The Role of Religion in Society.

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Outline and evaluate the view that the role of religion in society is to promote stability and consensus? The title is arguing clearly form a functionalist perspective on religion. Religion is a secondary agent of socialisation, it plays a major part in many people’s lives, even though we may not be as religious as we used to be, religion still features strongly in our word as many of our laws and moral codes, which are targeted at maintaining a stable society stem from the bible. Such as ‘thou shall not murder’ or ‘thou shall not steal’ theses are universally acknowledged morals that help to keep order and consensus. Functionalists believe that religion provides a set of moral beliefs and practices for people to commonly adhere to, therefore it unites them, reinforcing Durkheim’s idea of ‘collective conscience’, Which suggests that society needs people to have these shared values to maintain stability and consensus. Thus it is good to be controlled by religion as it is vital in order for society to function. However a functionalist’s view is not the only one, there are many others. Marxists, like functionalists believe that the main role of religion is to prevent change and maintain the ‘status quo’ however, they differ, as they argue that this has a very negative effect on us. They believe religion ideologically controls us; forcing us to believe certain things as it makes us believe our fate is governed by god. They feel Religion hides the fact that our fate is actually determined by classes and those who are in a higher class than us. Althusser supported this by describing religion as an ideological state apparatus, meaning that religion is used as a tool to control us thus maintaining stability. For example, the hymn ‘all things bright and beautiful’ says that ‘the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, god made then high and lowly, and ordered their estate’ suggesting that social inequality is god given so we should not question it, only accept it. According to Weber the aim of religion is to make sense of the world, it deals with the problem of theodicy and answers big questions such as ‘how did the universe evolve?’ He suggests Religion is used to give people hope, as it provides reason for peoples suffering. For example, the black slavery period, stability and order was maintained through that period by religion, it gave the slaves hope and meaning for their suffering. They were led to believe that if they behaved well and endured their suffering in this life they would be rewarded in another life because this is what god wanted and their suffering is therefore god given. However, he also thought that many teachings from religion could influence behaviour and thus challenge the status quo so in some ways we shape society, and we have elements of control. Therefore it isn’t just religion that maintains stability and consensus, but the people in the society as well; it is more of a two way thing. Malinowski, said religion provides us with comfort in times of crisis and helps maintain the ‘status quo’. For example, if you lose a loved one it is comforting to think, especially to children, that they are in heaven and that one day you will see them again. It helps you to move on quicker so does not affect the status quo. However, some would argue we don’t always need religion in times of crisis; we can get through with love, family or counselling. There are many situations in life where religion does not promote stability and consensus, but where it actually causes conflict and change. For example, the Iranian revolution, this refers to events involving the end of Iran’s monarchy under The Shah and its replacement with an Islamic republic Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution. The Shah led a very free westernized society, Muslim girls went to school and wore jeans and had their hair down. Ayatollah, along with many others, felt threatened by the west countries taking over. He believed that...
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