Evaluate Functionalists views on the role and functions of religion today.
Functionalism is a macro theory, which is based on society as a whole, rather than just that of the individual. It is argued that functionalism generates many things for society. Religion, from a functionalist point of view, socialises people, teaching them norms and values of society, which are the basis for social unity. Religion further is a structure within functionalism which aids in influencing individuals lives. Functionalism claims that social solidarity, the uniting of people in society is an important part of maintaining social order, which is a functional pre-requisite for society to survive. In addition, Functionalists use the term, ‘Organic Analogy’, which is the comparison between society and the human body. The idea that like organs is a necessary condition in a human body, ensuring it functions correctly, society has different institutions, like religion which join up with others to enable society to work well, maintaining mutual agreement in society. Durkheim researched into the Aborigines in Australia in 1912. The native Australians, believed in Totemism, the belief in worshipping objects with divine properties, such as plants and animals. The Australian aborigines carried out many religious ceremonies to worship their totem, which is an example of collective consciousness securing social solidarity as the tribe were brought together to worship as a group. Durkheim definition of religion was split into two parts: the Sacred, which consisted of all things Holy or spiritual, and the Profane, the ordinary things. The Aborigines’ ultimate holy object which also was seen as a place of worship was the Ayres Rock. Durkheim found that the Aborigines were divided into several clans, and each clan worshipped their designated totem, which performed as their God. Durkheim argued that having religion provided a set of moral beliefs which shapes collective conscience within society. This was seen as a positive thing as it meant people had shared beliefs and moral values and by worshipping together it kept society strong. Durkheim believed that the worship for totems was in fact the worship of the society. It can be argued in many ways that there are many faults with his study of the Aborigines. Durkheim carried out his research in 1912, and can be criticised for being out of date. This is because things may have changed in the way Aborigines live, as society has changed over time. Furthermore, Durkheim came from a westernised background, in comparison to the way in which they lived their lives which was evidently very different. His culture could have distorted his study as he may not have had a full understanding of their way of life. This could also show Durkheim bias, as he would have been influence by his cultural beliefs. It could be argued that the Aborigines themselves had acted differently with Durkheim present. This is called the Hawthorne effect in which the participants are aware they are being studied. Durkheim clearly was of a different ethnicity, meaning this was a possible fault in his research. Malinowski studied the Trobriand Islands in 1915-18. Malinowski believed that religion was a vital factor for reinforcing society’s norms and values. However unlike Durkheim, he was more interested in the psychological functions which religion gave every individual. One thing Malinowski did was separate situations in life which threatened social solidarity. These two categories were, 1. Crisis of life and 2. Uncontrollable Events. He claimed that for crises of life, religion had a dramatic effect upon helping those in need. For example, parents with a new born baby would find life very stressful and emotionally challenging, however, Malinowski argued that their turn to religion would provide them with strength and motivation to cope in life. Whilst in the Trobriand Islands, Malinowski studied the contrast between fishing in...
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