Functionalists see religion as a conservative force, promoting
social harmony, social integration and social solidarity through
the reinforcement of value consensus. It is a basis of social order.
It focuses on the idea that society can only survive if people share
at least some common beliefs on what is right and wrong.
Totemism: The practice of worshipping a scared object,
known as a totem, represents religion in its basic
form. Durkheim argues that the totem is created by
society and so sacred because it is a symbol of the
group or society. When people worship the totem they
worship society. Totemism is seen to act as a social
glue, along with religious ceremonies, binding people
together and building bonds between them. Moral ties
are gained as people worship together..
However although it can be seen that religion brings people
together, it is questionned whether this can perform it's role
in contemporary societies where beliefs have wide diversity.
The collective conscience: This is
the shared norms, values, beliefs
and knowledge that make social
life and cooperation between
individuals possible. For
Durkheim the religious rituals
reinforce the collective conscience
and maintains social integration.
This prevents social change.
However this can only be true
if people actually follow religion,
and as covered in further
sections it may be the case
that secularization is occurring
in Western European countries
therefore this wouldn't explain
the collective conscience there.
Civil religion: Durkheim
believed that supernatural
beliefs within religion would
eventually disappear.. Civil
religion suggests that sacred
qualities are attached to
aspects of society itself, with
non-religious rituals and
ceremonies which have similar
functions to religion however
don't involve the supernatural.
Durkheim believes that if the
supernatural beliefs do go then
civil religions will take over.
However if we get rid of the supernatural beliefs in religion then surely we
are no longer speaking about religion at all. We are simply talking about
non-religious ways in which people are socialized and integrated into society.
Malinowski sees religion
as reinforcing social
norms and values
solidarity. He also sees
religion as providing an
explanation for events
that were hard to explain.
Religion fulfills a need for
emotional security and
relieves emotional stress,
this of which threatens
Malinowski said that
religion provides a
source of comfort and
for individuals when
faced by crises. One
example would be
services provide us with
a source of comfort
either through the idea
of life after death or the
gathering of family and
friends for comfort.
Parsons puts emphasis on how
religion provides and underpins
the core values for cultures and
the social norms that regulate
people's behaviour. The set of
moral beliefs and values in
religion become deeply integrated
within the socialization process
and effects everyday behaviour of
both believers and non-beiievers.
One example would be social
rules about killing, most
individuals will feel guilty about
an act like this due to the
powerful role of socialization.
argued to be
societies it may be
religion still acts as
an agent of social
control., even though
it may have done in
the past. In today's
society people are
more likely to take
part in deviant acts.
As functionalism sees
religion as protecting status
quo, it is also argued against.
It ignores that religion can
sometimes take part in
creating social change. For
example Islamic republic in
Iran and talibanisation.
Religion has also been seen to play a greater
role in dividing people rather than uniting
people, as shown in religious based wars or
conflicts. It is thought that if a religious belief
is stronger the more they think others are
wrong, evil or need to be defeated.
Examples of religion causing conflict
involve conflicts within the same religion
and conflict between religions. Conflict
between the same religion could be for
example Protestant and Catholic Christians
in Northern Ireland. Conflicts between
religions could refer to warfare between
Hindus and Muslims in order to get India
divided into two separate countries.