The political function of some religious movements in South Africa

Schutte, A.G.
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A title such as the above conveys some general meaning. The statement: ' The church has a profound influence on South African political life' is fairly evident and may mean changing, reinforcing or manipulating the established political order. It may even mean working towards the abolishment of this order. It is in this relatively neutral sense the term: ‘function’ will be used below. The interrelationship between politics and religion found in the Church - State relationship is usually institutionalized. Emergent religious movements have not reached the degree of institutionalization of a church. Consequently their relationship with the governing body will not yet be routinized. Yet they may have a profound influence in challenging the legitimacy of established political authority. We therefore have to postulate a much more general use of the word 'function' which possibly includes 'disfunction' and non-institutionalized elements. When speaking of ‘function’ we are furthermore dealing with the political consequences of social action by religious bodies This raises the problem of the orientation of social action. Is it consciously directed towards the sphere of politics or do the actions performed have unintended political consequences? In order to answer this question it is essential to differentiate between 'function' and 'intent' of social action. These concepts represent two different perspectives on social action. 'Function' indicates an interrelationship objectivated by the scientist, whereas 'intend' in a sociological sense, reflects the expectations an actor has of the effects of his own action. When 'function' overlaps with 'intent', a certain action has intended consequences, or, in Merton's terms, (1) a manifest function. When this is not the case, the consequences are unintended and the function latent. Intent, as noted, refers to the effects/ consequences of the action performed. In Alfred Schutz's (2) terms intent would include a projection of a future state to be achieved. This state is envisaged by the actor in terms of a completed action.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented August 1972
Church and state. South Africa, Religion and politics. South Africa