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WeberDurkheimMarx And How They Account For Religion

Weber,Durkheim,Marx And How They Account For Religion Essay, Research Paper How do we account for religion – its origin, its development, and even its persistence in modern society? This is a question which has occupied many people in a variety of fields for quite a long time. At one point, the answers were framed in purely theological and religious terms, assuming the truth of Christian revelations and proceeding from there.

Weber,Durkheim,Marx And How They Account For Religion Essay, Research Paper

How do we account for religion – its origin, its development, and even its persistence in modern society? This is a question which has occupied many people in a variety of fields for quite a long time. At one point, the answers were framed in purely theological and religious terms, assuming the truth of Christian revelations and proceeding from there. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a more ?naturalistic? approach developed. Instead of needing to believe in the truth of the religion, what was required was just the opposite: intellectual detachment and a suspension of belief. Three people who ended up doing just that were Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

Marx studied philosophy in Berlin under William Hegel. Hegel’s philosophy had a decisive influence upon Marx’s own thinking and theories. According to Marx, religion is an expression of material realities and economic injustice. Thus, problems in religion are ultimately problems in society. Religion is not the disease, but merely a symptom. It is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited. This is the origin of his comment that religion is the “opium of the people.” ?People do not have an objective view of the world; they see it from the restricted point of view of their own positions.?(p.35) At times I may seem to be focusing more on economic rather than religious theory, but that is because Marx’s basic stance is that everything is always about economics.

According to Marx, humans – even from their earliest beginnings – are not

motivated by grand ideas but instead by material concerns, like the need to eat and survive. This is the basic premise of a materialist view of history. At the beginning, people worked together in unity and it wasn’t so bad. But eventually, humans developed agriculture and the concept of private property. These two facts created a division of labor and a separation of classes based upon power and wealth. This material organization of society is what Marx calls ?class consciousness.? This, in turn, created the social conflict that drives society.

All of this is made worse by capitalism which only increases the disparity between the wealthy classes and the labor classes. Confrontation between them is unavoidable because those classes are driven by historical forces beyond anyone’s control. Capitalism also creates one new misery: exploitation of surplus value.

For Marx, an ideal economic system would involve exchanges of equal value for equal value, where value is determined simply by the amount of work put into whatever is being produced. Capitalism interrupts this ideal by introducing a profit motive – a desire to produce an uneven exchange of lesser value for greater value. Profit is ultimately derived from the surplus value produced by workers in factories.

A laborer might produce enough value to feed his family in two hours of work, but he keeps at the job for a full day – in Marx’s time, that might be 12 or 14 hours. Those extra hours represent the surplus value produced by the worker. The owner of the factory did nothing to earn this, but exploits it nevertheless and keeps the difference as profit.

Economics, then, are what constitute the base of all of human life and history – generating division of labor, class struggle, and all the social institutions which are supposed to maintain the status quo. Those social institutions are a superstructure built upon the base of economics, totally dependent upon material and economic realities but nothing else. All of the institutions which are prominent in our daily lives – marriage, church, government, arts, etc. – can only be truly understood when examined in relation to economic forces.

It should be clear now that religion is one of those social institutions which are dependent upon the material and economic realities in a given society. It has no independent history but is instead the creature of productive forces. As Marx wrote, “The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.” Marx asserts that religion is only dependent upon economics, nothing else – so much so that the actual doctrines of the religions are almost irrelevant. This is a functionalist interpretation of religion – understanding religion is not dependent upon the content of beliefs, but what social purpose religion itself serves.

Marx believes that religion is an illusion whose chief purpose is to provide reasons and excuses to keep society functioning just as it is. Just as capitalism takes our productive labor and alienates us from its value, religion also takes our qualities – our highest ideals and aspirations – and alienates us from them, projecting them onto an alien and unknowable being called a god. Religion is meant to create illusory fantasies for the poor. Economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life, so religion tells them that this is OK because they will find that true happiness in the next life.

For Marx, the problem lies in the fact that just like an opiate drug fails to fix a physical injury – it merely helps you forget your pain and suffering, religion also does not fix the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering – instead, it helps them forget why they are suffering and get them to look forward to an imaginary future when the pain will cease instead of working to change circumstances now. Even worse, this “drug” of religion is being administered by the same oppressors who are ultimately responsible for the pain and suffering in the first place.

