Functionalist Views on Religion

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Asses the functionalist view that religion benefits both society as a whole and its individual members. 33marks

The functionalist view of religion stems from Durkheim who said that society is like the human body. He argued that that religion reinforces collective conscience that leads to a unity within society as a whole and that each member of the society is joined in solidarity, therefore it acts as glue. It does so by reinforcing social norms and values that bring the community together. It allows people to accept that society is about more than just the individual. However this can be questioned as western societies such as Britain are becoming increasingly secular. This means that they don’t believe in religion as much, and therefore how can religion act as a collective conscience. People are turning to science as a way of life, theories which head down the evolutionary approach. It suggests that the theory is out of date. Malinowski looked at the psychological function of religion. This looked at when things such as funerals and divorce occur. Religion acts as an act of hope which allows individuals to feel at ease when they are increasingly stressed out. They are brought together like a community within things like a funeral because it allows the individual to grieve but collectively with active members of the family and church/synagogue/mosque etc. At times of uncertainty and stress, religion helps people to gain control of themselves again, and community acts like funerals progress that. This is supported by the study of the Trobriand Islanders. The fisherman had a number of prayer rituals which they performed before going out to sea. They did this as a group of individuals to have a sense of a belonging to a community of fishermen. They would not perform these then they were sailing because of safety. Malinowski suggested that the threat of the open sea to them, was like a threat to the stability of their community and therefore they had to perform...
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