Functionalist theories towards religion

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  • functionalist theories of religion
    • societys most basic need is the need for social order & solidarity in order to cooperate
      • for funcs. order is possible through the existence of value consensus
    • Durkheim
      • sacred and profane
        • key feature was not belief in gods, spirits or supernatural, but distinction between the sacred and profane
        • sacred: things set apart and forbidden that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder
        • profane: no special significance, ordinary and mundane
      • toteism
        • essence of religion can be found in its most simplest form - "clan society"
        • Arunta, australian aboriginal tribe with clan sstem
          • consists of bands of kin who come together to perform rituals involving worship of a sacred totem.
          • the totem = plant, animal
            • symbolises the claims grins and identity. worship reinforces groups solidarity & sense of belonging
        • the totem is the clans emblem
        • members who worship totem are worshipping society - the totem inspires feelings of awe, it represents the power of the group on which the individual is 'independent'
      • the collective conscience
        • sacred symbols representcollectiveconscience
        • CC is the shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between people possible
        • shared religious rituals reinforce the CC and maintain social integration
          • binds people together, reminding them that they are part of a single moral community to which they owe their loyalty
        • religion performs function for person
          • being part of something bigger than ourselves,  religion strenthens us to face life's trials
          • it motivates us to overcome obticalsthat would otherwise defeat us
      • cognitive functions of religion
        • a source of our cognitive capacities
          • in order to think, we need time, space, cause, substance, number
          • in order to share our thoughts we need to use same categories as others
        • religion is the origin of concepts and categories we need for reasoning
          • in PRIMITIVE CLASSIFICATION he argues religion provides basic categories (time, cause)
    • Malinowski: Psychological functions
      • Religion helps people to cope with emotional stress that would undermine SS
        • 2 categories that do this
      • where the outcome is important but uncontrollable = uncertain
        • lagoon fishing: safe and uses predictable + successful methodof poisoning
        • ocean fishing: dangerous and uncertain and is always accompanied by "canoe magic"
          • rituals to ensure a safe expedition
            • gives people sense of control -> eases tension -> gives confidence to do hazardous tasks -> reinforces group solidarity
      • at times of life crises
        • birth, puberty, marriage and death marks disruptive changes in groups
        • E.G. - funeral reinforce solidarity among survivors, notion of immortality gives cofort to the bereaved by denyingdeath
        • M argues death is main reasonfor the existence of religious belief
      • TROBIAND ISLANDERS
    • Parsons: Values and meaning
      • religion helps people cope with uncontrollable events (agree w/ M)
        • 2 functions that religion performs
      • creates & legitimises society's central values
        • making basic norms and values sacred
        • in USA Protestantism has sacralised American values of individualism, meritocracy and self-discipline
      • primary source of meaning
        • answers ultimate questions about human condition
          • why the good suffer + why some die young
        • events make life seem meaningless, undermining commitment to society's values
        • religion provides answers to questions
          • E.G. explaining sufferng as a test of faith that will be rewarded in heaven
    • Bellah: civil religion
      • how religion unifies society
      • american society is an overarching civil religion - a belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself
        • "the american way of life"
      • civil religion integrates society in a way that individualscant
        • while churches cant claim loyalty of all americans, civil religions can
        • involves loyalty to nation state and belief in god
          • pledge of allegiance to the flag, singing national anthem, lincoln memorial, phrases "one nation under god"
    • EVALUATE
      • func. emphasises nature of religion and positive functions but neglects negative aspects E.G. oppression of women and the poor
      • ignores religion as a source of division and conflict, especially in societies where theres more than one religion (Northern Ireland) - hard to see how it unites people
      • civil religion overcomes this problem to some extent by arguing that societies may still have an overarching belief system, but is this really religion if it isn't based on super natural?

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