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Social Change and Religion

Religion is important in many aspects. It has remained vibrant and socially salient. This is very true in various parts of the world, particularly in America. Religion is a significant factor in ideology and public policy in most countries, it but has been radically changed that the secularization thesis seems to work out for the best. Thus, in response to the religious persistence and the perceived doctrines, sociologists have created neo- secularization perspectives which are ostensibly faithful to contemporary facts and classical theory as well. In this paper, the researcher studies the relationship between religion and social change. The paper will include the perspectives derived from the broad currents of the world’s historical change as well as post modernism.

Religion is intertwined in a broad process of socio-cultural change, hence, in this process it is depicted in secularization or modern theory. It is important to consider the fundamental socio-cultural transformations in order to understand the world historical change, including the Neolithic Revolution, transformation to industrial modernity, as well as, the current transformation in the process.

Pre-modern Traditional Societies

In human history, village and kinship communities were dominant in the pre-modern socio-cultural systems. The local communities were tightly held together by space as well as time at particular places. Men believed that human life and nature were governed by supernatural forces, but the spheres of social life, such as religion, were relatively fused3. People in traditional societies never understood themselves as those participating in religion. In fact the traditional societies had had integrative systems of empire, dynasty rulers, scribes, priests and sorcerers. It looked like a significant small strata living in small urban nodes within a virtual sea of peasants staying in dispersed villages. The controlling layer maintained its position by coercively expropriating the wealth of villagers who lived in rural communities.

Early Modernity

The origins of modern socio-cultural systems come from the post Feudal Europe and they were originated during commercial and industrial revolutions. During this period, the centres of economic production moved from the countryside to the urban areas. Dillon relates the increasing separation of religion and worship to this fact4. However, the most significant aspect in the transformation is that such units as national institutions, social categories and societies became more alike, shared and homogenous. However, it became difficult to predict the behavior of man based on place, demographics, and class or gender categories, as a result of the socio-cultural transformations that integrated members of all groups into relatively common spheres. However, transnationalization as well as public mobilization in civil society appeared at the price of disestablishment, where religion relinquishes claims to particularistic privilege.

A Model of Christian Charity

John Winthrop claims that it is within God’s power to grant great fortune to some individuals but much less to others. The power is within the holy and wise providence of God, and the author justifies the exercise of God’s power with three main reasons. As for the third reason, Winthrop argues that the uneven distribution of riches amongst men binds them more closely to one another. This even assumes the existence and providence of God.

The implication between Winthrop’s arguments is that wealthier men, being fully aware that they are rich, only through the generosity of God, become humbler before him. Since God, has granted men their fortune, he may require that the fortunate men return the favour with charitable work according to the principles of God. The principles of God include mercy, justice, nature, and grace. God’s providence is assumed, and His omnipotence grants men all the riches, as well as, good fortunes. Thus, even with the acceptance of God`s providence, it does not mean that we must also assume that any worth that is possessed by any man has been granted by God. However, some people still wonder if the only source of men’s wealth is God, who co-exists with men, and possibly with angels.

The assumption that God grants gifts to men is not mutually exclusive from the possibility that other heavenly, or hellish creatures, can do so as well. Furthermore, from various stories obtained from the Bible itself, the devil seems to possess the ability to grant his followers favours that take the form of worldly possessions. For instance, in the New Testament, the Devil attempted Jesus with worldly riches and power, and numerous material wealth, such as, food. Jesus resisted all the offers, but instead chose hunger and poverty.
Considering worldly possessions only, Winthrop has greatly mistaken in making emphasis on them. Winthrop speaks of the gifts that God grants to men, he refers to material wealth. However, it cannot be known for certain that Winthrop is talking literally. According to Winthrop, the rich are those individuals who are prosperous through their possessions of worldly objects and material wealth. He is not speaking configuratively, as in spiritual wealth, or moral wealth, but he seems to assume that it is sufficient in the sermon to address only the differences between people in their material possessions. Most people seek religion itself; however, in search of existence material possessions are not the foremost concern.

Within the Christian Bible, God seems to emphasize on spiritual wealth and not on the material wealth, which Winthrop insists is an essential measure of God’s power as well as generosity. The greatest gifts from God are more likely things other than gold and silver and perhaps far more valuable. It can be assumed that God is very powerful that any possession of any material worth that a man possesses has been granted him by God. In addition, it may also be assumed that the earthly material possessions are the greatest gift that a man can obtain, and eventually, they are not being granted by lesser divine being such as angels, or by the Devil. Furthermore, even if all of the above is assumed, however, the actual behaviour of men receiving God’s gifts underrates Winthrop’s arguments.

