Essay: Sociology of Religion

Pages: 5 (1771 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

Sociology -- Sociology of Religion

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation significantly contributed to both Capitalism and Secularization in the West. The Reformation eliminated or severely reduced Roman Catholic strengths, replacing the old religious ways of thinking with a "Protestant Ethic" devoted to capitalist ideals of planning, working hard, practicing discipline and self-denial and amassing earthly wealth in order to glorify God. In addition, the Protestant Reformation helped cause the secularization of the West by reducing reliance on institutionalized religion and increasing demands and benefits of capitalism and industrialization.

How the Protestant Reformation Contributed to a Rise of the Capitalist Spirit

The Roman Catholic Church taught that people were saved by the Sacraments and by obeying religious authority. As long as a Catholic received the Sacraments and followed the instructions of the Church's priests, bishops and other authorities, that person was assured of salvation (Weber, 2003, p. 104). Protestantism eliminated those assurances when it eliminated those Sacraments and the overwhelming importance of religious authorities. Certainly, there were still some religious authorities but their importance and the importance of obedience to them were diminished. Due to the elimination of the Roman Catholic Sacraments and the diminishment of religious authority, the average Protestant looked for other assurances of salvation (Weber, 2003, p. 247). Those assurances had to somehow be found here on earth. Calvinism, which was one of the strongest early influences of capitalism, taught double predestination, which meant that a person's salvation was set by God from the beginning: that person was predetermined to either be saved or damned (Weber, 2003, p. 226). Calvinism also taught that a devout person should plan, work hard, practice discipline and self-denial and pursue earthly wealth, all of which glorified God (Weber, 2003, p. 296). Believing that all those practices glorified God, Calvinism and other austere Protestant religions also believed that the opposites -- the failure to work hard, undisciplined self-indulgence and the failure to accumulate earthly wealth -- were an affront to God. Within this worldview, even the most menial job could be considered a "calling" that glorified God (Weber, 2003, p. 207). Third, Calvinism taught that a devout person should not waste his/her money, should avoid buying luxuries because that was sinful, did not need to contribute as much money to his/her church and should not give much money to the poor because that encouraged even more begging from the poor (Weber, 2003, p. 203). Finally, poverty was essentially deemed to be the fault of the poor person, who must be a lazy burden who insulted God by failing to work hard, failed be disciplined and self-denying and failed to accumulate wealth (Weber, 2003, p. 203). These Calvinistic ideas were deepened even further by Pietism (Weber, 2003, p. 244) and enhanced by Lutheranism, which stated that the idea of a "vocation" was not limited to religious authorities such as priests and bishops (Weber, 2003, p. 207) but that the term "vocation" could be applied to the work of a lay person in the world.

The growth of these Protestant ideas caused believers to behave differently than their Roman Catholic counterparts. The loss of the Sacraments and obedience as guarantees of salvation, coupled with double predestination's determination of a person's salvation or damnation through no action of his/her own, caused people to look for and/or create self-assurances and signs here on earth showing that they were saved (Weber, 2003, p. 247). In addition, the Protestant attitude toward money, which encouraged the accumulation of wealth, reduced the importance of contributions to the church, and discouraged wastefulness, extravagance and donations to the poor, left people with a tendency to devote their efforts to work, amass and invest their wealth and accept the common products of industrialization (Weber, 2003, p. 2). This "Protestant Ethic" highly influenced the spread of capitalism by influencing masses of people in Western Europe. Although this capitalist spirit was not planned by nations and not specifically organized as a movement in itself, it was at least partially established, strengthened and spread as morally and religiously significant by Protestant religions (Weber, 2003). Weber points to Benjamin Franklin's writing as an indication of this deeply ingrained Protestant and capitalistic influence, which elevated capitalism -- the rational pursuit of wealth through hard work -- and frugality to morally significant heights (Weber, 2003, p. 296). This type of religious belief remains a potent force for the spread of Capitalism to this day (Stepan, October 2000, p. 44).

