Religions promote social change by guiding their followers to share or "live" their views. By encouraging the outward expression of religious views, the views become a vehicle for social change. The acceptance or rejection of the social changes are often tied to personal belief as well. Many examples of religion causing social change can be found throughout the world and throughout history.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, churches did not just direct social change, but directed society as a whole. When King Henry VIII paved the way for the Church of England to be the new official religion of England instead of Catholicism, it completely changed how divorce was viewed in society. Before, divorce was rarely heard of, but now, it is fairly commonplace and the change can be traced to that point in history.
Why most people tend to think of social change as a positive force, it is not always. What is occurring in the middle east, specifically the formation of ISIS and their occupation, is also social change. Based on an extreme version of Islam, the leaders of ISIS have lessened the freedoms of women, restricted the movements of all citizens and promoted violence in their society in their efforts to spread and live what they believe. The destruction of several historic sites in the area has been connected to a belief about idolatry taken to an extreme.
America is home to an interesting case of the same religion promoting and fighting the same social changes. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the majority of Americans are Christian. Christian beliefs have been used both for and against social changes such as marriage equality, welfare and abortion rights. In each case, scriptures are quoted and traditions looked to as absolute truths that must be followed to avoid condemnation or judgement.
Many religions promote social action, and in doing so create and promote social change. The beliefs and calls to action inherent in these faiths are a recipe for social change whether it be in a positive direction, negative direction or anywhere in between.