Emile Durkheim continued with Marx?s theories in his book The Elementary forms of Religious Life that was published just a few years before his death, in 1912. As Marx had argued that every class had its own conscious view of reality, Durkheim went further to demonstrate that even the most basic social ideas as time, space and God can be seen as creations of society. Durkheim suggests that there is not one reality but many and that this reality only exists because of the symbolic creations of humans and their rituals.

Durkheim studied the aboriginal tribes of Australia in an effort to understand religion. He concluded that religion always involves a distinction between things that are sacred and things that are profane. Durkheim uses the example of the totem pole that functions to hold the tribe together. The totemic animal, Durkheim believed, was the original focus of religious activity because it was the emblem for a social group, the clan. He thought that the function of religion was to make people willing to put the interests of society ahead of their own desires. All members of the tribe gather together to perform periodic totem rituals, it is these rituals that set the rules for social order. It is forbidden to kill or harm the totem animal and it is therefor forbidden to kill or harm one?s fellow tribesmen who name themselves after the totem.

In the modern Christian religion, Durkeim argues that the moral commandments such as The Golden Rule and The Ten Commandments are primarily social rules. These rules regulate human?s behavior toward eachother and serve to maintain a sense of social unity. People do not follow these rules out of their fear for heaven or hell but for their desire to be accepted by society. If they participate in the religious rituals they will feel a sense of belonging, whereas those who break the rules and avoid the rituals suffer from social isolation. To Durkheim, God is merely a symbol of society.

Max Weber’s sociology is the foundation of scientific sociology of religion in a sense of typological and objective understanding. Rejecting Karl Marx’s evolutionary law of class society, or Emile Durkheim’s sustained law of moral society, Weber established the understanding sociology of the subjective meaning of religious action or inaction. He argued that the transformation of religion allowed for social changes where people could now work together to gain economic wealth. In a primitive society there were many gods, those kinsmen who worshipped the same household god as you could be trusted but those strangers who worshipped a different god were ?aliens? and could not be trusted.

The rise of the great world religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, separated the idea of the natural world from the idea of the spiritual world. Instead of gods and spirits, people become widely concerned with the idea of heaven and hell. Weber argues that the idea of a universal God allowed for laws based on consistent general principles. Religion itself can also develop in new directions. (P.133) In primitive religions one prays to the gods to make his crops grow or kill off enemies. In the event of a natural disaster the kinsmen would believe that the gods were angry with them and continue to hold ceremonial sacrifices until the weather was better. It was this fear of the gods that kept the primitive kinsmen from trusting anyone else. In this new spiritual realm, the righteous individual who follows all the rituals and laws of his religion can still hope for salvation even if his has bad fortune. ?The ideas of good and evil can develop separately from the ideas of worldly success and failure.?(P.134)

In Weber?s writing The Protestant Ethic he discusses the role that religion played in the rise of capitalism. This new religious breakthrough ?opened many of the doors to industrialization: laying the basis for a moral community of trust underlying peaceful commerce; rationalizing the legal system; motivating people to remake political, social, and economic institutions in keeping with an imperative to transform the world more closely to the ideal.?(P.134) Religion was now responsible for uniting and enlarging a community who could live together in peace with the same moral and ethical code of conduct.

Weber believed that the Protestant ethic broke the hold of tradition while it encouraged men to apply themselves rationally to their work. Calvinism, he found, had developed a set of beliefs around the concept of predestination. Followers of Calvin believed that one could not do good works or perform acts of faith to assure your place in heaven. You were either among the “elect” (in which case you were in) or you were not. However, wealth was taken as a sign by you and your neighbors that you were one of the Gods elect, thereby providing encouragement for people to acquire wealth. The Protestant ethic therefore provided religious sanctions that fostered a spirit of rigorous discipline, encouraging men to apply themselves rationally to acquire wealth.

This naturalistic approach to religion represented a fundamental paradigm shift in how religion was to be viewed. Instead of requiring clergy in order to understand religion, the requirement became facts and information and research. Whether you agree with the evaluation of the social function of religion as Marx did, that religion was the ?opium of the people?, as Durkheim did that religion was what made moral society hold together, or with Weber?s The Protestant ethic, it is obvious that religion played a key role in the development of society.

