What role does religion play in maintaining and changing societies?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Religion can both maintain a society and help cause it to change.  Let us look at how this is possible.

Religion can be a very strong force in maintaining a society.  It can help to keep the society together by giving people something in common that binds them together.  We can see in the world today that there are societies that are bound together by their common identity as believers in a given faith.  Religion can also help to maintain the status quo in a society.  Religion can be used to justify the way that things are and to make it seem that keeping society as it is is a moral imperative.  For example, religion can help to justify and perpetuate the dominance of men over women.

On the other hand, religion can be used to change society.  Religions often set out a moral code that its adherents are supposed to follow.  People can use that moral code to criticize society and try to change it.  A good example of this is the Civil Rights Movement.  In that movement, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. used Christian ideas and rhetoric to push the idea that all people should be treated equally, regardless of race.  When a religion’s doctrines and a society’s actual actions are in conflict with one another, it is sometimes possible to use religious doctrines to legitimate efforts at change.

In these ways, religion can be used either to maintain a society or to change it.