Craig Calhoun explains how church membership fed into other spheres of social activity.
Christianity, in particular, had major contributions to most of the modern Western social movements. We can take the trade union movement. In one of the great books about the history of workers in the West, E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, one of the chapters is devoted to a marvellous exposition of how people who became active in religion took that activity out into other spheres of organising.
And we could go forward and think about that. The space that churches often offer to organisers – so down in the church basement there’s a group getting together for mothers against drunk driving, or any other kind of cause. It’s also literacy; the ability to read and the desire to read that was shaped, often, by the desire to read the Bible, which became basic to the idea that ordinary people could educate themselves, could become fully involved in politics, could engage in the trade union movement.
The trade union movement often had Christian trade unions, and in many countries there were brotherhoods. Right, the very language of brotherhood is something that we borrow from the religious tradition and use then to talk about brotherhoods of locomotive drivers or of other kinds of solidarity in the trade union movement.
The women’s movement often got major boosts from religion. And it wasn’t first and foremost a religious movement, but it was a movement in which many people brought forward religious arguments for why equality was mandated, not merely a possibility.