Assess the usefulness of functionalist theories in understanding religion today
There are a variety of different definitions of religion including substantive definitions, which refers to focusing on the content or substance of a religious belief such as God, functional definitions, which refers to religion in terms of the social or psychological functions it carries out for the individual and there are also social constructionist definitions which focus on how members of society actually define religion. Functionalists hold a consensus view and argue that society requires both social order and solidarity in order for it to run smoothly, and religion is one way of providing this as it encourages shared norms and values.
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Similarly, Parsons argues that religion helps individuals to handle unforeseen events and uncontrollable outcomes. He identified two ways in which religion does this – one way is by creating and legitimising society’s central values but making them sacred. For example, in the USA, Protestantism helped make the American core values of meritocracy, individualism and self-disciple sacred. This therefore helps to promote social order and solidarity as the vast majority of Americans would have the same norms and values, creating little conflict and greater social cohesion. The other way is by answering people’s ultimate questions, such as who created the earth, and why do some people die young. It gives individuals a sense of security and makes people less likely to rebel against society.
However, not all sociologists agree with the functionalists and their view of religion and its role. Feminists argue that the role of religion is to oppress women and help maintain patriarchy within society. One way in which religion maintains patriarchy is through religious organisations – these are significantly male dominated, for example, Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism do not allow women to become priests. Armstrong argues that this is evidence for the marginalisation of women in religion and society. Places of worship often separate the sexes, placing men on more holy