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Religion as a Source of Social Change in the New South Africa

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In the scholarship of recent decades, religion has been accorded little power as a source of social change, either 'from above' (via changes at the macro-level) or 'from below' (at the micro-level). However, as the attention of various disciplines has been drawn to developing societies, an awareness of the potential influence of religion has grown. Based on research in a South African township, conducted after the macro-transition to democratic government, this article explores the social and economic mechanisms at work in a variety of Christian churches. It argues that their capacity to effect social change 'from below' is uneven, and that the most powerful are those which maximise four variables: indoctrination, religious experience, exclusion and socialisation. These variables are often highest in Pentecostalism, and in certain types of AIC. The differential impact of church types on their members is then illustrated with reference to financial, social and cultural behaviour.

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