Functionalism - The Role and Purpose of Religion

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  • He used secondary data gathered by anthropologists who studied Aboriginal Australians.
  • He believed that all religions are based on the division of the sacred and the profane.
  • He also believed that religion is based on sacred symbols and what they represent.
  • "Totemism" = based on the worship of symbols/totems.
  • All religions have a collective conscience.
  • The collective conscience is the rejection of individualism and promotion of social solidarity.
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Durkheim - Criticisms

  • Theory may only apply to small-scale societies with a single religion.
  • May explain social integration within communities, but not the conflict between them.

Worsley (1956)

  • No sharp division between sacred and profane.
  • Different clans share the same totems.
  • Even if Durkheim is right, it doens't mean he has discovered the essence of all other religions.

Mestrovic (1997) Postmodernist

  • The ideas cannot be applied to a contemporary society because increasing diversity has fragmented the collective conscienc; so there is no longer and single shared value system.
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Bronsilaw Malinowski

  • Date from small literate societies.
  • Anthropologist in Papa New Guinea.
  • Sees religion as reinforcing social norms, values, and social solidarity.
  • Sees religion as concerned with the specific areas of life. (Not all areas).
  • Sees religion as relating to areas of emotional stress that threaten social solidarity.
    • Death, birth, marriage, and puberty.
  • Prayer provides a sense of confidence and control.
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Robert Bellah

  • Religion unifies society, especially multi-faith USA.
  • USA is unified by a "civil religion".
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Talcott Parsons

  • Human action is directed and controlled by norms provided by the social system.
  • Cultural system gives guidelines.
    • For example, the Ten Commandments.
  • Having general principles and moral beliefs gives consensus.
  • When problems occur, they fall into two categories.
    • Being hit with unforeseen circumstances.
    • Uncertainty.
  • Everything can be given meaning from religion. Overall it creates stability.
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Criticisms of the Functionlist Approach

Emphasises positives while ignoring dysfunctional aspects.

Glock and Stark = history of Christianity is full of bloodshed and murder.

Ignores division in religious communities, for example, Catholics and Protestants (Christians) in Ireland

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