Zubair Tanveer K0823813 Classical Social Theory Kingston

Zubair Tanveer K0823813
Classical Social Theory
Kingston University
1. Religion was a central topic of debate for classical social theorists. Explain why religion was
an important theme for Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Then, select two of these theorists and
compare (a) their definitions of religion and (b) their analysis of its function in society.
Religion for Marx, Weber and Durkheim, contextually speaking, had a profound impact on their
lives. To Marx, religion was a tool of the ruling class used to subdue the masses and exert control.
Weber's approach to religion contradicts Marx's in that while Marx deemphasized the importance
of ideas in favor of materialistic needs, Weber stressed the importance of religion — and more
importantly its ideas and themes — in both the running of society and its progression. Marx saw
only a tool for control by those already in power while Weber sought to firmly analyze the effects of
such a force on this world. Emile Durkheim’s take on religion different from both Weber and Marx
Durkheim (Durkheim) expressed his definition of religion in the most succinct manner. In the
opening of his book, Elementary Forms for Religious, he states “a unified system of beliefs and
practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and
practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to
them”. To Durkheim, the function of religion and the reason for its importance was that he saw it as
a way to stabilize society. Religion created a more cohesive and unified community that identified
with itself. This supports his message in The Division of Labor In Society, in which Durkheim
proposed the categories of mechanical and organic solidarity in order to help stabilize modern
I will be comparing the conflicting viewpoints of Max Weber (Weber) and Karl Marx ( Marx), and will
attempt to show that in my opinion, Weber's approach is the more valid and applicable perspective of
the two. i believe Marx to be somewhat dismissive of religions true impact and its importance, not just
with regards to economics, but the profound impact it has on nearly every facet of our lives. Weber also
creates a new way of thinking for sociologists, he includes philosophy ( Immanuel Kant) and attempts to
redefine the way in which we conduct sociological analysis. In Marx's favor however, i think his main
gripes with religion are valid, and hold true to this day, but his disregard of religion as a dominate factor
in the way in which society operates is imprudent.
These theories and perspectives also can be applied to the present, and we can see how valid some of
the points made by these two sociologists were. Specifically i will be addressing Weber's major works
from 'the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, and comparing his conclusions with that of Marx's
statements pertaining to the religion, specifically statements made in contribution to the critique of
Hegel's philosophy of right. It is evident to me that Marx has several key objections to religion, as well as
several key statements pertaining to religion, I will address these points and objections and contrast
them to Weber's Study pertaining to the rise of the spirit of capitalism.
The first study conducted by Weber is known as the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism , it is
based, or more so driven by the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. This doctrine has three main
premises, a) Those who god wants to save are saved, and the others are condemned, B)Those who are
Zubair Tanveer K0823813
Classical Social Theory
Kingston University
to be saved, were saved before their creation and have no power to change their outcome, c) The act of
salvation being earned is exclusively attributed to god, and therefore cannot be earned by mortal men
and woman, for if it could be, then man would be like god. With this in mind the question on every
protestants mind became clear to Weber, that is ; are we saved or damned? Weber began to draw
parallels between the faith of protestants and business, putting forth the idea that one's material wealth
and success within this life would mean that god has favored them, leading to said men and women
being in God's favor. he argues, that this drive for material and corporeal success lead to the foundation
of a capitalist state. It is key to note that Weber never states that Protestantism lead to capitalism
exclusively, more so that it was a contributing factor, and that other Christian sects began to be effected
by this same way of thinking, which bred the capitalist spirit.
furthermore, in the opening chapters of this book ( the protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism) Weber
clearly begins to address several intriguing questions. one of the most poignant being that, what in the
western world allowed for the spirit of capitalism to rise? two things immediately become apparent
from this rationale, those being that his approach is unique and unheard of up to this point, he does not
think that all societies are on the same path of progress, and instead he wants to understand which
conditions or ideas lead to the formation of this sprit by analyzing western social institutions. The
second point that becomes apparent is that this is directly contradicting the Marxist approach; that
history was on an inevitable path, and that capitalism was not predominantly reliant on any cultural
factors. Weber clearly rejects this universal perspective, once again Marx displays to me a dismissive
attitude towards religion, to its evolution and its effects on our society, and ultimately its function.
To further touch upon Weber's influences within this text, it is appropriate to mention Benjamin Franklin
who writes that, time is money, that credit is money, and that money can beget money. while Weber
acknowledges that capitalism in some forms has existed in other parts of the world and in varying eras
of history, its pivotal to recognize that Franklins statement/opinion is to a degree the foundation of
nurturing the capitalist spirit. Weber calls this the ' philosophy of avarice', this philosophy along with the
faith of the protestants leads to a nurturing of a new economic mind frame, clearly showing the impact
of religion on economic and social institutions, showing the importance of this function( religion) on the
western world.
