Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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

REVOLUTION

An extensive, significant change in the ordering of human social relationships, which may be sudden and usually carries a political aspect. The concept is also applied retrospectively, often in connection with technological change—for example, the print revolution, the industrial revolution, the atomic revolution, the communication revolution, or, within religions, specifically, the Cluniac Revolution. Revolutions may or may not be characterized by violence; violent overthrow of government leaders without change in the structuring of social relationships does not, strictly speaking, constitute revolution in the social scientific sense.

In the work of Max Weber, particularly, revolution is associated with charismatic leadership, which often presents an explicitly religious aspect. Weber also, however, takes account of the possibility of traditionalist revolution bearing a religious character. In so doing, he highlights the internal dialectic in religion between creating new futures and restoring putative pasts. In both cases, as well as that of system maintenance, the potential political role of religion becomes clear. The relationships between religion and revolution have been treated in detail particularly by Lewy (1974) and Berman (1983). Specific political revolutions that have been studied for their religious aspects include Engels's treatment of the Peasants' Revolt in sixteenth-century Germany (see Marx and Engels 1975) and the traditionalist revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini in the late 1970s in Iran (see Kimmel 1990). Others have looked at the relationship between religion and broad cultural movements, usually termed revolutions , such as the relationship between Methodism and the industrial revolution in England (the HalÚvy thesis, subsequently adapted by E. P. Thompson) or Protestantism and the rise of science in seventeenth-century England (the Merton thesis).

William H. Swatos, Jr .

References

H. Berman, Law and Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983)

E. HalÚvy, The Birth of Methodism in England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971 [1915])

M. Kimmel, Revolution (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990)

G. Lewy, Religion and Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974)

K. Marx and F. Engels, On Religion (Moscow: Progress, 1975)

R. Merton, Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-Century England (New York: Harper, 1970 [1937]

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Pantheon, 1963)

M. Weber, Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500