Functionalist View of Religion

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Discuss the functionalist view of religion, including both the functions and dysfunction it may serve.

Functionalists believe that religion is a conservative force, and an institution which adds to the requirements of society. That religion fulfills basic human needs by providing framework within which society may function in harmony; religion contributes to society’s equilibrium. They say it ultimately operates as an agency of socialization. Durkheim (1912) said that all societies are separated into the profane and sacred and that religion is a combined structure consisting of beliefs and practices which are associated to sacred items. Durkheim also stated that religion is used as a collective conscience used to avoid anomie.

Religion sets aside certain values and infuses them with special significance. These values become moral codes and beliefs which society agree with and bring their children up with. Such codes informally and formally control our behavior. For example the Ten Commandments are embodied in law, thou shalt not kill, and some have been embodied in informal morals, such as thou shalt honor thy mother and father. Religion encourages collective worship. Through collective worship the individual is encouraged to feel part of a wider community e.g. a Church of England member may feel part of a larger Christian community.

Functionalists argue that the role of religion is to preserve the status quo rather than to promote social change. They agree that religion is a beneficial conservative force because it maintains consensus, binds people together and promotes social order. They however see it as having a positive influence. It is impossible to see how religion can be functioning to socialise the majority of society’s members into morality, and integration, when only a minority of people attend church. Functionalists tend to neglect the areas in which religion has been dysfunctional for society. Take Northern Ireland and Bosnia for example,...
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