So through the analysis of the protestant faith, and their core beliefs, it is clear to observe that, their lust
to please their creator, their own insecurities and need for assurance because of their faith and its
teachings, has and did lead to a spirit of capitalism to be born and nurtured with in the western society
to which they are a part of. To this end, religion's function in the eyes of Weber, was a tool for
sociological change, especially with regards to economic change.
While Marx never wrote extensively on the subject of religion he gave several insights in to his opinion
of religion and its function in society through statements made in his works. The most popular of them
being ' religion is the opium of the people first stated in Critique of Hegel's philosophy of right. This
seven word statement, is by far and away the most inaccurately comprehended statement in modern
times to most people. At face value you may think that Marx's views the function of religion as nothing
Zubair Tanveer K0823813
Classical Social Theory
Kingston University
more than an addiction, which has connotations of being undesirable and unneeded, a disease in some
people's eyes.
'Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress.
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a
spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the
people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the
demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.'
the above text is the full quote in context ( religion is the opium of the people)and it paints a very
different picture of what the views of Marx where when analyzing and describing the function of religion
At first, one might see only negative connotations of religion, but here Marx eludes to religion as
something more, he shows sympathy. He argues that religion can ease the burden of reality on the poor
( proletariat), as they cannot handle the burden of economic reality and therefore cannot be happy,
religion's function here is to allow for the people to feel hope. Hope for the afterlife. Here is where you
can draw in the opium comparison, and you see that Marx see's religion as a tool to suppress pain and
suffering, to breed hope, much like opiates today are powerful pain killers that ease ones suffering. It is
also possible to draw comparisons to the work of Weber, religion there drove the needs for assurance
and ones wealth lead to one feeling secure that he or she was in gods favor, therefore alleviating the
stress and burdens of this world.
The phrase ' Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the a heartless world' shows to
some degree as being an attempt by Marx to validate religion. Stating that it ( religion) is trying to be
the heart of a society that has lost its heart , in essence religion is negligible here, it cannot be the heart
of something that has no heart, it is redundant, a byproduct of materialist needs and effects. Regarding
opiates, it's clear that Marx sees religion as something that eases suffering, much like the opiates today,
but ultimately it does not cure anything. It merely gives the illusion of solace. furthermore the phrase, '
sigh of the oppressed creature' conveys a sense that religion is merely another tool used to oppress
others. In fact, religion at the time was predominantly controlled by the bourgeoisie, so you can easily
link this to Marx's theories pertaining to class and social structure, further deemphasizing the
importance of religion in comparison to the Marxist view that, class is a greater issue and religion merely
a product of greater problems.
Marx further believes that humanity will, or hopefully will be able to create a society free of economic
and materialistic burdens, making the need or any viable use of religion redundant and unnecessary .
This is consistent with the Marxist theory of history leading to something without the possibility of
history changing. That is to say, as stated earlier : History is on an inevitable path.
Zubair Tanveer K0823813
Classical Social Theory
Kingston University
Further evidence of Marx dismissing religion as a dominate factor in society and belittling its function
when compared to Weber, is that Marx never dedicated serious time and effort to religion, unlike
Weber. He saw it as a byproduct of issues with society, class, oppression and the economy not a
predominant factor to social change/society in general ( his main focuses were social and political
structures, which to him influenced the course of a society to a far greater degree).
Overall it is evident to me, while both sociologists had differing view points on the functions of religion,
that being, Marx saw it as nothing more than the last hope of an oppressed people, its function was
merely to ease the pain and burden of economic and class related problems. Whereas Weber saw its
function as a driving force for sociological change. Weber through further studies on eastern cultures
also showed how different religions can shape the course of one's society ( east versus west), he also
proposed a new line of thinking, by questioning the ultimate fate of history, and proposed a radical and
accurate factor to the creation and evolution of a society. Even today, Weber's argument holds true,
religion has effected worldwide laws, created conflicting communities, but has also brought
communities together, much like Durkheim stated, religions function is to some degree to create a more
cohesive and stable society, but more than that, as Weber discovers and shows us, but Marx overlooks;
it is one of the most important factors to consider when analyzing the course a society takes in its
evolution, with regards to class issues, political structures and economic changes.
2046 words, excluding bibliography.
Max Weber (1965) The Sociology of Religion. London: Methuen & Co Ltd
Max Weber (2008)The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. BN Publishing *
Emile Durkheim(2001) The elementary forms of religion. New York: Oxford university Press inc
K.Marx and F.Engles (1955) On Religion. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House
Gracie Davie (2007) The Sociology Of Religion. Sage publications Ltd *
* - No specific place of publication stated- Sage has multiple centers but non stated as a definite
location for this publication.
Zubair Tanveer K0823813
Classical Social Theory
BN publishing looks to be based in miami, but no mention in the book itself.
Kingston University