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Assess The Of Functionalist Theories In Understanding Religion Today

1223 words - 5 pages

Assess the of Functionalist theories in understanding religion today
Functionalists have put forward their perspective on religion and how it benefits both society and the individual starting with how religion brings people together harmoniously, creating social cohesion and a sense of belonging as people believe in the same thing and all abide by the same rules. Religion creates and maintains a value consensus whilst giving society social order. By confirming to religious beliefs this allows us to gain morals and therefore Functionalists see religion as a positive aspect to society.
Durkheim defines religion as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things’. He says ...view middle of the document...

However, some of Durkheim’s conclusions and findings can be called in to consideration because the groups upon which he based his work e.g. the aborigines, were only very small in size and so cannot be taken as an accurate representation of wider society. Furthermore it has been claimed that Durkheim overstated his case.
Similarly to Durkheim, Bronislaw Malinowski interprets religion as a means to enforce social norms and values promoting social solidarity. However, in contrast to Durkheim, he doesn’t see religion as being representative of the whole of society and he does not view religious ritual as the worship of society itself. Malinowski identified certain areas of life in which people turn to religion as a method of support/refuge. These ‘Life Crises’ include birth, Puberty, Death and Marriage. These are situations which threaten social solidarity and Malinowski observed that all of these situations involve religious rituals. For example, Death is surrounded by a funeral service which bodes people together to mourn publicly, the person they have lost as well as providing a metaphorical pillar of support for the close family and friends of the deceased. Malinowski argues that it is only in times of social disruption when the community is threatened, that religion enhances social solidarity and reinforces the value consensus. Malinowski carried out studies on the Trobriand Islands, just off the coast of New Guinea; he observed how situations that cannot be controlled or prepared for result in a lot of tension and anxiety. When fishing out in the open sea waters, the Islanders would use rituals in the hope of achieving a sizeable catch as well as to protect the fishermen from the power of the sea. Although Malinowski did refer to these rituals as ‘magic’ it is definitely plausible to argue that these rituals could be considered religious if we take the definition of religion to be an inclusive one. The findings of Malinowski are open to critique, as he tends to generalise in certain instances. For example, Malinowski seems to overlook the fact that there are many people who manage to get through these ‘Life Crises’ without turning to religion at all. Secondly, it’s possible to argue that Malinowski could not be 100% sure that the Trobriand Islanders were actually carrying out rituals or if they were performing some form of other task which may simply be unrecognizable to a westerner.
Parsons (1965) argued that religion gave people core values, which acted as guidelines for acceptable behaviour e.g. the Ten Commandments in the Christian faith. These shared core values leads to a more stable and co-operative society as everyone is operating under the same obligations,...

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