Natural Disasters and their Implications for Social Change

Social change, the process by which a certain society or culture evolves in response to a great stimuli. In the case of this study, it shall be natural disasters. Since they can not be fully controlled or stopped, they cause a great deal of social and religious stress, which often influence each other. These influences can be direct or indirect, as sometimes intervening circumstances can be thought to link the natural upheaval to the period of social unrest. In the field of sociology, few other topics are covered quite so well.

A good example of direct social results of a natural disaster would be the great Lisbon earthquake, which struck Portugal in the late eighteenth century. The quake was generated just south of the country, in the Atlantic Ocean, but traveled towards the capital, bringing heavy shaking, tsunamis and raging fires along with it. In the end, most of the city was destroyed and Portugal suffered great economic losses. In response to this event, the leading church authority of the time, oddly being the Quakers, were exiled from the city and perhaps all of Portugal. As if that weren’t coincidental enough, the area hasn’t received a significant or destructive quake since.

Indirect social results of natural disasters can be hard to find because most want to associate them as directly linked. Take the black death and the reformation, for example. Many say that the former led to the latter. I believe another theory, however. When the Catholic Church failed to cast out the Plague that ran through Europe in the 1300’s and 1400’s, many asked why that was so. They examined themselves and the Church, and found that only some odd worldliness had entered their religious activities that they had missed. Church activities were them redone to emphasize the afterlife and God, giving the few priests and clergy left after the Plague plenty of money and power. With that came the search for more secular pleasures and ideals, or as many say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Through that, the reformers could send their message of religious revival in response to these sinful Church leaders. That is what resulted in, along with the Renaissance, a set of multiple sects that broke off from Catholicism and created the churches and congregations we know today.

Other events have been attributed to natural disasters as well. What if Genghis Khan’s fleet had not been intercepted twice by typhoons while in route to conquer Japan? How about if small pox and other diseases hadn’t given the conquistadors such an advantage in the earliest Indian wars? The world and it’s history would have been radically different. Now, one question remains, “How will natural upheavals affect social connections in the future?” We have to wait and see.

Visual History of the World
Devastation! by Lesley Newson