms is a widely debated perspective. Some scholars argue that religion is used to maintain the status quo, while others see it as a way of resistance.

This article discusses the Marxist and feminist views on the matter, provides evidence that either supports or refutes the perspective that religion is ideological, and examines the notion of religion as a conservative force.

Religion as an Ideological Force

Marxist View

The Marxist view considers religion as a tool that the ruling class uses to deceive the working class into accepting a society that is unequal, unfair, and exploitative. Karl Marx referred to this phenomenon as false consciousness.

He viewed religion as a way for the bourgeoisie, the wealthy and powerful group that controls the means of production, to distract working-class people from the reality of their miserable lives. Religious institutions, in this view, exist to provide spiritual comfort and support to the oppressed, while also forging direct links between the church and the bourgeoisie.

Feminist View

Feminists view religion as a means of enforcing patriarchal myths and values. The Catholic Church, in particular, is subject to criticism for advocating sex role segregation while compensating for women’s second-class status.

Feminists also scrutinized the Islamic faith, in which they see an ideology that supports patriarchy. Despite the historical and cultural differences between Catholicism and Islam, both adhere to ideologies that favor men over women.

Evidence for and Against the View that ‘Religion is Ideological.’

One of the arguments in support of the notion that ‘religion is ideological’ is the fact that established churches often defend the existing social order. On the other hand, New Religions Right in America offer an alternative perspective.

Max Weber viewed religion as a source of social change, while postmodernism suggests that within every society, there exists a resistance to the dominant ideology. Moreover, in some cases, sects that challenge the existing order emerge from within established religious institutions.

Religion as a Conservative Force

Religion upholds Traditional Values

Religion has often been seen as a platform that upholds traditional values. Conservative values are upheld by religious organizations in a variety of ways.

Religious institutions, for example, maintain moral standards that are intended to safeguard social norms such as marriage and the family. These norms have been in place in most societies for centuries, and religious institutions are often committed to their preservation.

Religion Reinforces the Status Quo

One of the ways in which religion functions as a conservative force is through the reinforcement of the status quo. Conformity and obedience to authority are emphasized through religious institutions, leading to stability within the existing power structures.

Changes in religious institutions often come slowly and are subjected to extensive debate.

Criticisms and Counterarguments

Despite the various criticisms of the religious conservatism perspective, there is evidence that religion can function as a site of resistance. Progressive religious movements are emerging from within traditional institutions, challenging long-held orthodoxies.

This emerging trend has been catalyzed by a liberal interpretation of theology that emphasizes social justice and inclusion.


Religion can be studied using different perspectives, one of which is the view of religion as an ideological force. Marxist and feminist views have analyzed religion in this fashion, revealing that religion reinforces social and economic inequality by providing comfort to the oppressed and promoting patriarchal values.

There is, however, evidence to suggest that religion can operate as a conservative force, maintaining established norms and power structures. Despite criticisms of these perspectives, progressive movements emerging within traditional religious institutions allow for new branches of thought that prioritize social justice and inclusion.


Religion as a Force for Change

Religion Inspires Social Movements

Religion has often inspired social movements throughout history. Liberation theology, for instance, emerged in Latin America in the 1960s, driven by the understanding that religious faith could promote social and economic justice.

This movement created substantial changes in the lives of the poor and the working-class, inspiring similar progressive movements worldwide. Another example of a significant movement driven by religion is the civil rights movement in the United States, which was led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and other religious leaders.

This movement utilized religious doctrines and scriptures to argue for the elimination of racial segregation laws and other systematic forms of discrimination. Similarly, the women’s rights movement and the recent LGBTQ+ rights movement has seen religious influence, with progressive people of faith at the forefront of advocating for social change.

Religion Promotes Social Justice

Another way in which religion can act as a force for change is in promoting social justice. Religious institutions often engage in charity and philanthropy, providing aid and support for those in need.

Believers can contribute to religiously affiliated humanitarianism, with various roles to play across society as service to God, altruistic care for comparable believers, and advocacy for social justice. Religious leaders also play a vital role in promoting social justice by highlighting the injustices within society and advocating for equality and fairness.

