How Does Religion Shape Culture?

By Antonia Čirjak on May 9 2020 in Society

Religion itself is always related to multiple factors, including the economy, politics, and the family lives of people living in a country.
  • The German philosopher and sociologist Karl Marx thought of religion as a result of various different economic and social structures.
  • Marx argued that it is much easier to have control over the poor when they are able to blindly follow a specific belief system.
  • Max Weber firmly believed that the only reason why the economic system we live in is at all possible is because of organized religion and its factors.

Religion is an extremely important factor when it comes to shaping culture. Religion itself is always related to multiple factors, including the economy, politics, and the family lives of people living in a country. Religion interacts with all of these factors, and together they help shape the culture of a specific group of people.

Many people tried to approach religion and its influence on culture throughout history, but two approaches remain the most successful and well-received by the majority of experts. Both have their roots in philosophy and sociology, and those are the Marxist approach and the approach of Max Weber.

The Marxist Approach

This approach has its origins in the teachings of Karl Marx and his idea of religion. Karl Marx was a German philosopher and sociologist who saw religion as a product of different social and economic structures. According to him, religion appears as a result of various changes that happened in the socio-economic models of society. Religion constantly changes and adapts to these models.

His approach removes the importance of religion from culture. Marx only sees religion as an “opium of the masses.” This means that he believes religion is used by the ruling classes of society to control the working class. He refuses to accept any other function of religion and its importance for the development of culture.

According to Marx, it is much easier to control the poor when they have a belief system that they can follow blindly. Religion is just that for him, a tool used by the ruling class to gain more control over the ones beneath them. Although it may seem extreme, it is hard to deny that there is some truth to his words. However, it is hard to deny the large impact religion has had on culture globally.

Max Weber And His Approach

Max Weber was another German sociologist who is recognized as one of the fathers of modern sociology. He gave a more active role to religion and the ways it shapes our culture. Weber stated that the economic system we live in is possible only because of religion and religious factors. He cites the Protestant ethics as an extremely important factor that gave birth to capitalism. This is why he believes that the ties between economy, politics, and religion are closer than it may seem at first.

Naturally, all of these factors shape and influence culture. Contrary to what Marx was saying, Weber states how the economy, politics, and religion all interact with one another. It is not a case of them just depending on each other. The fact that they interact gave birth to many aspects of human culture. This is why it is impossible to talk about culture and leave out religion. Traces of religion can be seen all over many aspects of our culture.

There are many other sociological approaches to this topic, such as the functionalist view promoted by Emile Durkheim. He saw society as an organism, and every part of society represents an organ. All organs must function together; otherwise, the organism will die. According to him, religion is one of the organs that make up the organism that is our society. Of course, nowadays, we have many other theories that explain the relationship between culture and religion in greater detail, but it all started with these theories.

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