Religion - A functionalist perspective

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  • Created on: 21-11-12 13:35

Religion – A functionalist perspective

Functionalist analysis is concerned with the contribution religion makes to meeting society’s needs such as social solidarity, value consensus and harmony and integration between its parts.

Emile Durkheim (1912)

  • Religion reinforces the shared values and moral beliefs – what Durkheim called the conscience collective that hold society together. By defining these shared values as sacred, religion provides them with greater power.
  • In worshipping society, people are in effect, recognising the importance of the social group and their dependence on it. In this way religion strengthens the unity of the group – it promotes social solidarity.
  • Through acts of collective worship, members of society express, communicate and understand the moral bonds which unite them.


  • Durkheim only studied a small number of aboriginal tribes. It may be misleading to generalize from this small sample.
  • Many sociologists would not go as far as Durkheim in arguing that religion is, in fact, the worship of society.
  • Hamilton (1995) points out that Durkheim’s theory may only be applicable to small non-literate societies. Modern societies are characterized by diversity.
  • Hamilton also argues that Durkheim overstates the degree to which common values influence individual behaviour. Often religious beliefs will conflict with dominant values.

Bronislaw Malinowski


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