Definitions of religion:
· Substantive – exclusive, belief in supernatural e.g. God or holy texts.
· Functional – what religion does for individual/society, inclusive.
· Social constructionist – How people define religion/definitions change, inclusive, Interpretivist.
Functionalist theories of religion:
· Society as a system of interrelated parts with needs met by institutions e.g. religion, media.
Durkheim on religion:
· Sacred and profane – Sacred (things surrounded by prohibitions/taboos and create feelings of awe – powerful feelings from sacred represent greater power e.g. society) and profane (ordinary things).
· Totenism – Study of Arunta rituals around totems e.g. reinforcing solidarity of group = totem represents power of society that individuals rely on.
· The collective conscience – Sacred symbols/rituals = society’s collective conscience, reinforcing integration, binding people together reminding them they’re part of a group.
· Cognitive functions – Religion the source of our ability to reason/think conceptually = religion allows us to think of/share ideas of time, space.
Criticisms of functionalist theories of religion:
· Worsley = No clear division between sacred and profane.
· Explains integration within communities but not conflict between them.
· Postmodernists = Increased diversity = fractured collective conscience.
Malinowski: Psychological functions of religion:
· Helps those cope with stress, promotes social solidarity.
Study of Trobriand Islanders:
1. When outcome is uncertain (fishing in lagoon =no rituals as situation safe, when fishing in ocean = rituals as dangerous situation).
2. Life crisis → death/birth/marriage = brings people together, gives peace of mind.
Parsons: Values and meanings:
· Helps people cope with uncertainty, answers unanswerable questions e.g. what happens after death, creates society’s values/morals to follow.
· Non-religious practices perform same functions as religion e.g. school, collectivism.
· Bellah → Civil religion = attaches sacred qualities to society, integrates society in a way that religion can’t e.g. loyalty to nation state/belief in God e.g. being a ‘true American’.
· Ignores religion as a source of conflict/oppression.
· Emphasises social nature of religion.
Marxist theories of religion:
· Society = two classes e.g. Bourgeoisie and Proletariat (working class) → religion dividing society.
Religion as ideology:
· Religion as a justification of inequality and suffering.
· Religion distorts perceptions of reality to benefit ruling class.
· Creates false consciousness therefore preventing revolution.
· Makes ruling class’s position in society look predetermined.
Religion and alienation:
· Religion = product of alienation.
· Workers = alienated e.g. no freedom to express true nature.
· Shows how religion could be used as tool for oppression.
· Ignores positive aspects of religion.
· Neo-marxists = some religions promote social change.
Feminist theories of religion:
· Society and religion is patriarchal.
Evidence of patriarchy:
· Religious organisations = Male dominated e.g. male bishops, popes, priests.
· Places of worship = gender segregation e.g. women participation restricted.