b. How the Protestant Reformation Contributed to Secularization in the West

Secularization in the West is a social condition made obvious by: the lessened importance of religion for non-religious roles and institutions, particularly involving government and the economy; the lowered social esteem for religious institutions and religious professional such as priests and bishops; and a lessening of lay people's involvement in religious rites, reduced showing of religious beliefs, and use of religious beliefs to run the non-religious aspects of their lives (Bruce, 2002, p. 3). There are many reasons for secularization but one of the most significant causes of secularization is the Protestant Reformation. Prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church taught that people were saved by receiving the Sacraments and by obedience to Church authorities such as priests and bishops. The only source of these "Holy Sacraments" was the Roman Catholic Church; consequently a person could not receive these sources of salvation by any other means (Bruce, 2002, p. 51). In addition, Church authorities such as priests and bishops taught that they were the layperson's intercessors before God; a person could not understand God or deal with Him directly for salvation and therefore had to rely on Catholic authorities to communicate effectively with God and know what God wanted from him/her for his/her salvation (Weber, 2003, p. 203). However, the Protestant Reformation eliminated the Sacraments and significantly reduced the role of church authorities while increasing secular power (Stepan, October 2000, p. 53). In the first place, according to Calvinism, for example, salvation and damnation were predetermined by God and a person's actions could neither save nor damn him; rather, a person's actions showed whether he/she was saved or damned (Weber, 2003, p. 226). As a result, close adherence to the Sacraments and obedience to religious authorities could do nothing for a person. Secondly, the Protestant Reformers taught that a person was able to deal with God directly and therefore there was no need for intercession by church authorities such as priests and bishops. The lessening of importance of the church authorities and Sacraments for salvation meant the lessening of their importance for Protestants generally, as they looked for earthly signs of salvation/damnation and dealt directly with God (Bruce, 2002, p. 54). This spirit of individualism led people to rely on the Church less and to look in the secular world for signs of their salvation, God's will for them, and social contacts. Secondly, as stated above, the Protestant Reformation significantly contributed to Capitalism in Western Europe and beyond. The demands and benefits of Capitalism created several social phenomena. Capitalism and its widespread industrialization created "structural differentiation," because the creation of specialized roles and institutions to manage specialized functions lead to a fragmentation of social life (Bruce, 2002, p. 4). Capitalism and widespread industrialization also caused "social differentiation" in which people were divided by their classes and occupations in life (Bruce, 2002, p. 9). Due to these two phenomena, people found their communities according to their social class, work and work status rather than from belonging to the Church community. Since the Church obtains much of its strength through community, this loss of people's reliance on the Church for community led to a loss of strength for organized religion. Third, the capitalism and industrialization engendered and spread by the Protestant Reformation meant greater education for the laity, which in turn led to a greater sense of ability, individualism, financial and other self-reliance, and personal liberty (Bruce, 2002, p. 2). This greater knowledge and its byproducts militated against organized religion, particularly but not merely the Roman Catholic Church, which finds its strength in community and in control of its lay members' lives. Fourth, capitalism and industrialization led to greater diversity among area populations (Bruce, 2002, p. 11). Industrial centers drew diverse people to work in them. Though people were stratified structurally and socially, they did have to reside in the same geographic areas in order to perform all the tasks and different occupations required by industrialization. Consequently, the homogeneous communities that tended to support a particular religion were so fragmented and infused with different people having different religious beliefs that it was difficult for individual religious institutions and specific religious beliefs to be shared and sustained by an area's populations. If an industrial center was organized, it was organized around industry; not a single unifying religion. In addition, exposure to these diverse beliefs led to people questioning their own beliefs; if someone believes something else, how can you absolutely know that your own belief is true? Institutionalized religion relies in a… [END OF PREVIEW]

Sociology? According to Giddens Article Critique

Sociology Australia Journal

Sociology - Welfare Hard of Hearing People Term Paper

Religion and Politics Religion Today the Average Thesis

Religion and Sociology Term Paper

View 712 other related papers  >>

Cite This Essay:

APA Format

Sociology of Religion.  (2013, March 28).  Retrieved September 16, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Sociology of Religion."  28 March 2013.  Web.  16 September 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Sociology of Religion."  March 28, 2013.  Accessed September 16, 2019.