Beliefs in society: Perspectives- Functionalism

Fuctionalism and religion

Functionalism is concerned with the contribution religion makes to meeting the needs of society. For example, social solidarity, value consensus, harmony and integration.

 Durkheim argued that in worshipping God, people were in fact worshipping society. Society is more important and powerful than the individual, just as God is. Religion reinforces the shared norms and values (collective conscience). It promotes social solidarity. Through acts of collective worship, society is strengthened. In addition, religion performs a function for the individual by making us feel part of something greater than ourselves.

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EVALUATION of Durkheim

Durkheim’s work is supported by research done among Australian aborigines. Each tribe worshipped the bullroarer, a carved wooden trunk which had symbols of the tribe’s values on it. Durkheim pointed out that by worshipping religious symbols; people are actually worshipping their society and making it sacred. This research was done a long time ago, however, and he is attempting to generalise findings from a small pre-industrial society to modern industrial societies.

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Parsons

  • Parsons argued that religious beliefs provide guidelines for human action.
  • Religion deals with problems that disrupt social life, problems such as unforeseen, unpredictable events and situations of uncertainty. Religion also makes sense of all experiences, no matter how meaningless or contradictory they appear. Religion provides a range of answers to questions about things such as evil and suffering.
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EVALUATION of Parsons

  • Parsons overemphasizes the contribution of religion to providing answers to suffering.
  • Parsons does not offer research evidence to support what he is saying but many would argue that the individual function of giving meaning to life remains relevant. People will probably always turn to religion so long as the eternal question of what happens when you die remains unanswered.
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Malinowski

Malinowski argued that the key functions of religion are psychological:

  •  Help the individual in times of emotional stress, danger and anxiety (life crises and life threatening events).  Malinowski studied the Trobriand Islanders, a small pre-industrial society which relied largely on fishing. When there was a shortage of fish in the local waters, the men would go deep sea fishing which was dangerous. Everyone would turn up to see them off and would engage in religious rituals as a form of good luck. This helped deal with stress of the situation and brought the group together for mutual support.
  •  At times of life crises. For example, funerals help to reinforce a sense of solidarity in survivors.  Malinowski actually argues that death is the main reason for the existence of religious belief.

 

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EVALUATION of Malinoswki

Once again, this type of research does not generalise well to modern industrial societies but there is plenty of evidence that the findings are still relevant. Soldiers going to war in Iraq will always pray together before engaging in battle. People today may not attend church regularly but will usually get christened, married or buried in a church.

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EVALUATION OF FUNCTIONALISM

  •  From a functionalist perspective, religion is good for society and good for individuals. However, it is difficult to see how religion can promote the collective conscience in contemporary society with its many different religious beliefs.
  • The functionalist perspective emphasizes the positive contributions of religion to society and ignores its dysfunctional aspects. It neglects instances where religion can be seen as a divisive and disruptive force.
  • Marxists argue that religion is an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) that promotes ruling class ideology………
  • Feminists argue that religion promotes patriarchal values……….

 

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