Assess the functionalist view that religion benefits society as a whole

Topics: Sociology, Religion, Sociology of religion Pages: 2 (939 words) Published: April 21, 2014
Assess the functionalist view that religion benefits both society as a whole and its individual members? 18 marks In his Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim argues that the function of religious ritual is to maintain social solidarity by affirming the moral superiority of society over its individual members. Durkheim believed that social life could only exist if values were shared and society integrated into a coherent whole. Religion is an important aspect of this process, not only providing a set of unifying practices and beliefs, but also by providing a way in which people can interpret and give meaning to the world. Durkheim's distinction between the sacred and profane, is, in effect, the distinction between people and society. For Durkheim the sacred are symbols for society, thus in worshipping God, humans are really worshipping society. The relationship between god and humans (power and dependence) outlined in most religions is a reflection of the relationship between humans and society. Thus religion reinforces the collective conscience, it strengthens values and beliefs and promotes social solidarity since the attitude of respect to the sacred is extended to the individual's social duties. Collective worship is regarded as particularly important for the integration of society since it enables members to express their shared values and strengthens group unity. By worshipping together, people have a sense of commitment and belonging and individuals are united into a group with shared values - thus social solidarity is reinforced, deviant behaviour is restrained and social change restricted. In maintaining social solidarity, religion acts as a conservative force; when it fails to perform this function new ideas emerge, which become the new religion. Thus Durkheim regarded Nationalism and Communism as the new religions of industrial society, taking over from Christianity but performing the same essential functions. Thus Durkheim, and other...
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