Functionalism Essay Practice


Evaluate the contribution of Functionalist theories to our understanding of the role and functions of religion today (33 Marks). 

P1. Introduction 

For functionalists, society is a system of interrelated social institutions like the family, education and religion. Each institution performs certain functions, all contributing to maintaining the social system by meeting a need. 

Religion plays a central part in creating and maintaining value consensus, order and solidarity. 

P2. Durkheim

Distinction between sacred and profane. When people worship sacred symbols, they are actually worshipping society as this is the only thing powerful enough to command such feelings.

He studied Arunta, an Australian Aboriginal Clan who worship a sacred totem. The totem is that clan's emblem that symbolises their origins and identity. The totemic rituals reinforce the groups solidarity and sense of belonging. 

When clan members worship their totem, they are worshipping society, although they are not aware of this. The totem inspires feelings of awe in the clan's members because it represents the power of the group on which the individual is utterly dependent. 

AO2. Worsley

Durkheim's theory may be sound when applied to small-scale societies with a single religion, e.g Arunta clan. However, it is harder to apply to large-scale societies where two or more religious communities may be in conflict. His theory thus explains social intergration within communities, however not the conflicts between them. Mestrovic (postmodernist) supports this by saying that this ideas cannot be applied to contemporary society as there is increasing diversity and this has fragmented the collective conscience, so there is no longer a single value system for religion to reinforce. 

P3. Malinowski

Religion promotes social solidarity. 

Does so by performing psychological functions for individuals. There are two types of situation when rleigion


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