Examine the extent to which religion can still be said to be functional for individuals and for society (18 marks)
Functionalists define religion as promoting social solidarity and integration. This can be described using the biological analogy- each segment of society performs a function, this maintains an equilibrium, without which society would disintegrate. Functionalists see religion as contributing positively to society, as it performs functions for the individual as it creates a sense of purpose for life, both religion for society and the individual then creates equilibrium.
Durkheim argued that society worships the sacred and the profane, “The scared” are objects that set ...view middle of the document...
True to Functionalists view, Durkheim sees religion through “rose tinted glasses” and ignores the conflict that religion can bring between societies and the individual. Postmodernists would argue that religion cannot still be functional for individuals and society, as society is now more secular, this would mean that if religion is now not practiced a lot in society, there is nothing in society that can be used to create cohesion.
Malinowski believes that religion does perform functions for the individual, he agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes social solidarity, but has developed an even further response by stating the psychological needs for individual, helping them cope with emotional stress that would undermine social solidarity his conclusions were based on his study of the Trobriand Islanders in the Western Pacific. He found that in certain events religion was turned to as a form of comfort or advice. During life crisis’s, individuals may turn to religion as it helps people understand and deal with it, for example a life crisis such as death causes people to turn to religion as it helps comfort the bereaved this therefore promotes social solidarity and integration. Religion is also used in activities in which the outcome is uncertain or uncontrollable, Malinowski found this in his research, before fishing trips in which the outcome was unknown, as well as the Islanders survival, they would carry out religious rituals that would bring them together, this is seen today when individuals are involved in life threatening situations, family and the individual pray in the time of uncertainty. This therefore socially binds them together.
Parsons studied the USA, and believed religion is the primary source of meaning for individuals, therefore providing a function as legitimises core values of society and promotes social solidarity and stability, this can be seen in the 10 Commandments, by following The Commandments it creates stability and social structure. Religion can offer answers about humanity and life, making individuals make sense of the world as it provides core values and norms. Therefore, core values provide cohesion for the individual using religion.
Despite this, it is argued by Feminists that the Functionalist view does not take into consideration the fact that religion can exploit females and create inequality, thus not creating equilibrium, and therefore questions whether religion has a positive function for individual and society. The approach also does not ask who benefits from religion, as it ignores religion as a source of division and conflict, especially in contemporary society where society is more religiously diverse. Where there is religious pluralism it is hard to see how it can unite people and promote social solidarity.
In addition, another way that religion functions society is through civil religion, Bellah looked into how religion unifies society, particularly a multi-faith country like America, he...