The fact that religion seems to have continually played an important role in every known society should highlight the idea that religion serves some sort of purpose. The various sociological explanations of this purpose are what the key is. role of religion in society is definitely a dynamic one. The relationship between both religion and society is always changing. Religion affects different societies in different ways and different forms, causing the forms of society to change according to a change in religion. Religion can be a driving force in society, but as a reactionary rather than in a radical way.
A Functionalist believes that religion is an important element which helps society to function and provide guidelines for human behaviour. For example religion reinforces the shared values and creates a "collective conscience" and value consensus. Religion has become part of the law in the way that its written text influences the social order of society and suggests the acceptable and unacceptable ways of living. These rules enable society to bind and agree on laws, however, this can be criticised as religion has caused many of the world's conflicts. Functionalists believe that religion promotes social solidarity and encourages the dependence on social groups such as the family where people view their values as sacred to that religion. However the functionalist approach can be seen as unfounded; it seems difficult to assume that religion socialises people when so little people attend church regularly.
Whereas a Functionalist sees religion as having a positive role in society, a Marxists interprets the worship of religion as a form of social control from the dominating ruling class. To a Marxist religion is simply an illusion which blinds society from the ideology of the capitalists and helps dull the pain caused by the exploitation of people. Karl Marx once said that religion is the "opium of the people". Opium provides only temporary relief for suffering...
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