Assess the view that the main function of religion is to promote social stability (33 marks)
Social stability refers to harmony and integration within society, the main function of religion has long been argued between sociologists depending on their perspective. Among those that agree are functionalists, for example Durkheim and his study on totem worship, on the other hand Marxists argue religion oppresses the proletariat in order to maintain a capitalist society.
The main sociologists that support the view that the main functions of religious beliefs is to promote social stability are functionalists. They believe that religion performs functions and helps society, this is because ...view middle of the document...
This therefore promotes social stability. He also says that regular shared religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and maintain social integration. Participating in shared rituals binds individuals together, reminding them they are part of a single moral community to which they owe their loyalty. Such rituals also remind the individual of the power of society. Without this they themselves are nothing and to which they owe everything. Although this there are some critics that say his theory will only apply to small scale societies and not contemporary societies because if the increase diversity has fragmented the collective conscience so there is no longer a single shared value system for religion to reinforce.
Malinowski is another sociologist which agrees that religion promotes solidarity and social stability in society but in a different way to Durkheim’s theory. He argues that religion does this by performing psychological functions for individuals, helping them cope with emotional stress that would undermine social solidarity. Malinowski identifies two ways in which religion does this, firstly where the outcome is important but is uncontrollable and therefore uncertain. Secondly, at the times of crises for example birth, marriage and death. He says that religion helps minimise disruption, in a result maintaining social stability. Parson also agrees, he says that religion performs functions such as it creates and legitimates society’s central values by sacralising them and therefore it severs to promote values consensus and thus social stability.
Not just this there is some argument that religion also performs functions for the individual not just society. Durkheim also shows this by saying that religion makes us feel part of something greater than ourselves, religion reinvigorates and strengthens us to face life’s trials and motivates us to overcome obstacles that would otherwise defeat us. He also comes up with the suggestion that religion performs cognitive functions, our ability to reason and think. For example he says that in order to think we need categories such as time, space and number. We also need this in order to share our thoughts. Durkheim believes that religion is the origin of the concepts and categories that we need to understand reason and communicate. Parsons also suggest that religion provides a source of meaning; in particular it answers ‘ultimate’ questions.
Bellah comes up with the concept of civil religions that unifies people. This is particularly in America where a belief system that attaches sacred qualities to its society and in America’s case religion is a faith in Americanisation. He argues that civil religion integrates society in a way that individual religions cannot. It involves loyalty to the nation- state and beliefs in God, but this isn’t a specific religious God and therefore unifies people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and therefore promoting social stability.