Beliefs in Society Topic 2

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  • Created on: 21-03-19 12:31

Topic 2- Theories of the role and function of religion


Functionalists regard society as a social system, a set of parts which work together to form a whole. These parts are the social institutions of society. Functionalists argue that there is a need for social order and social integration, as a sense of belonging in a society.

Durkheim believed religion was a set of myths and imaginary forces constructed by human beings to bring social order to society. He believed that the supernatural had no foundation in reality. However this didn’t prevent him from seeing religion as a power for social good and he argues that its rituals are necessary for everyday life.

Durkheim’s study of aboriginal totemism convinced him that a totem or any sacred religious representation is both the symbol of their god and society. The totem stands for sacred and it symbolises the power of the divine and supernatural, but it also symbolises the collective conscience and cultural beliefs. He argues that by worshipping god you are in fact worshipping society.  He argues that it is an important agent of secondary socialisation.

Most religions infuse values with religious symbolism, these values become moral codes, and examples might include respect for human life, honesty or compassion. However the function of moral codes is essentially the same as norms and values as they regulate the behaviour in societies.

Durkheim believes that the act of group worship and celebration of the divines serves to integrate individuals socially into the larger moral community and therefore to forge social identity and solidarity. Religion helps people to understand the reality of social relations and communicate with one another.

Talcott Parsons agrees with Durkheim that religion is an important component to society and suggests that religion performs three functions;

1)      It provides moral guidelines into which people can be socialised by priests, teachers or grandparents. These guidelines are underpinned by the law as generally speaking they are a primary source of the laws that govern society

2)      Religion provides a means of adjusting to events that cannot be predicted or controlled. For example religious ceremonies unite a community after a disaster. Beckford looks at the death of Princess Diana and how religion played a significant role regardless of class nor ethnicity.

3)      Religion may function by applying a higher meaning and purpose to events. For example the death of a loved one can be given a higher purpose through religion. In his view most funerals are suffused with religious sentiment for example death as a result of gods will. The funeral ceremony brings people together and celebrate the deceased, this also helps to reintegrate bereaved people who may have withdrawn from society.

Bronislaw Malinowski believes religion functions to appease the stress and anxieties created by life crisis. These events have the potential to undermine people’s commitment to their role in society and therefore social order. For example religion acts to relive stress during the birth of a child or…


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