Religion as a conservative influence

Cards contain details on the functions of religion according to both Marxists and Functionalists

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Functions of religion in modern society - function

There are 5 main functions of religion that Functionalists such as Durkheim have identified and these are:


For the functionalists, inhibition of social change is a good thing - it keeps society stable and in order and so when looking at hte functions they are going to be considered good

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The main function of religion is to socialise members of society into a value consensus.

To do this values are invested with a sacred quality and become moral codes.

These codes regulate behaviour.

The Ten Commandments are a good example of moral codes.

Thou shalt not kill/steal - Formal social control - the law.

Thou shalt not commit adultery - informal social control - moral disapproval.

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Social integration and solidarity

Encouraging collective worship is seen as important for integrating society.

It allows members to express their shared values and strengthens group unity.

By worshipping together, people develop a sense of commitment and belonging meaning that deviant behaviour is restricted and social change is restrained. (GOOD THING)

Religion and its rituals foster development of collective conscience or moral community.

This helps people to understand the reality of social relations, communicate with others and establish obligations between people.

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Civil religion

In modern society, ritual and ceremony are common aspects of national loyalty.

Civil religion refers to events or activities that involve ritualistic patterns and generate the collective sentiments usually associated with established religion.

Bellah (1970) developed the concept of civil religion in America.

America is a nation of immigrants with a range of co-existing cultural values. They are united under their faith in Americanism.

God and Americanism appear to go hand in hand.

Coins remind people that 'in God we trust' whilst important speeches are ended with 'God bless America.'

Bellah however, does argue that civil religion is in decline, as people rank personal gratification above obligation to others.

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Preventing anomie

Durkheim's main fear for society was that people would become less integrated and behaviour less regulated.

If this happened then anomie could result.

Society would not be able to function because the members would not know how they were expected to behave

Religion prevents this from happening by encouraging awareness of common membership of something greater than, but supportive of, the individual.

Some religious movements appear to have grown in times of social upheaval when anomie may have been occuring. e.g. the methodist religion.

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Coming to terms with life-changing events

Malinowski (1954) and Parsons (1965) see religion as functioning to relieve the stress of life events such as birth, puberty, marriage and death.

These events can undermine people's commitment to social order and wider society.

Many rites of passage have been developed to help people adapt to changes.

An example.....

The death of a loved one and leave people feeling alone and helpless. The funeral ceremony allows people to come to terms with the loss as well as to reaffirm that the group outlives the individual and remains there to support its members.

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Criticisms of Functionalism

  • Church attendance is declining. Religion can't be functioning to socialise members when only a minority of people attend church.
  • Religion can be dysfunctional - not always functional. Many of the world's conflicts have been created by religion.
  • Much functionalist analysis is based on the assumption that society has one main religion. The UK is a multi-cultural, multi-faith society.
  • Marxists go further and argue that instead of being a instrument of social solidarity, religion is an instrument of social control and exploitation.
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Marxist functions of religion.

For Marxists, the inhibition of social change is a negative thing and so religion is operating in a way that is no beneficial to society.

For the Marxists there are three main functions that religion has:

  • Legitimate social inequality.
  • Disguising the true nature of exploitation
  • Keeping the working class passive and resigned to their fate.

Marxists firmly believe that religion is the 'opium of the people'.

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Legitimating social inequality

Religion serves as a means of controlling the population by promoting the idea that the heirarchy is natural and god-given.

Evidence of this is seen in the feudal period when it was believed that the King had divine right to rule.

It was generally believed that God created the rich and poor as seen in 'All things bright and beautiful:'

The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made then, highly or lowly, and order'd their estate.


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Dusguising the true nature of exploitation

Religion helps to explain social and economic inequalities in supernatural terms.

The real causes of inequality (exploitation by the ruling class) are obscured and distorted by religion telling people that inequality is a product of sin or a sign that people have been chosen by God.

By doing this people have no real clue as to why they are socially or economically deprived, they blame it on religion and they think they can't do anything about it.

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Keeping the working class passive and resigned to

Some religions present suffering and poverty as a virtue to be accepted as normal.

It is suggested that those who do not question their situation will be rewarded in heaven.

These ideas promote the idea that there is no point in trying to solve the problem now.

Religion offers hope and promises happiness in a future world.

The appeal to God is part of the illusion that things will change for the better.

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thank you :)

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