Thirdly, due to God’s favors, men become closer to each other, but such an argument does not take into account men’s behavior. In addition, men who seem to be more fortunate based on the random favors granted them by God may not be generous to unfortunate men, and the less fortunate men may or may not be envious or jealous and resentful towards the richer men. Perhaps from a realistic point of view, most men are more likely to be selfish due to the uneven distribution of wealth. The behaviour is an ideal Christian conduct that Winthrop does not necessarily accept out of all wealthy men. Thus, it is vital to perceive how ineffective is the manner in which God distributes gifts amongst men, which has been seen as a matter of bringing men together.

To make the third reason applicable, God’s people that He chooses to bless in material ways must possess better, more generous quality in them. Moreover, man’s nature is to conform to each other. This enables others to see the development initiated by others, based on many things, for instance, ethnicity, gender, talent, etc. However, particular characteristics of a condition in which wealthy people are wealthy, and poor men are poor as a result of their innate nature, opposes the idea that men’s fortunes are determined entirely by the wisdom of God, and not merely by men`s special skills, hard work, or simply by virtue. In addition, if God’s providence is assumed, it is vital to assume that all the possessions that men have, have been granted them, and not merely earned through the positive attributes. However, the positive attributes are necessary for an ideal Christian relationship, in order to coexist.

It is very interesting that God would grant good things to men so that they might be kind and generous to other men. Thus, making an individual very rich and honoured for no reason is not necessary to transform him or her into a philanthropist. In other words, it is more likely to accomplish the exact opposite. Moreover, making another person very poor for no clear reason is more likely than not to embitter him or her against the whole society. Thus, the assumption that God is just and benevolent can be associated with the observations that he often seems to operate in exactly the opposite direction. In the Christian Bible, the Almighty God tends to lay down hardships on his followers in order to test their faith. This temptation allows the wicked ones to enjoy their temporary wealth during their short span on earth. Being a Christian or not, it would be probably much easier for any person to make assumptions that God’s greatest gifts are not of the material world, but are of other worlds that an ordinary man cannot imagine.

Sociological Perspectives and Societal Relations

Sociologists apply three theoretical traditions to assist in the interpretation of this subject matter. These are functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction. The proponents of functionalism examined how the human groups` interactions, culture, and institutions promote the survival of various people. For instance, these sociologists explored wealth and poverty to ascertain how social choice patterns influence the income level of individuals. Thus, the functionalists tend to examine the attributes of the dominant groups, cultures, as well as societies

On the other hand, the proponents of conflict theory observe the issue differently. The conflict theorists believe that poverty results from a group struggle over limited resources or wealth. Based on this perspective, poverty occurs as a result of the systems that oppress people. Therefore, both the poverty and the welfare systems are believed to serve the rich, who need cheap labor from the poor. The rich also consume excessive production and work hard to follow their selfish interests. Thus, the conflict theorists argue that there is competition of power within the society’s groups. In addition, they tend to view all norms and laws as a means of assisting the dominant group to retain its position.

The symbolic interactionism theorists place more emphasis on human creativity by the application of symbols and language to create social order and cultural meaning. The proponents of symbolic interactionism examine both functional and dysfunctional cultural patterns. In addition, they also tend to replicate the ideas of the conflict theorists, since they have a belief that social group seek to dominate through the application of legal structures. Proponents of symbolic interactionism emphasize on human ability to create social and material reality, focusing on the vision of the ideal society. On the other hand, through an exploration of single parenthood within a society or culture, the main focus would be on the symbolic meaning of children, the link between childbearing and the role of adults in the society, and the ways by which altering the meanings could influence the number of single parents.

The sociologists often criticize the existence of social order. For instance, the conflict theorists, as well as the symbolic interactionists, tend to base their focus on the normative order, whereas the proponents of functionalism theory account for its dysfunctional elements.  Proponents of conflict theory base their arguments on how dominant groups apply the normative systems to justify and serve their own interests. On the other hand, the symbolic interactionists focus on the way men can create and alter the symbolic meaning to make the society more just and fair to enhance equality. It is evident that both groups represent egalitarian and critical hierarchical systems. Based on their perspectives, economic and social stratification systems are made to perpetuate the existing social arrangements that are beneficial only to a few members of the society.

