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Religion and Social Structure 

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From the beginning of civilizations, people have always strived for structure in their societies. Often, this structure has been influenced by religion or philosophy. In the foundations period, patriarchal forms of social organization developed in both pastoralist and agrarian societies. In places like China in the Yellow River Valley Civilization, the Emperor was in power due to the Mandate of Heaven. The Emperor’s power was supposedly validated by God himself. People believed this to be true, so they accepted his position in society as well as their own. This trend continues to appear in societies in the Classical Period. Religions and philosophies such as Confucianism and Hinduism appear to alter and affect the social structure of the society they are practiced in, whether it be between gender roles or social class.

Confucianism emerged in China during the warring states period. Confucianism is generally considered to be a philosophy rather than a religion because it focuses more on political organization and social order. Confucius contemplated why China had fallen into chaos and determined that the Mandate of Heaven had been lost due to the poor behavior of the emperor and his subjects. Therefore, Confucius developed this philosophy with the sole purpose of creating social structure. It accepted and endorsed inequality as an essential part of society. Because Confucius believed that social structure in terms of relationships and filial piety was key to the restoration and stability of China, he emphasized the importance of understanding your place in relationships. Women were expected to respect men at all times no matter the circumstances. This meant that women held less power than men in political and social relationships.

Women were not permitted to participate in public life the way that men were. They could not inherit property or carry on their family name, meaning that they were often seen as a financial burden. The practice of female infanticide was common. Male babies were highly preferred over females as men were considered the superior race. In the Gupta Empire, the social structure was highly influenced by Hinduism. Hinduism divided people into sections based off of a caste system. This caste system placed people in the order that follows: priests and teachers (Brahmins), kshatriyas (kings and warriors), vaishyas (merchants and landowners) and sudras (commoners, peasants and servants).

The lowest part of the caste system consisted of those called the Untouchables. They were outcasts, occupying jobs that no one wanted like street sweepers or latrine cleaners. At the top of the hierarchy were those who were considered to be the most educated in theology as well as schooling. Hinduism allowed no social mobility, meaning it was impossible to change your status in the hierarchy. You were born into your section and it was believed that this classification was done by God himself. Hindus do believe in reincarnation however, and believed that if you lived your life well and followed the duties of your section you would be able to move up in the hierarchy in your next life. Based upon Confucian classics, the civil service examination was utilized in China and played a major role in education, government, and society. It was an important asset for social mobility.

Theoretically, the use of this system meant that regardless of if you were poor, you could move up and join the elites in society by succeeding in the examination. The hope of social mobility served as a push for the lower class and motivated them to work hard in hope of raising their status. Whereas in India Hinduism created an imbalance of power and placed people in a hierarchy by their birthright, Confucianism was a philosophy that eliminated that by creating equal opportunities for all regardless of the status you were born with. It is important to note though, that these equal opportunities were limited to men only, making it clear again that Confucianism strongly supported a patriarchy and at the same time created an imbalance of power between genders. In conclusion, religions and philosophies influence hierarchies and social structures greatly.

Religions and philosophies are important for people in society as it encourages them to believe strongly in something and it answers questions that they have about the universe and their existence. When people believe that their position in society was chosen by God, they tend not to doubt the social structure and this creates a peaceful civilization. Additionally as seen in Confucianism, when given equal opportunities, people tend to work harder to get to the top of the hierarchy, though it is seen that this philosophy still creates inequality between genders.

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