Functionalist Theories of religion

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  • Functionalist Theory of Religion
    • Durkheim
      • The Sacred and Profane
        • Sacred: Things set apart and forbidden that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder.
        • Profane: things that have no special significance.
      • Totemism
        • The totem is the clans emblem, eg an animal or plant that symbolises the clans origins and identity.
      • The collective conscience
        • The shared norms, values and beliefs that makes social life between individuals possible - without these society would disintegrate.
      • Cognitive functions
        • Our ability to reason and think conceptually
        • Religion is the origin of the concepts we need for reasoning, understanding and communicating
      • Criticisms
        • Doesn't prove that he has discovered the essence of all other religions.
        • Hard to apply to large-scale societies.(Contemporary societies)
    • Psychological functions
      • Malinowski
        • At times of life crises (birth, death, puberty) Religion helps to minimise disruption.
          • Where the  outcome is important but is uncontrollable and thus uncertain. (Ocean/Lagoon fishing with rituals)
        • Where the  outcome is important but is uncontrollable and thus uncertain. (Ocean/Lagoon fishing with rituals)
      • Religion performs psychological functions helping them to cope with stress that would undermine social solidarity
    • Values and Meanings
      • Parsons - sees religion as helping individuals to cope with unforeseen events and outcomes
      • Creates and legitimates society's central values
      • The primary source of meaning
    • Civil Religion
      • Bellah
        • argues that civil religion integrates society in a way that churches cannot e.g. the American flag and national anthem
      • A belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself
  • Criticisms of Functionalism:
    • Ignores the negatives of religion like the oppression of women.
    • Ignores religious pluralism

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