Sociology and Christianity

Previous researchers argued that sociology is a discipline that criticizes the social systems of human creativity, as well as activities, which can be viewed as hostile to the Christians beliefs. However, there are many elements that are consistent with the Christian perspectives. Consequently, there are four main areas of conflict and agreement between two perspectives. These are determinism and choice, and humanism and belief in God, cultural relativity, as well as moral absolutes.

Determinism of Choice

According to the ideas put forth by sociologists, the perception of all human groups and behaviors is characterized by the position held by an individual in social structure or his/her membership in a given group. The material, economic order and one`s structure position is determined by attitude, behaviour and perceptions about God. Thus, human perspective and theology are influenced by social stratification. Thus, prosperous Christians believe that riches come from hard work and blessing from the Most High (God)7. Nonetheless, poor Christians do not recognize their poverty as a result of displeasure of God, but they consider it as lack of opportunity.

Thus, considering slavery, it  is possible to make a suggestion that white Christians justified slavery since they belonged to the dominant group of slave holding culture, but not because of the teachings that are written in the Bible. In the current colonial era, an example would be a rejection of women’s role in ordination by the role dominated by male hierarchy of various denominations. This opposition is seen as a consequence of gender disparity and perceptions of the ruling class that seeks to prevent others from holding leadership positions, rather than an independent reading from the New Testament, which is rather objective. On the other hand, through the revelations of the ways through membership of another class in a society other members from lower classes are prevent from achieving leadership, which indicates how membership affects attitudes and behavior and it is very important in assisting Christians to re-examine their theology.

Sociologists focus on the effects of social group membership on human behaviour. While recognizing the position that an individual holds in a society assists Christians to shape attitudes about God, it also help in exploring the argument that God could have created social and economic reality. The author argued that the Protestant ethic that emphasizes on priesthood, personal achievement, as well as individual judgments, results into cultures that are focused on hard work, savings, sobriety, and traditionally defines ethical culture. On the other hand, these values, which are based on religion, provide the foundation of modern capitalist, democratic, and more productive societies. Thus, theology created a society. It is argued that sociologists who embraced symbolic interaction and conflict perspectives focus on the role of human choice as well as decision making in the process of social changes.

Humanism and the Belief in God

Most studies conducted by sociologists on various human cultures have made them support the notion of cultural tolerance and acceptance of people’s religious beliefs. Sociologists have focused on how religious beliefs have contributed to meaningful individual life, public ethics as well as morality. Thus, dominant groups should not cause interference to the religious practices in the contemporary society. In the contemporary American society, sociologists have documented pervasiveness of the role of religion in socializing an individual. Because of this, sociologists have played a crucial role in the preservation of religious freedom and demonstrating the benefits of religion in people`s lives.

Cultural Relativism and Christian Absolutes

Sociology makes more emphasis on moral and ethical relativity in studying people`s behaviors and norms. Traditionally, the sociologists did not consider individuals` culture as better or worse than other cultures, instead they considered  groups` patterns as a combination of different norms and values that should be appreciated. Many Christians believe in moral absolutes that do not depend on the position that an individual holds in the society, but rather on principles that cannot be refuted from the word of God. Currently, most Christians accuse sociology to be the source of moral decay in the society. However, the tension cannot occur between sociology and Christianity due to the differences between cultural relativism and moral decay. However, cultural relativism provides some vital contributions to religious thoughts. Thus, cultural relativity has assisted to undermine the philosophical and theoretical base for imperialism as well as racism and has contributed to a greater ethnic inclusion in the society at large. This concept can be subjected to Christian critique.

A Critical Egalitarian Perspective

Since the Christian Church was established, there are some elements of the conflict and symbolic interaction theory which are consistent with the Bible. For instance, in the New Testament, the book of James talks about the tendency of the church to honor members of the ruling class in their presence. In addition, Paul had numerous anti-hierarchical views and he concluded that there was no importance in the social meaning of ethnicity or gender. In general, members of the New Testament church were strongly communist, and turned over their properties to the church and achieved whatever they needed. Thus, the New Testament clearly indicates that the early Christians held many things in common.


In conclusion, religious change is considered as part of the globalization process or the reconstitution of human spirituality, subjectivity and small groups. However, the argument that God will determine whether an individual will be rich or poor is interesting because this belief implies that God took an active responsibility in the determination of individuals` lives. Therefore, colonies should become models of Christian Charity that shows the spirit of Christ in the world, in order to lead the righteous individuals to heaven.

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