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Functionalist theories of religion
Functionalists see society as a system of interrelated parts or social institutions, such as religion, the family and parts of the
· Society is like an organism, with basic needs that it must meet in order to survive. These needs are met by the different
institutions. Each institution performs certain functions and meets the systems need.
· Society's most basic need is the need for social order and solidarity so that its members can cooperate
Durkheim on religion The collective conscience
The sacred and the profane Durkheim argues that the sacred symbols Criticisms
The key feature of religion was a fundamental represent a collective consciousness . For
distinction between the sacred and the profane. Durkheim , regular shared religious rituals · Worsely notes that
Sacred = things set apart and forbidden that reinforce the shared values and maintain there is no sharp
inspire feelings of are, fear and wonder that are social integration. Participating in shared division between the
surrounded by taboos and prohibitions. rituals binds individuals together. In this sacred and the profane.
Profane= things that have no special significance sense religion also performs an important · Durkheim's theory may
things that are ordinary and mundane. function for the individual, by making us apply better to small-
feel part of something greater than scale societies with a
Durkheim argues that when people worship ourselves. It strengthens and motivates us. single religion, but does
sacred things they are worshiping a Cognitive functions of religion not explain large-scale
representation of society itself. For Durkheim Durkheim sees religion not only as the with conflicts.
although various symbols denote various source of social solidarity but also of our · Postmodernists argue
meanings all perform the essential function of intellectual or cognitive capacity our that his ideas cannot be
uniting believers into a single moral community. ability to reason and think conceptually. applied to modern
Totemism Thus for Durkheim religion is the origin of society, as increasing
Durkheim believed the essence of all human thought, reason and science. diversity has led to a
religion could be found by studying it in Psychological functions fragmented collective
its simplest form. He used studies of an Malinowski argues that it helps individuals cope with consciousness.
aboriginal tribe of whom performed emotional stress that would undermine social · Does not explain
rituals towards a totem. For Durkheim solidarity. E.g. Fishing in lake > Fishing in ocean negative effects of
this worship is In reality for society, ritual. At times of life crisis e.g. birth, puberty, religion such as
although they are unconscious of this. It marriage and funeral reinforce solidarity and oppression of women
inspires feelings of awe because it comfort. Parsons agrees these help to legitimise our and the poor.
represents the power of the individual. values and stop us deeming life as meaningless.…read more
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Marxist theories of religion
· Marxist sees all societies as divided into two classes, one of which exploits the labour of the other.
· Karl Marx predicted that the working class would ultimately become conscious of this and over throw capitalism, bringing about
a classless society.
· Marxism sees religion as a feature only of a class-divided society. Therefore there is no need for it in a classless society and it will
Religion as ideology Religion and alienation Criticisms
Ideology is a belief system that distorts peoples Marx also see's religion as the product of · He ignores the
perception of reality in ways that serve the Alienation. This involves becoming positive function s of
interests of the ruling class. He argues that the separated or losing control over something religion, such as
upper class control institutions such as the that one has produced or created. The psychological
church. In Marx's view, religion operates as a working class have no control over the adjustment to
weapon to legitimate the suffering of the poor production and process, nor any freedom to misfortune.
as something that is inevitable and god given. express their own opinions and ideas. · Religion does not
Religion misleads the poor into believing that Religion acts as an opiate to dull the pain of necessarily function
their suffering is virtuous and that they will be exploitation. Yet it masks the pain rather as an ideology to
rewarded in the afterlife. E.g. Easier for a camel than treating its cause. So religion masks the control the
to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for underlying problem of exploitation. It population. For
a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. promises an afterlife of happiness which example Turner
These ideas create a false consciousness which distracts the attention away from the true argues that in pre-
prevents the poor from acting to change their source of suffering- capitalism. capitalist societies
situation. Lenin described religion as `spiritual Thus, Marx sees religion as the product of Christianity only had
gin' which is served out by the ruling class to alienation. It arises out of suffering and acts a limited impact on
confuse and manipulate the working class. as consolation for it. Yet fails to cure it. the peasantry.
Religion also makes it seem like the power and
privilege of the upper class is divinely ordained.…read more
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Feminist theories of religion
· Feminists see society as patriarchal- that is based on male domination. Many feminists regard religion as a patriarchal
institution that reflects this inequality. It legitimises women's subordination.
