Durkheim: He looked at the example of the Australian Aborgines and claimed that religion benefitted everyone equally in the society. Totems were natural objects that were considered sacred by the people in the clan. The group engaged in acts of collective worship which meant that they were united all together, creating solidarity, sense of togetherness and belonging in society. The group in the society all shared similar or the same beliefs and so this helped to strenghen the collective conscience. This shows how religion is seen as positive towards all members of the society.
AO2: However, Durkheim can be criticised for only looking at monotheistic societies. In today's large polytheistic societies there is more religious beliefs and choices which means that there is more chance of these religions clashing together. Durkheim is also too optimistic and religion does not benefit all members in society because religion has been responsible for some of the major global world conflicts i.e. 9/ 11 attacks.
Bellah:claimed that nationalism was a type of civil religion that united a large nation of people under the same or similar collective norms and values. Bellah claimed that this united a large group of people; an example of this is the national anthem or street parades. This is an example of a unifying nationalistic experience.This shows that religion does BENEFIT EVERYONE i.e. UNITES THEM
Parsons also argued that people are in need of religion because it provides them with POSITIVE functions.
He claimed that religion provides people with moral codes and guidelines which some people choose to keep in the highest regard and socialise their children in to them.
Example: The 10 Commandments from The Old Testament i.e. 'Thou Shalt not kill/ steal and commit adultery'. This shows that religion helps people to behave in a STANDERALIZED AND WELL BEHAVED manner
Religion therefore keeps society stable because people are kept away from violence and they are taught to behave well
AO2: Postmodenist Bauman refutes this and argued that in contemporary societ LESS PEOPLE turn to religion to provide them with moral codes. People prefer to follow their OWN ethical codes and values rather than turn to religion. This is partly because people have become secualised and focus on themselves
Malinowski was an anthropologist who conducted a functionalist study and argues that people need religion because it can help them in situations of stress, anxiety and lack of confidence
- People experiencing bereavment may feel sad and therefore disengage from society, threatening the social solidarity. The funeral allows them to unite with others, receive support and there build solidarity again. This makes the individual feel better
- He claimed that when people in the Trobriand Island went fishing in the deep and potentially dangerous waters, they needed religion to help them cope with sitations of anxiety and give them hope. However, when they went fishin in calm waters, they did NOT need religion.
This shows that people need religion to give them a boost of condidence and deal in situations which they are unable to cope with on their own
AO2: However, Malinowski looked at a small study of the trobrians islands- lacks external validity; cannot generalise and assume that people in all societies experiencing stress or anxiety turn to religion
Criticisms of Functionalists
- Marxists : They argue that religion does NOT benefit everyone equally but it benefits CAPITALISM instead. Karl Marx argues that this is because the working class are exploited and kept in a false class consciousness, where they do not know about their exploitation.
Example: In India, the Half Caste system; the unskilled labourers placed at the bottom of religious purity, where they were exploited by the Brahmin priests, who were at the top
- Feminists: they also criticise them because religion BENEFITS MEN. For example, Holm found that in all major religions, there was gender inequality. Jean paul, other inequalities, etc
- Conflict: the words major conflicts are thr result of religion, so shows that religion does NOT always bring harmony but VIOLENCE and CONFLICT. Fundmentalists in particular reject religious pluralism and conflict can be created to those who think differently to them i.e. Hamas (muslim fundamentalism group).
Similalry, Huntington's clash of civilisations- conlidt created
- Social change: functionalists are REFUTED because religion can be a force for RADICAL CHANGE i.e. Weber argues that the religious spirit of the Calvinists helped to bring about a capitalist society