The Functionalist view of Religion


Theoretical debates with regards to the functions of religion tend to focus on wether it acts as a force for social change or maintains social stability. Funtionalists have a structual view of society and believe that religion is a vital institutuion that reinforces social order. They believe that religion functions to provide stability to society and is therefore a conservative force, as it tends to maintain society as it is, rather than encouraing social change.

The sacred and the profane:

Durkheim (1915) believed that the main purpose of religion was to clearly differentiate between things that were sacred or profane in our society. 

*Key definition:

-Sacred: things that are special because they are the product of a higher being or supernatural power. Consquently they inspire, invoke fear, have power and are associated with rules and taboos. For example buildings such as churhes and temples are sacred.

-Profane: things that are ordinary, average, and have no special meaning or purpose. For example, buildings such as offices are profane.

Collective Conscience:

Through his study of the Austrailian Aborigines, Durkheim (1915) claimed that many religions are based on totemism. To a community, their chosen sacred symbol represents the higher


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