Functionalist Perspective on Religion
Key thinkers - Durkheim, Parsons, Malinowski, Bellah & Bocock
- Functionalists examine the social dimension rather than the indicidual for an explanation of religion
- All functionalists would believe that religion is the main source of cultural values & it plays a crucial role in how society works
- Similar to all institutions in society religion plays a positive function for us as individuals but also for society as a whole
Positive functions of religion
- It socially controls members of society
- It integrates members of society (Durkheim described it as 'social glue')
- It is a unifying force
- It brings social solidarity
- It strengthens the collective consciousness EG the 9/11 10year anniversary memorial allowed people to unite in their condemnation against terrorism. For Durkheim this re-inforces the moral boundaries of society
- It also functions for the individual ie. helping them deal with a death or loss etc.
All this results in social order
Religion can also cause fighting ie. 9/11 attack due to religion, sectarianism in Northern Ireland etc.
Also, religion controlling members of society and keeping people at bay may not been seen as a good thing by others such as Marxists who would argue that the bourgeoisie use religion to suppress the proletariat.
Durkheims major work
"Elementary forms of Religious Life" 1912
- He believed social life can be split into the sacred & profane.
- Sacred - that which is above worldly things help in respect or aw EG God, Black hills to native americans in south Dakota.
- Profane - Everything that is worldly EG Everyday life.
*Scared can apply to things or people that aren't linked to the supernatural EG Elvis, Marilyn Monroe etc.
- Durkheim believed when we engage in worship (wether its of god or a person) we are worshipping society itself.
- Durkheim looked at totemism in aboriginal society - a basic form of religion that involves a totem pole as the key item of worship.
- He argues that in worshipping the totem they were expressing their complete dependence on society
All this represents the functional definition of religion.
CRITICISMS OF DURKHEIM
- outdated and unrepresentative sample
- his theory is more relevant to small scale non-literate societies
- does not take into account religious pluralism (wide rang of new religions in society)
- Durkheim did not consider that religion can be a source of conflict
Malinowski and Neo-functionalists
- Malinowski is an anthropologist (someone who uses participant observation to study cultures and tribes)
- He argues the functions of religion apply to certain situations. It bonds the community together at times of stress or danger EG fishing in Trobriand Islands
- Situations of emotional stress EG marriage, birth, death - these 'life crisis' are surrounded with religious rituals
- Malinowski says religion plays a function towards events which cannot be fully controlled or predicted EG going for an interview
NEO-FUNCTIONALISTS - Bellah, Bocock, Davis, O'Dea
- Robert Bocock (1985) refers to the 'civic rituals' arguing that it isn't just religion that provides us with ways to reinforce cultural values EG sporting events can also produce a 'sense of belonging' to society such as the Olympics. ---> this years Olympics shows peoples pride in their country and makes people feel together.