In human society, religion is one of the most powerful and influential forces. It has been found to have influence on several spheres of society like family, political and economic sphere (Hammon, 2006). Why do sociologists get interested in spending their energy in studying religion? One reason for this is that religion is very essential in every community and its practices actually form part of every individual life’s. It is found that many people’s intents and actions are influenced by religious value (Allan & Allan, 2009). On the same note, it is out of religious meaning people get to interpret much of their experiences. Another reason is that religion forms very important subject due to its effect on society as well as the impact society has on religion (Craib, 1997).
Karl Marx and Max Weber are among the great sociologists who did a lot to provide sociological perspective in religion. Despite each of them having a different view on what religion is and its function in the society, their constructs are important in having a holistic view of religion and its role in the society not only in those early days but in post-modern world. Karl Marx is greatly known because of his writings on social theory that revolved around social class theory and history of materialism concepts. In his writings, we do not find any orderly approach of religion, however, by taking close look at his social theory and theory of alienation a clear understanding of his view on religion can be obtained (Pickering, 2000).
It is found that when Karl Marx analyzed political economy he did set apart production forces which included machines, tools and the technical organization of work from public relations which were immediate producers. To him, public relations had to do with those in working class and capitalists. He saw change in productive forces which were new mechanization trends that would cause changes in those involved in producing. People who were engaged in production were workers. This was the set up and beginning of capitalist economy (Furseth& Repstad, 2006).
Hence, there was emergence of conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat due to how benefits of industrial production were shared. This is where the bound of contention existed. He considered workers in capitalist world being treated as objects and therefore because labor and production are integral part of human beings, such relationship was to elicit alienation. Consequently, because a person who is alienated has lost focus on true identity, religion acted as solace in attempt to seek an understanding of struggles experienced and find hope in this life or in world to come. He argues that religion has a false presentation of reality that cause individual get a view that he or she cannot or in collective gain full control of existing conditions (Hamilton, 2001).
Close scrutiny of Karl Marx religion theory displays two aspects. He considers his theory of religion as superstructure and on the other side religion as an ideology. As superstructure, religion seems to adjust to changes in production mode and thus class consciousness is non-achievable from social basis. He states that religion emanated from primitive man who could not help himself from forces of nature. However, he maintains that in capitalist world protestant Christianity and its individualism was the most suitable type of religion (Furseth& Repstad , 2006).
On the other hand, Marx considered religion as kind of ideology. In his works he suggest that in class societies, ideas of ruling class always prevail in any historical period and they are used for oppression and manipulation of inferior class within society. He found that at any given time prevailing ideas even those related to religion are just there to legitimize ruling class’ interests. From this point he concludes that man himself makes religion where religion in turn paints untrue picture concerning the reality. He adds that religion acts as an instrument of injustice imposer and at the same time forms an attitude of protesting against injustice imposed (Pickering, 2000).
Max Weber lived at time when in German positive tradition was non-existent but dominated by historicism which was an ideology that research methods used in natural sciences were inapplicable in studying human phenomena and only intuition could provide solution to that. For this reason, Weber embarked on attempts to get a better understanding of human action in a rational and predictable manner. He considers religious action as a particular kind of social action (Furseth& Repstad, 2006).
In attempt to understand any social action, he approaches it from the meaning of action itself. He argues that the sole reason why people get into religion is due to mundane expectations such as hope of better life in future. Hence, religious action is inclined to ordinary ends that human beings expect and that such religious actions are relatively rational. Weber perspective seem to be that historical strive for getting a theological response to suffering experience in this world was the origin of rational thought and philosophy. Subsequently, it is the world of monotheistic religions that resulted to world of rationality. He suggests that religion came about with magical efforts of individual in bid to control supernatural (Weber, 1997).
In his work ‘The Protestant Ethic’ he describes connection between religious ideas and economic performance. He argues that economic conduct does have ethics. In his attempt to trace back the roots of ‘spirit of capitalism’ he ends up in finding it in reformation as part of religious ideas (Ender & Williams, 2006). It is found that even though early reformers had no intention to advocate for the spirit of capitalism, it acted as incentive particularly the doctrine of Calvinism (Weber, 1997). Calvinism doctrine was seen to inspire believers to seek for a sign which was in economic success. He established relationship between religion and social classes in his theory of religion (Furseth& Repstad, 2006).
Karl Marx theory of religion compare with that of Max Weber where both see religion to give comfort to harassed mass. Through religious ideology masses find hope that one day things will turn better in this life or life after death. Karl Marx share with Weber in their theory of religion that protestant Christianity had contribution in capitalist world. It is in these two aspects the sociological perspective on religion for the two sociologists are comparable.
According to Karl Marx, unlike Max Weber or Durkheim, he did not regard seriously attention to religion study. Rather, he just provided theory onto class structures where economic forces greatly determine social change (Cladis, 2001). He seems to be hostile against religion and does not give comparable insights of different religious systems and how it interacts with other social aspects (Clarke, 2009). Besides, these there are also a few things which I don’t agree with Karl Marx. First is how he presents religion content. He says that it is an illusion though it does reflect reality that hinges on relationships of social class while attempting to hide these classes’ interests. By so doing he is dismissing reasons believers use to have to justify their faith. He also ends up in his theory having a reductionist argument that religion is just societal reflection of forces (Stanford & State University of New York at Albany, 2008).
In matters of religious variation, his view is that religion forms a collective phenomenon which is share by almost every member in that specific class. Since individuals’ ideas and their actions are parts of external forces the relationship that exists between social class and ideology is deterministic. Lastly because religious innovation is a deviate from pre-existing social order, his theory does not hold true for introduction of new ideology into society based on his argument that historical materialism is a representation of a development that is likely to cause religion displacement when workers attain genuine consciousness of reality (Furseth& Repstad, 2006).
Max Weber theory of religion is interesting because he was determined to develop a method that would help understands cultural-political aspects as they related to human social action and structural constraints while consciously attempting to find a way to settle challenge between idealist and materialist social theories. While Karl Marx considered class structure as key determinant of modern capitalism, Max Weber did focus attention on how rationality was core to an understanding of capitalism. His rationalization concept is of great help in addressing how religion as non-rational aspect in human society has been influenced by economic system spread on the basis of rational calculation (Andersen & Taylor, 2005).
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