Evidence of patriarchy
· Religious organisations- are mainly male-dominated. Despite the
fact that women participate more than men in these Criticisms
organisations. E.g. Orthodox, Judaism and Catholicism forbid Woodhead (2002) criticises feminist explanations that
women to become priests. simply equate religion with oppression of women. She
· Places of worship- Often segregate the sexes and marginalise emphasises that this is not true of all religions. She
women, for example seating them behind screens while men argues that there are forms of `religions feminism' ways
occupy the foreground. Women's participation may be restricted. in which women use religion to gain greater freedom and
For example not being able to read for sacred texts. respect.
· Sacred texts- Largely feature the doings of male gods, prophets
Woodhead uses the example of the hijab or veil worn my
etc. . Stories often reflect anti-female stereotypes. E.g. Eve who
many Muslim women. Some Muslim wore in order to
caused humanity's fall from grace. escape the confines of the household and break into
· Religious laws and customs- May give women fewer rights than education etc.
men, for example access to divorce, decision making, who they
may marry, dress codes etc. They also control their reproductive Women also use religion to gain status and respect for
role. E.g. Catholics ban abortion and contraception. their roles within the private sphere of the home and
family. Some women are part of bible groups in which
Early years they can share their opinions which they can find
Feminists argue that women have not always been subordinate to men empowering.
within religion. Armstrong argues that early religions often placed
women at the centre. E.g. Earth mother goddesses and fertility cults. Also it is important to note that the position of women is
However about 4,000 years ago religion gave rise to a monotheist all- changing within some religions. About 1/5 of all the
powerful male god. Saadawi (1980) argues that this is because church of England's priests now are women.
patriarchal society began to shape it thousands of years ago.…read more
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Religion and social change
Religion as a conservative force
Religion is seen as a conservative force in two different senses;
1. It is `traditional', as it defends traditional customs, institutions, moral views, roles etc. It upholds traditional beliefs about
how society should be organised.
2. It functions to conserve or preserve things as they are. It stabilises society and maintains the status quo.
Most religions oppose changes that would allow individuals more freedom in personal and sexual matters. E.g. Catholic
church forbids divorce, abortion and contraception.
Similarly, most religions uphold `family values' and often favour a patriarchal division of labour. The bride vows to `love,
honour and obey' but the groom is only required to `love and honour'.
Religion and consensus Functionalists see religion as a conservative force because it functions to maintain social stability
and prevent society from disintegrating. It promotes social solidarity by creating value consensus. It also helps individuals to
deal with stresses that would disrupt the life of society.
Religion and capitalism- Marx sees religion as a conservative ideology that prevents social change. By legitimising or
disguising inequality It creates false consciousness in the working class and prevents revolution. Stabilising capitalist society.
Religion and patriarchy- Feminists see religion as a conservative force because it acts as an ideology that legitimates
patriarchal power and maintains women's subordination in the family and wider society.…read more
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Weber: religion as a force for change
Max Weber's study of `The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism' is the most famous example of religion as a force for
change. Weber argues that the religious beliefs of Calvinism helped to bring about major social change - specifically the
emergence of modern capitalism in northern Europe. In the 16th century. Modern capitalism is based on the systematic,
efficient and rational pursuit of profit for its own sake rather than greed for wealth.
Predestination- God had had predetermined which souls would be saved, and which would not even before birth. So
individuals could not to anything to change this.
Divine transcendence- God was so far above and beyond this world that nobody can claim to know his will. This leads
Calvinists to feel an inner loneliness.
Asceticism- Refers to self discipline and refraining from luxury and avoiding excess to devote themselves to god.
The idea of a vocation or calling- We were put on earth to glorify god's name by our work. However this was not to earn
salvation it was simply a religious calling.
Calvinists therefore led an ascetic lifestyle, shunning all luxury, worked long hours. They invested their profits into businesses
instead of luxury. Weber therefore argued that this was one of the causes of modern capitalism. He argues that the failure of
capitalism in ancient china was due to the lack of a religious belief system that would of spurred development. E.g. Hinduism
· Karl Kautsky (1927) argues that Weber overestimates the role of ideas and underestimates the economical factors in
bringing capitalism into being. He argues that capitalism preceded rather than followed capitalism.
· Tawney (1926) argues that technological change was the birth of capitalism.
· Capitalism did not develop in every country where there were Calvinists, for example Scotland was slow to develop
· Gordon Marshall (1982) refutes this arguing that this was because of a lack of investment capital and skilled labour.…read more