Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Two theories, Marxism and functionalism, have stressed religion's contribution to status quo maintenance. But empirical studies abound that document religion's contribution to the formation, mobilization, and justification of political radicalism.

In Western Europe, organized religion resisted, first, liberal bourgeois revolutions and then socialist labor movements. However, in other parts of the world, liberal-left political movements have had religious symbolism as ideology and religious groups as constituent members.

In the United States, religion often has been associated with political change movements, including abolitionism (McKivigan 1984), populism (Williams and Alexander 1994), labor (Billings 1990), feminism (Porterfield 1987), and contemporary direct action (Epstein 1991).

In Latin America, liberation theology has been the most celebrated marriage of religion and radicalism (e.g., Adriance 1994, Smith 1991). In other parts of the Third World, there has been extensive political involvement by religious "fundamentalisms" (Marty and Appleby 1993). While these movements are "conservative" in areas such as gender relations, many of them are militantly anti-imperialist, calling for the radical restructuring of society on explicitly anti-Western principles (Juergensmeyer 1993).

Many of these studies draw on the work of neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who directly theorized the need for ideological work to combat dominant political hegemony, a need ably filled by religion (e.g., Billings 1990, Fulton 1987, Maduro 1982).

Rhys H. Williams


M. Adriance, "Base Communities and Rural Mobilization in Northern Brazil," Sociology of Religion 55(1994):163-178

D. B. Billings, "Religion as Opposition," American Journal of Sociology 96(1990):1-31

B. Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991)

J. Fulton, "Religion and Politics in Gramsci," Sociological Analysis 48(1987):197-216

M. Juergensmeyer, The New Cold War ? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)

O. Maduro, Religion and Social Conflicts (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1982)

M. E. Marty and R. S. Appleby (eds.), Fundamentalisms and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993)

J. R. McKivigan, The War Against Proslavery Religion (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984)

A. Porterfield, "Feminist Theology as a Revitalization Movement," Sociological Analysis 48(1987):234-244

C. Smith, The Emergence of Liberation Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)

R. H. Williams and S. M. Alexander, "Religious Rhetoric in American Populism," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33(1994):1-15.

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