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What Is Religion?
Substantive Definitions: Weber
Belief in the supernatural or superior power
Functional Definitions: Durkheim
Defines religion in the terms of contribution it makes to social integration
Social Constructionist Definitions
Focuses on how members of society define religion…read more

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Functionalist Theories: Durkheim
Key feature of religion is the distinction between the profane & sacred
Profane are things found in everyday life whilst sacred are things which
inspire feelings of awe and wonder
Durkheim believed that the essence of religion could be found by studying it's
simplest form ­ totemism
When the clan worships the totem, they are actually worshipping society
The totem represents the power of the group who individuals are utterly
dependant on
Shared religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and main social
integration…read more

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Criticisms Of Durkheim
Evidence on totemism is unsound and based on flawed evidence
Misleading to generalize about Aboriginal beliefs
Worsley: No sharp division between the sacred and the profane
Theory applies better to small scale, illiterate societies
Mestrovic: Study cannot be applied to modern society because increasing
diversity has fragmented the collective conscience, there is no longer a single
shared value
Hamilton: the theory doesn't fit with the emergence of multi-faith society…read more

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Functionalist Theories: Malinowski
Religion promotes solidarity
Religion helps people to cope with times of emotional stress that would
undermine social solidarity e.g. times of crises (death, birth etc.)
In his study of the Trobriand Islanders, Malinowski contrasts lagoon fishing
with ocean fishing
Lagoon fishing is safe therefore, there is no ritual performed
Ocean fishing is dangerous and always accompanied by `canoe magic'
This gives people a sense of control and reinforces the group solidarity…read more

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Criticisms Of Malinowski
Exaggerates the importance of religious rituals
Tambiah: Points out that rituals related to the maintenance of prestige in
society…read more

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