Bibliography

1- Collins, Makowisky; The Discovery of Society

2- www.brittanica.com

3- www.exp.com

Danielle Russo

Sociology 116

Midterm Assignment

How do we account for religion – its origin, its development, and even its persistence in modern society? This is a question which has occupied many people in a variety of fields for quite a long time. At one point, the answers were framed in purely theological and religious terms, assuming the truth of Christian revelations and proceeding from there. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a more ?naturalistic? approach developed. Instead of needing to believe in the truth of the religion, what was required was just the opposite: intellectual detachment and a suspension of belief. Three people who ended up doing just that were Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

Marx studied philosophy in Berlin under William Hegel. Hegel’s philosophy had a decisive influence upon Marx’s own thinking and theories. According to Marx, religion is an expression of material realities and economic injustice. Thus, problems in religion are ultimately problems in society. Religion is not the disease, but merely a symptom. It is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited. This is the origin of his comment that religion is the “opium of the people.” ?People do not have an objective view of the world; they see it from the restricted point of view of their own positions.?(p.35) At times I may seem to be focusing more on economic rather than religious theory, but that is because Marx’s basic stance is that everything is always about economics.

According to Marx, humans – even from their earliest beginnings – are not

motivated by grand ideas but instead by material concerns, like the need to eat and survive. This is the basic premise of a materialist view of history. At the beginning, people worked together in unity and it wasn’t so bad. But eventually, humans developed agriculture and the concept of private property. These two facts created a division of labor and a separation of classes based upon power and wealth. This material organization of society is what Marx calls ?class consciousness.? This, in turn, created the social conflict that drives society.

All of this is made worse by capitalism which only increases the disparity between the wealthy classes and the labor classes. Confrontation between them is unavoidable because those classes are driven by historical forces beyond anyone’s control. Capitalism also creates one new misery: exploitation of surplus value.

For Marx, an ideal economic system would involve exchanges of equal value for equal value, where value is determined simply by the amount of work put into whatever is being produced. Capitalism interrupts this ideal by introducing a profit motive – a desire to produce an uneven exchange of lesser value for greater value. Profit is ultimately derived from the surplus value produced by workers in factories.

A laborer might produce enough value to feed his family in two hours of work, but he keeps at the job for a full day – in Marx’s time, that might be 12 or 14 hours. Those extra hours represent the surplus value produced by the worker. The owner of the factory did nothing to earn this, but exploits it nevertheless and keeps the difference as profit.

Economics, then, are what constitute the base of all of human life and history – generating division of labor, class struggle, and all the social institutions which are supposed to maintain the status quo. Those social institutions are a superstructure built upon the base of economics, totally dependent upon material and economic realities but nothing else. All of the institutions which are prominent in our daily lives – marriage, church, government, arts, etc. – can only be truly understood when examined in relation to economic forces.

It should be clear now that religion is one of those social institutions which are dependent upon the material and economic realities in a given society. It has no independent history but is instead the creature of productive forces. As Marx wrote, “The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.” Marx asserts that religion is only dependent upon economics, nothing else – so much so that the actual doctrines of the religions are almost irrelevant. This is a functionalist interpretation of religion – understanding religion is not dependent upon the content of beliefs, but what social purpose religion itself serves.

Marx believes that religion is an illusion whose chief purpose is to provide reasons and excuses to keep society functioning just as it is. Just as capitalism takes our productive labor and alienates us from its value, religion also takes our qualities – our highest ideals and aspirations – and alienates us from them, projecting them onto an alien and unknowable being called a god. Religion is meant to create illusory fantasies for the poor. Economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life, so religion tells them that this is OK because they will find that true happiness in the next life.

For Marx, the problem lies in the fact that just like an opiate drug fails to fix a physical injury – it merely helps you forget your pain and suffering, religion also does not fix the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering – instead, it helps them forget why they are suffering and get them to look forward to an imaginary future when the pain will cease instead of working to change circumstances now. Even worse, this “drug” of religion is being administered by the same oppressors who are ultimately responsible for the pain and suffering in the first place.

Emile Durkheim continued with Marx?s theories in his book The Elementary forms of Religious Life that was published just a few years before his death, in 1912. As Marx had argued that every class had its own conscious view of reality, Durkheim went further to demonstrate that even the most basic social ideas as time, space and God can be seen as creations of society. Durkheim suggests that there is not one reality but many and that this reality only exists because of the symbolic creations of humans and their rituals.

