Religion as a conservative force - Functionalism and Marxism

Revision notes for religion AQA sociology

Religion as a force for social change

- Functionalist view and Marxism view plus criticisms!

HideShow resource information



Durkheim - The elementary forms of religious life (1912)

  • Studied Australian aboriginies and their totenism beliefs.
  • Totem = sacred, religious ceremonies based around it, bonds community together.
  • Totem represents communities values, therefore by worshipping the totem, they are effectively worshipping society.
  • Rituals provide the group with solidarity and a sense of identity
  • Religion can also provide an individual with the strength and confidence to overcome the hard times during their life

1 of 6



  • Studied Trobriand Islanders who prayed and perform rituals when their men went away fishing
  • Accepts that religion promotes social solidarity but says that it helps more with emotional stress.
  • Claimed that in all societies birth, puberty, marriage and death are all events that can disrupt life and involve religious rituals.
  • Religion comforts the bereaved during a death (people coming together through a funeral)
  • Religion gives people a sense of control over things
  • The islanders used to pray when the men were fishing in rough waters, the ritual used to ease the anxiety and therefore unify the group.
2 of 6



  • Religion helps answer some of lifes questions especially concerning suffering and the justification of death
  • Suffering tests a persons place and it is taught that villians will receive their true punishments in the afterlife
  • Gives people comfort and helps them adjust to their situation
  • Provides some norms and values for people to follow (the Ten Commandments)
  • Can judge our behaviours against these and readjust if neccessary
  • By establishing norms and values, it promotes the social consensus which is a prequisite (vital) for social stability.
3 of 6

Criticisms of functionalist view

1. Church attendence is falling - how can religion be socialising people into morals if only a small number attend church?

2. Durkheims research is said to be flawed - he misinterpreted totenism

3.  Religion can be destructive - many wars and conflicts are based around religion (Northern Ireland)

4. Functionalist theories are usually based on society being one faith - modern society is nowadays multi-cultural

5. Religion is described as being an act of communal worship - ignores the fact that some religious beliefs are expressed individually.

4 of 6



Primary function of religion is to reproduce, maintain and justify class inequality.

Religion is an ideological apparatus - serves the interests of the ruling class.

Marx describes religion as the 'opium of the people' - keeps them from realising the true nature of their exploited positions as workers

1. Promises a life after death - something to look forward to

2. Makes suffering seem fair - be rewarded in the afterlife

3. Offers supernatural solutions to problems 

4. People just accept their positions - they are inevitable and cannot be changed. Stops them from challenging their positions.

5. Taught to accept the hierarchy - it is god-given. e.g Divine Right (kings and queens were thought to have been chosen by God in Medieval times)

5 of 6

Criticisms of Marxists view

1. Like functionalism it fails to think about falling membership numbers

2. Marx predicted that religion would die out under a communist rule - however in many communist countries, religion still exists

3. Doesn't explain why religion still exists when oppression has theorectically been removed.

4. Ignores any positive aspects of religion e.g provides social solidarity

5. Fails to see that some people may be content and even happy with their social positions

6. Work is outdated

7. He didnt state when the massive revolution would happen - could still be waiting for it?

6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Religion and beliefs resources »