As a result, faith-based organizations develop comprehensive programs to address the most pressing social issues, including poverty, illiteracy, and homelessness.

Criticisms and Limitations

While religion’s ability to inspire social change is a potent tool, it is not without its criticisms and limitations. One such challenge is the complicity of religious institutions in oppression.

Religion has been used to justify discrimination, including racism, sexism, and homophobia, leading to criticism from those who believe that religion can be more harmful than helpful. The potential to stifle dissent is another important limitation.

Religion often reflects hierarchical structures, and dissent within religious institutions can be challenging, with negative consequences for progressive ideas. Communication and cooperation among different faiths also face difficulties because religions often compete over resources and followers.

Religion as a Source of Conflict

Interreligious Conflict

Religious intolerance and interreligious conflict are not uncommon. Sectarian violence and religious terrorism pose significant challenges to coexistence worldwide.

Examples of religious conflict are seen in Nigeria, Central African Republic, and parts of the Middle East, and Muslim-majority countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia. Tensions between different religious groups can often result from their differing descriptions of the divinity and interpretations of related practices.

This conflict is primarily a result of two-related reasons: the desire for political and religious power and scarcity of resources.

Religion and Political Conflict

Religious nationalism, theocracy, and opposition to secularism over religiously motivated extremism can incite political conflict. Religion can act as a divisive force, where religious communities seek to assert their dominance over others through political means.

The rise of Hindu nationalism in India and increased religious nationalism in the Middle East is just one example of where religious nationalism has led to violent conflict. Similarly, some religious groups hold theocracy as a model of governance justified by divine law; this is prevalent in countries such as Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, it is crucial to note that some religions may oppose the separation of church and state as they are bound to a religious ideology that supersedes any secular governance structure.

Criticisms and Counterarguments

Critics argue that, at times, religion is a scapegoat for deeper issues, especially when religious conflict overlaps with ethnic, political, and economic factors. Religion can also be a source of unity and reconciliation, where adherents of different faiths work together for the greater good.

Initiatives such as interfaith dialogue and peace-building initiatives, initiated and promoted by religious actors, have fostered both mutual respect and a better understanding of those with different religious beliefs. The prominence of religious peacemakers in peace processes, such as Elias Chacour in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, is evidence of religion’s potential to promote peace and understanding through dialogue and negotiation.


Religion, as a concept, is complex, operating as a source of ideological, conservative, or progressive change. Religion can provide a platform for social movements by promoting social justice and inspire humanitarianism.

Religion, however, contributes to conflicts by promoting interreligious intolerance, political divisions, and sectarian violence. Despite the criticisms and limitations, the role of religions in promoting peace, social justice, and understanding cannot be understated.

Achieving enduring peace, in particular, is reliant upon effective communication and cooperation among all religions. In conclusion, religion plays a significant role as an ideological force, a conservative force, a force for change, and a source of conflict in society.

It inspires social movements and promotes social justice, but it can also create tensions and interreligious conflict. However, believers can contribute to religiously affiliated humanitarianism and progress by advocating for social justice and participating in peace processes.

Overall, religion’s influence impacts society and politics in complex and multifaceted ways that warrant further exploration. FAQs:

– Q: Can religion provide a platform for social movements?

– A: Yes, religion has inspired social movements throughout history, such as the civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights movements. – Q: Is religion always a source of interreligious conflict?

– A: No, although religious differences can contribute to tensions and conflicts, interfaith dialogue and peace-building initiatives have fostered mutual respect and greater understanding. – Q: What is the Marxist view of religion?

– A: Marxists view religion as a way for the ruling class to distract working-class people from the reality of their oppressive lives and forge direct links between the church and the bourgeoisie. – Q: Can religion stifle dissent?

– A: Yes, religious institutions can develop hierarchical structures that limit dissent within their communities, which can be discouraging to progressive ideas. – Q: Can religion promote peace and understanding?

– A: Yes, religion’s potential for promoting peace and understanding is demonstrated in initiatives such as interfaith dialogue and peacemaking efforts like Elias Chacour’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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