Durkheim studied the aboriginal tribes of Australia in an effort to understand religion. He concluded that religion always involves a distinction between things that are sacred and things that are profane. Durkheim uses the example of the totem pole that functions to hold the tribe together. The totemic animal, Durkheim believed, was the original focus of religious activity because it was the emblem for a social group, the clan. He thought that the function of religion was to make people willing to put the interests of society ahead of their own desires. All members of the tribe gather together to perform periodic totem rituals, it is these rituals that set the rules for social order. It is forbidden to kill or harm the totem animal and it is therefor forbidden to kill or harm one?s fellow tribesmen who name themselves after the totem.

In the modern Christian religion, Durkeim argues that the moral commandments such as The Golden Rule and The Ten Commandments are primarily social rules. These rules regulate human?s behavior toward eachother and serve to maintain a sense of social unity. People do not follow these rules out of their fear for heaven or hell but for their desire to be accepted by society. If they participate in the religious rituals they will feel a sense of belonging, whereas those who break the rules and avoid the rituals suffer from social isolation. To Durkheim, God is merely a symbol of society.

Max Weber’s sociology is the foundation of scientific sociology of religion in a sense of typological and objective understanding. Rejecting Karl Marx’s evolutionary law of class society, or Emile Durkheim’s sustained law of moral society, Weber established the understanding sociology of the subjective meaning of religious action or inaction. He argued that the transformation of religion allowed for social changes where people could now work together to gain economic wealth. In a primitive society there were many gods, those kinsmen who worshipped the same household god as you could be trusted but those strangers who worshipped a different god were ?aliens? and could not be trusted.

The rise of the great world religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, separated the idea of the natural world from the idea of the spiritual world. Instead of gods and spirits, people become widely concerned with the idea of heaven and hell. Weber argues that the idea of a universal God allowed for laws based on consistent general principles. Religion itself can also develop in new directions. (P.133) In primitive religions one prays to the gods to make his crops grow or kill off enemies. In the event of a natural disaster the kinsmen would believe that the gods were angry with them and continue to hold ceremonial sacrifices until the weather was better. It was this fear of the gods that kept the primitive kinsmen from trusting anyone else. In this new spiritual realm, the righteous individual who follows all the rituals and laws of his religion can still hope for salvation even if his has bad fortune. ?The ideas of good and evil can develop separately from the ideas of worldly success and failure.?(P.134)

In Weber?s writing The Protestant Ethic he discusses the role that religion played in the rise of capitalism. This new religious breakthrough ?opened many of the doors to industrialization: laying the basis for a moral community of trust underlying peaceful commerce; rationalizing the legal system; motivating people to remake political, social, and economic institutions in keeping with an imperative to transform the world more closely to the ideal.?(P.134) Religion was now responsible for uniting and enlarging a community who could live together in peace with the same moral and ethical code of conduct.

Weber believed that the Protestant ethic broke the hold of tradition while it encouraged men to apply themselves rationally to their work. Calvinism, he found, had developed a set of beliefs around the concept of predestination. Followers of Calvin believed that one could not do good works or perform acts of faith to assure your place in heaven. You were either among the “elect” (in which case you were in) or you were not. However, wealth was taken as a sign by you and your neighbors that you were one of the Gods elect, thereby providing encouragement for people to acquire wealth. The Protestant ethic therefore provided religious sanctions that fostered a spirit of rigorous discipline, encouraging men to apply themselves rationally to acquire wealth.

This naturalistic approach to religion represented a fundamental paradigm shift in how religion was to be viewed. Instead of requiring clergy in order to understand religion, the requirement became facts and information and research. Whether you agree with the evaluation of the social function of religion as Marx did, that religion was the ?opium of the people?, as Durkheim did that religion was what made moral society hold together, or with Weber?s The Protestant ethic, it is obvious that religion played a key role in the development of society.

Bibliography

1- Collins, Makowisky; The Discovery of Society

2- www.brittanica.com

How do we account for religion – its origin, its development, and even its persistence in modern society? This is a question which has occupied many people in a variety of fields for quite a long time. At one point, the answers were framed in purely theological and religious terms, assuming the truth of Christian revelations and proceeding from there. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a more ?naturalistic? approach developed. Instead of needing to believe in the truth of the religion, what was required was just the opposite: intellectual detachment and a suspension of belief. Three people who ended up doing just that were Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

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