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Max Weber is not the only scholar to contend that religion can exert an important influence on the process of social change. Elie Halévy (1870–1937), a Frenchman and noted historian who wrote at about the same time as Weber, was primarily interested in the stability of English society during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Halévy thesis suggests that Methodism, under the influence of John Wesley (1703–1791) and his followers, provided a kind of “escape valve” for the discontented English working class. This religious faith became a mechanism for dissent, an outlet for opposition to everything from labor practices to the monarchy itself. Yet this opposition was basically peaceful and was oriented to social reform rather than revolutionary change. From a Marxist point of view, Methodists were not part of the ruling bourgeoisie, yet they served the interests of the wealthy and powerful. For Halévy, the rise of Methodism explains why England, of all the nations of Europe, was most free from political disorders and revolutions during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Halévy’s thesis has been criticized; in fact, many of the objections are similar to those raised in response to Weber’s monumental work. Some critics have argued that Halévy exaggerates the influence of Methodism and fails to explain the lack of revolt in England before this religion arose. Nonetheless, Halévy’s work, like Weber’s, contains important insights regarding the relationship between religious beliefs and the process of social change. See Elie Halévy. A History of the English People in the Nineteenth Century. Translated by E. I. Watkins and D. A. Barker. London: Ernest Benn; Halévy, 1924, rev. 1960; The Birth of Methodism in England. Translated by B. Senimel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971; Michael Hill. A Sociology of Religion. New York: Basic Books, 1973, pp. 183–203.
Discuss Weber’s and Halevy’s ideas regarding the effect of Methodism on the English people.
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