Benefits of Religion on Society and the Individual: Assessing the Functionalist View

Topics: Sociology, Religion, Émile Durkheim Pages: 4 (1590 words) Published: April 23, 2015
Assess the functionalist view that religion benefits both society as a whole and its individuals (33 marks) For functionalists, society is a system of interrelated parts known as institutions, such as religion, the family and the economy. Each institution performs certain functions- each contributes to maintaining the social system by meeting a need. Society’s most basic need is the need for social order and solidarity so that its members can cooperate. For functionalists, what makes order possible is the existence of the value consensus. Without this, individuals would pursue their own selfish desires and society would disintegrate. For functionalists, religion is a mechanism used to create social order and maintain the value consensus thus making society run smoothly. For functionalists such as Emile Durkheim, religious institutions play a central part in creating and maintaining value consensus, order and social solidarity. For Durkheim the key feature of religion was not a belief in gods, spirits or the supernatural. But a distinction between the sacred and the profane found in all religions. The sacred are things set apart and forbidden that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder, and are surrounded by taboos and prohibitions, Durkheim suggests the fact that sacred things evoke such powerful feelings in believers is because they represent something powerful, in his view this thing can only be society itself. When they worship the sacred symbols, therefore people are worshipping society itself. For Durkheim, although sacred symbols vary across all religions, they all perform the function of uniting believers into a single moral community. By contrast, the profane are things that have no special significance- things that are ordinary and mundane. Furthermore, a religion is never simply a set of beliefs. It also involves definite rituals in relation to the sacred, and these rituals are collective. Durkheim believed that the essence of all religion could be...
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