Assess the usefulness of functionalist theories in understanding religion today

920 WordsSep 27, 20134 Pages
Assess the usefulness of functionalist theories in understanding religion today (33 marks) 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 conforming 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 all societies…show more content…
In his view it serves psychological functions for individuals helping them cope with emotional stress that would undermine social solidarity. He argues that death is the main reason for religious beliefs and identifies two types of situations: where the outcome is important but uncontrollable and thus uncertain and at times of life crises events such as birth, death etc. religion helps to minimise disruption. Bellah said civil religions integrates society in ways that individual can’t as it’s able to unite a nation. For example in USA American civil religion involves loyalty to the nation state and belief in God. It is expressed in many ways such as the national anthem and allegiance to the flag. Parsons says that religion helps people to deal with things that are unforeseen and have outcomes that cannot be changed. There are essential functions of religion in society it creates and legitimates society’s values. It achieves this by sacralising core values such as individualism, meritocracy and self-discipline which promotes value consensus. Religion also provides a primary source of meaning answering ultimate questions about life which helps people to adjust to adverse events and maintain stability. However, Durkheim's analysis has been criticised as he only looked at small pre-industrial societies so his views do not apply to complex modern societies. Also he fails to account for the

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