Assess the Functionalist View That Religion Benefits Both Society as a Whole and Its Individual Members

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Assess the functionalist view that religion benefits both society as a whole and its individual members. (18 marks – 6AO1 & 12AO2)

Functionalists believe that religion is beneficial for both society as a whole and it’s individual members, for example it unifies society, which in turn gives each individual member a source of support when they need it. However some theorists disagree with the functionalist ideology. Firstly, functionalist claim religion benefits society in a number of ways, they say it creates a sense of social solidarity, meaning a shared sense of identity, history, norms and values (a collective conscience). Functionalist explain that if all of a societies members are part of the same religion then they all share the same belief system, resulting in consensus between all of its members. The religious institution will teach it’s members the norms and values of the society they are in and the collective worship will bind societies members closer together, for example, people in Muslim countries who are part of the faith of Islam, understand it is normal to stop and pray 5 times a day and also that no-one should work on Friday however people in Christian countries understand the day of rest to be Sunday. Functionalist therefore claim members of a society have a collective conscience, they think in the same way, due to their shared norms and values.

Functionalists also believe that religion unifies people, the functionalist Emile Durkheim studied a clan society called the Arunta, and he explains that the collective worship of the sacred totem by the Arunta united society. He explained their totem is sacred, it inspires feelings of wonder and awe due to the fact it is different to every other normal, profane item. Their totem is a symbol that makes them different to other clans so in effect it is like they are worshipping a symbol of their society even though they are unaware of this. They worship their society because they are completely...
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