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The Role Of Religion In Society

1216 words - 5 pages

The Role of Religion in Society

The role of religion in society is definately a dynamic one. The
relationship between both religion and society is always changing.
Religion effects different societies in different ways and different
forms, causing the forms of society to change according to a change in
religion. Religion can be a driving force in society, but as a
reactionary rather than in a radical way.


Functionalists believe that religion maintains social solidarity and
value consensus amongst a society's population and this helps maintain
the well-being of society. In his Elementory Forms Of Religious Life,
Durkheim argues ...view middle of the document...

When religion fails to perform this action, new
religions form.

Durkheim claimed Nationalism and Communism were the new religions of
the industrial society. They took over from Christianity but performed
the same functions.

Functionalists do not say that Religion doesn't change. its form
certainly does. Parsons believed that religion was in differentiation,
but what does not change is the function of religion in society and
therefore supports the status quo. The culture of a particular
political movement is parralelled with the collectivity of religious
movements, ie, rituals like flag waving and protest are a collective
sign of respect for their sacred symbol (weather it be religious or
political). Consequently, religion is in any form, is a neccessary and
essential feature of society.

Criticisms of the Functionalist view on the Role of Religion

Firstly, Elementory Forms of Religious Life was based on bad and
second-hand anthropology. Durkheim seemed to misunderstand both
Totenism and the Aboriginal tribes on which his study was based.
Durkheim's analysis was not applicable to societies of cultural

The idea that religion is the worshipping of society has been
criticised by many, as people who worship a God do not always look at
society in the same light. It can be argued that all worshipping is a
form of false conciousness anyway.

Marxism argues that religion does not in fact support social
solidarity, but in fact it encourages social control and exploitation
although Durkheim did admit that those in the aboriginal tribes saw
religion as a tool for making inequalities become less noticeable.
However Marxism argues that social order is not a good thing.

Overall Functionalism ignores the dysfunctional aspects of religion
apparent in places such as Northern Ireland and Lebanon.


Marxism does agree with Functionalism, that religion functions as a
conservative force, but that is where the agreement ends. Marx argued
that religion is "the opium of the people". It is there to make a
person accept their inequalities and act as a form of oppression.
Lenin claimed that religions act as a "spiritual gin in which people
can drown their human shape and their claims to any decent life." The
fact that religions preach the world to be controlled by God's will,
leads their members to believe and accept that the world is beyond any
of their control. Therefore, they do not try to change the world in
any, way, shape or form, and just let the world form as it spins. Marx
claimed that Religion stops people from achieving class conciousness
and encourages false conciousness, therefore it keeps people from
wanting a revolutionary change. Class conciousness, Marx believed, is
one of the things society would have to have in order for it to see

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