Religion & Industrialization Research Paper Starter

Religion & Industrialization

The growth and concomitant stratification of societies is often seen as occurring along a continuum of sociocultural evolution and technology use. Theorists posit several levels of development for society: pre-industrial (including hunting and gathering, horticultural, and agrarian societies), industrial (societies using mechanization in the production of goods and services), and postindustrial (with an emphasis on the communication and information-processing rather than on tangible products). A number of theories have been posited to explain observations concerning the relationship between religion and industrialization. Some theorists see religious ideology as not only supporting but encouraging industrialization while others see religious ideology becoming irrelevant as industrialized societies attempt to assert control over nature. Interestingly, a resurgence of spirituality has been observed in postindustrial societies. The complex relationship between religion and sociocultural status is still not completely understood and more research is necessary.

Keywords Industrialization; Modernization Theory; Postindustrial; Pre-industrial; Religion; Secularization; Society; Socio-cultural Evolution

Sociology of Religion: Religion


The concept of social stratification refers to a society that is organized using a relatively fixed hierarchical structure in which entire subgroups are ranked according to social class. These divisions are marked by differences in economic rewards and power within the society and differential access to resources, power, and perceived social worth. Similarly, gender stratification within a society is organized in such a way that members of one gender have more access to wealth, prestige, and power than do the members of the other gender. However, it is not only groups within a society that may be classified in a hierarchical manner. Entire societies themselves can also be hierarchically ordered by their access to wealth, prestige, and power. This concept is expressed with terms such as "third world" country, designating a nation that is neither powerful nor wealthy in comparison to "first world" countries.

Gehard Lenski viewed the growth and concomitant stratification of societies as occurring along a continuum of sociocultural evolution, the process by which a society develops through the growth of its stores of cultural information. Important to this growth is the society's level of technology, a specially defined term referring to information about the ways in which material resources of the environment can be used to satisfy the needs and desires of human beings.

Stages of Sociocultural Evolution

Pre-industrial Societies

Lenski posits that societies go through several stages of sociocultural evolution. The first stage of evolution is referred to as pre-industrial. There are several types of pre-industrial societies.


The first type is the hunting-and-gathering society. In such societies, technology is minimal, and people rely on whatever food and materials can be easily obtained. Because of the need to sustain themselves off of the land without actually cultivating it, hunting-and-gathering societies are typically organized into groups that are nomadic in nature; these groups are primarily comprised of extended family. Hunter-gatherer societies are typically geographically widely dispersed so that each group can get the best possible range of environmental resources to sustain its members. Because blood ties are typically the criterion for belonging to a group, family is particularly important and issues of authority and influence revolve around kinship. Similarly, social differentiation is usually ascribed by such variables as gender, age, and family background. Nearly all hunting-and-gathering societies disappeared by the end of the twentieth century.

Horticultural Societies

The next type of pre-industrial society is the horticultural society. In addition to subsisting on readily available foods as is done by hunting-and-gathering societies, horticultural societies also plant seeds and crops. Such societies tend to be much less nomadic than hunting-and-gathering societies. In addition to planting crops, horticultural societies place greater emphasis on producing tools and household objects than do hunting and gathering societies. However, technology within horticultural societies tends to be very limited.

Agrarian Societies

The final type of pre-industrial society comprises agrarian societies. Agrarian societies are also engaged in the production of food from crops. However, technological innovations such as plows and irrigation allow agrarian societies to be much more efficient in the production of crops than horticultural societies. Because of improvements in technology, agrarian societies tend to be larger than other types of pre-industrial societies. In addition, social structure within agrarian societies is more specialized than in other types of pre-industrial societies. Because of the wider use of technology and the relative stability of agrarian societies, individuals within the societies can focus on specialized tasks. In addition, as a result of the specialization and other greater stability of the society, agrarian societies are also marked by a greater permanence than hunting-and- gathering or horticultural societies, which allows them to store greater surpluses. In addition, these characteristics enable agrarian societies to create artifacts (e.g., statues, monuments) that can be passed from one generation to another.

The Birth of the Industrial Society

Following the industrial revolution in the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries, the industrial society was born. Industrialization brought with it new sources of power to perform tasks, a dependence on mechanization to produce goods and services, and new inventions to facilitate agricultural and industrial production. Because of these factors, populations became more centralized, with the creation of more cities and increasing urbanization. As result, many societies went through an irrevocable transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. Because of industrialization, it was no longer necessary for a single individual or even a single family to entirely produce a single product or service. Industrialization brought with it factory production, divisions of labor, the concentration of industries and populations within certain geographical areas, and concomitant urbanization. Society no longer revolved around the family, with many workers leaving home in order to work in factories or other centralized places of employment. Further, villages and other small communities became increasingly less independent and relied on each other for the exchange of goods and services. In addition, industrialization brought with it the need for more formalized education in order to teach its members about its technology as well as to advance its technology. The education system evolved into a distinct social institution separate from the family.

Postindustrial Societies

Industrialization, however, is not the pinnacle of sociocultural development. Postindustrial societies have an economy that is primarily based upon the processing and control of information and the provision of services rather than on the production of goods or other tangible products. Some theorists also talk about a postmodern society that is both technologically sophisticated and primarily occupied with consumer goods and media images. Postindustrial societies consume both goods and information on a large scale.

Religion's Role in Industrialization


A number of social observers have theorized over the role of religion within the ever-changing nature of society. In fact, many sociologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries not only believed that the transition from a pre-industrial to an industrial society was their primary focus, but also that the transformation of religion was one of the key factors in this process. There are a number of reasons for this view. Karl Marx and other conflict analysts, for example, view religion as an obstacle that keeps society from realizing...

(The entire section is 3670 words.)