Functionalist theories of religion
Functionalist theories of religion
Parsons sees religion helping individuals to cope with unforeseen events and uncontrollable outcomes.
Two essential functions that religion performs in modern society: creates and legitimates societies central values by sacralising them and it is the primary source of meaning
Reintegrating people in society
The sacred and the profane
The sacred are things set apart and forbidden that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder and are surrounded by taboos and prohibitions.
The profane are things that have no special significance.
Religion is not a set of beliefs and also has rituals and practises in relation to the sacred and these are collective.
When this sacred symbols are worshipped, people are worshipping society itself. Although these symbols vary they all unite believers into a single moral community.
Sacred things provoke strong feelings suggesting that symbols are representing something of great power.
Worsley- No sharp division between the sacred and the profane and different clans share the same totem.
Totemism does not prove that he has discovered the essence of all other religions
Durkheim’s theory may apply to small scale societies, but it is harder to apply to large scale societies where there are two religions in conflict.
Mestrovic- Durkheim’s idea cannot be applied to contemporary society because increasing diversity has fragmented the collected conscience so there is no longer a single shared value system for religion to reinforce.
Bellah is interested in how religion unifies society especially a multi-faith society like America.
What unifies American society is an overarching civil Religion which is a belief system that attaches sacred qualities to society itself.
Civil religion integrates society in a way that America’s many different churches and denominations cannot.
Not specifically catholic, protestant or Jewish god but rather an American god which brings Americans together.
Sacred symbols represent societies collective conscience. This is the shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between individuals.
Durkheim argued that regular shared religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and maintain social intergration
Religion makes us feel part of something greater than ourselves.
Non-religious beliefs and practices that perform functions similar to those of organised religion e.g. shared norms and values and maintaining social cohesion
Example of this would be Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union where they shared the same political beliefs.
Ignores what makes a religion distinctive and different.
Durkheim studied Religion in its simplest form by looking at a clan society. He studied Arunta, an aboriginal Australian tribe with a clan system.
The clan comes together to perform rituals involving the worship of the totem. The totem is the clan's emblem which symbolises the clans origins and identity. This reinforces social solidarity.
Cognitive functions of religion
Religion is the origin of the concepts and categories we need for reasoning, understanding the world and communicating.
Primitive Classification- Durkheim and Mauss- argue that religion provides basic categories such as time, space and causation.
Malinowski agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes solidarity however it does so by performing psychological functions for individual helping them to cope with emotional stress that would undermined social solidarity
Appease stress and anxieties
Trobriand islannders anthropological reduces disorder due to reasons.
2 types of situation where religion performs this role: where the outcome is important but is uncontrollable and thus uncertain and at times of life crises.
Ignores religion as source of division and conflict.
Neglects negative aspects such as religion as a source of oppression of the poor or women.