Religion is seen to perform functions for not only the individual but for society as a whole. It is believed that it promotes shared values and beliefs, social integration and social solidarity through a value consensus. A value consensus maintains social order and a shared set of norms and values are vital for the social order to perform right. Functionalists see religion as a vital agent for secondary socialisation.
A main theorist is Durkheim; Durkheim aimed to achieve two things, he wanted to establish the idea that religion was not divinely or supernaturally inspired and was caused by society. Secondly he look out to identify the common understandings on which religion placed an emphasis on, additionally what effect religious beliefs had on the lives of individuals and the general society. Durkheim was concerned with social solidarity; primarily he believed religion as a functional source of socialisation. He believed this as when we look at ...view middle of the document...
Durkheim makes us look at religion as a way of social cohesion, to view it as how it bonds people together. For example he would explain religion to teach us how to conform by teaching us morals and norms; doing this we learn social control and order. This theory and way of looking at religion gives us a good understanding of religion, therefore when looking at Durkheimâ€™s theories of religion they are reasonably useful.
A second theorist is Parsons; Parsons emphasised the role of religion in providing the core values of any culture, along with the social norms which helps peopleâ€™s behaviour to be normal and to coincide with one another. He believes that the social norms and values that religion provides us are so integrated with our society that it affects not only believers but non-believers also.
Functionalist theorists provide us with knowledge on how religion reinforces social solidarity and restricts deviance. This could be seen as useful when helping us understand religion and what it is. However what functionalists ignores to point out is how in todayâ€™s society religion it can also be disruptive and dysfunctional for society. For example there could be a conflict between different religions. In the Indian subcontinent warfare is often seen between Muslims and Hindus, this is shows how religion is creating a great divide between groups of peoples and parts of countries.
Theories that may say that functionalist theories are not useful in showing what religion is like in todayâ€™s society is the feminist view. Feminists would argue to say that religion limits a womanâ€™s freedom and that it creates and helps maintain a patriarchal society. Feminists may also point out how when binding yourself in marriage you are going under the control of the male by â€˜obeyingâ€™ them.
To conclude, when looking at understanding religion today, it is hard to do as religion itself is hard to define when there are so many different aspects and beliefs that are contributed to it. However in my opinion functionalist theories provide us with a reasonable understanding; this is because without religion it would be hard to maintain such a well-working society.