According to research carried out by sociologists, almost 90% of the world population follow a religion. There are numerous theories that attempt to explain the role of religion in our lives. The Functionalist outlook is a consensus perspective that sees religion performing positive functions for society as a whole and on an individual level. On the other hand, Marxism and Feminism offer conflicting perspectives that highlight the ideological function of religion. Marxists see religion as exploiting the proletariats and creating false consciousness. Feminists see religion as an instrument of patriarchy. This paper will attempt to assess the Functionalist claim that religion benefits both society and the individual. In any attempt to reach a considered view the arguments proposed by each theory will be reviewed. The approach will therefore remain analytical, critical and at all times engaged.
Functionalists believe that society is a system of interrelated parts or social institutions, such as religion, the family and the economy. According to them society functions because of the existence of value consensus, that is, sets of norms and values by which society’s members live. Functionalists emphasise the social nature of religion and the positive functions it performs. For functionalists, religious institutions play a central part in creating and maintaining the value consensus, social order and solidarity. Emile Durkheim was the first functionalist to develop this idea.
For Durkheim the key feature of religion was not a belief in God, spirits or the metaphysical, but he argues that religion provides a distinction between the sacred and the profane. Religion is more than just simply a set of beliefs; it involves rituals in relation to the sacred. These sacred things evoke... [continues]
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