Functionalist view on religion

Summary look at the Functionalist view on religion and how they see religion as a conservative force


Functionalist Perspective - Overview of beliefs

Functionalists believe that religion:

  • Promotes social harmony and solidarity
  • Maintains/reinforces value concensus 
  • Helps maintain tradition
  • Establishes the basic rules of social life 


  • Analyse religion in meeting needs of society in order to survive
  • Believe religion is a way of life 
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Durkheim - Totemism (and criticisms)

Durkheim studied the practise of Totemism (worshipping a scared object) among a tribe of Aborigines in America. According to Durkheim it represents religion in its most basic form.

  • The totem is created by society and is a symbol of the group
  • Really they are worshipping society 
  • Ceremonies help bond people together by sharing beliefs 
  • Gives a shared sense of identity, commitment and belonging 

This creates a collective conscience, promoting social cohesion 

- There are many different faiths in contemporary society 
- Religion can tear communities apart 

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Durkheim - Collective conscience

  • Shared norms, values and beliefs that make social life and cooperation possible
  • For Durkheim, religious rituals do this and prevent damaging social change

- Religion is in decline
- Less than half the UK say they believe in God 

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Durkheim - Civil religion

  • Durkheim believed that the supernatural would disappear out of religion
  • The sacred qualities are attached to society itself
  • Non religious ceremonies perform similar functions

e.g. People devoted to football

- If we remove the sacred, are we talking about religion at all? 

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  • Religion reinforces social solidarity 
  • Fulfills emotional need
  • Provides an explanation for the unknown

e.g. Funeral services provide comfort (family and friends, life after death)
       Church attendance soars during war time 

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  • Religion underpins the core value of any culture
  • The set of moral values become ingrained through socialisation
  • This effecting believers and non believers

- Religion is less of an agent for social control
- People are more likely to not be deviant due to media/surveillance cameras 

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Evaluation of Functionalism

  • Religion is a conservative force
  • It helps promote social harmony and solidarity 

- This downplays the role religion can have in social change
- It can act as a 'counter hegemony' in showing people alternative ways of organising society  
- Historically religion has torn people apart more than the latter 
- Often, the stronger the religious belief, the stronger sense that other religions are wrong 

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on slide 2, aborigines in australia :)

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